Gender Inequality In The Coffee Industry

Female Coffee Producer Discusses Gender-Based Discrimination

Ana Lorena Ureña Siciliano, a smallholder coffee producer from Costa Rica, recently discussed her story of gender-based inequality in the industry to highlight the issues and minimize the gender gap in agriculture.

According to Specialty Coffee, worldwide, 100 million people depend on coffee to survive. However, women face challenges competing with their male counterparts. Women earn less income, own less land, control fewer assets, have less credit and market information, have a greater difficulty obtaining agricultural inputs as well as less training and leadership opportunities.

These disadvantages are mainly happening because of a deeply-rooted social bias that leaves women in hardship. Not only does this affect women, but the industry as a whole suffers as a consequence. These inequalities have created inefficiencies within the coffee value chain because women are unable to access the tools they need to improve or even maintain their output.

Ureña grew up on her farm, Café Famu, and has worked there since she was a young girl. She recalls her love for school and wanting to achieve higher education. However, her dreams were short lived when her father pulled her out of school in the sixth grade, telling her that school was for lazy people and she was needed on the farm. Having only an elementary education, Ureña had no choice but to continue her family’s coffee legacy.

Many women, including Ureña, bear a “double burden” in the industry working a disproportionate number of hours compared to men.

Female workers work long hours in the field and then come home to their traditional responsibilities of child rearing, caring for the elderly, hauling water, collecting firewood, cooking, washing clothes and cleaning. Typically, men work eight hours per day while women can work up to 15 hours per day.

“Once we finish work, especially during harvest season, we have to cook, do laundry, attend the kids, wait for the husband to come home from work,” said Ureña. “we have to wake up at minimun three in the morning. We have many more responsibilities and it is hard for us women.”

Furthermore, 70 percent of women are only involved in laboring in the field, harvesting and processing while only ten percent participate in influential roles such as transport and marketing the product.

In many cases, because of cultural reasons, women are given smaller and less fertile land than men. This leads to a massive gap in profit with men making on average $716 and women $440 leading to a vicious circle where women cannot get out of poverty.

“These challenges are my own fears,” said Ureña. “This is something that I have to overcome. Those looks, those thoughts, male chauvinism is a big problem. However, I believe that these challenges make us stronger.”

By promoting gender equality, the coffee industry will benefit tremendously improving coffee quality, productivity and economic growth in rural communities.

By training women on ways to improve their coffee, their cupping scores increase dramatically. A case reported by Speciality Coffee states that women coffee growers improved from 79 points to 85.75 over a four-year period because of their inclusion in the training process.

According to Specialty Coffee, empowering women in the industry can increase productivity by 20-30 percent if given access to resources and information.  Additionally, financial empowerment can help alleviate poverty in the agricultural sector. Women tend to invest in household needs such as nutrition, school fees, clothing, health care and improvements while men tend to invest in consumables.

“I started 20 years ago [producing coffee by herself] because my husband had to go out and work. It is not common for a woman to run a farm; it is not easy for male farmers to accept the opinion of a woman. They look at us like — they see it being very strange — like women should not be in charge, men should.”

Ureña’s life mission was to get her children into university, something she never had the chance to do.  Years of hard work and dedication helped her to accomplish her dream of giving her children a choice to follow their dreams and she beams with pride when she talks about them.

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