Fairtrade and gender equality

Women in developing countries face many challenges - and gender inequality is a contributing factor to most of them. Fairtrade is working to counter the traditional gender roles that exclude women so everyone has a brighter future! 

Fairtrade works to improve the lives of all farmers and producers in developing countries, but women in agriculture face even more challenges than men when it comes to earning fair wages, owning land or having a say in the future of cooperatives, unions or communities. 

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), women make up roughly 43 percent of agricultural workers and produce 60-80 percent of the world’s food supply, but they make up only 10-20 percent of landowners in developing countries. When women do own land, those farms operated by women are smaller than those of men, with a significant corresponding gap in pay. Women are also more likely than men to hold low-wage, part-time, and seasonal employment.

Inequality in land ownership has broad ramifications for women farmers in developing countries and their families. Land ownership is often a requisite for membership of non-Fairtrade producer organisations, excluding women from decision-making bodies. If men are making the decisions, the needs of women can be overlooked – at best – or wilfully ignored. Social norms often demand women’s unpaid labour in the home, limiting active participation in the workforce or farmers’ groups. Women who do try to participate can be excluded because traditional attitudes don’t recognise the leadership abilities of women or encourage developing their skills.

We also know that even among the farmers registered as members of Fairtrade’s 1,226 certified small producer organisations, women account for about a quarter. 

So what’s Fairtrade doing to tackle gender inequality and support women?

Fairtrade has been incorporating gender equality into its programs in developing countries for almost three decades. Sometimes supporting women to access and invest the Fairtrade Premium – an extra payment per a metric tonne of produce to be invested by the community – in programs like childcare or training can be enough to make a difference. But we want the change to be systemic. So gender equality is written into the most basic elements of the Fairtrade system. 

Members of Fairtrade producer organisations cannot:

  • Discriminate on the basis of gender or marital status 
  • Implement discriminatory laws
  • Force prospective workers to take pregnancy tests – or sack women who do become pregnant later 
  • Tolerate behaviour that is abusive, exploitative, or sexually intimidating 
  • Deny women maternity leave or social security benefits if they are a right under local laws or collective bargaining agreements. 

In an ideal world that should be a good start towards gender equality and ending discrimination, but we have, unfortunately, seen the fallibility of such laws even in developed countries, where they still aren’t always enough to ensure equality. So Fairtrade requires that organisations identify disadvantaged, vulnerable or minority groups to protect their rights and proactively improve their economic and social standing. Put simply, a producer organisation that doesn’t support equality cannot be Fairtrade certified.

For a printable version of how Fairtrade supports gender equality download our brochure

OK, so Fairtrade has a good policy, what does gender equality look like on the ground? 

It’s one thing to end discrimination against women, it’s another to create a space and dynamic in which women are able to contribute and participate in decision-making processes. Fairtrade works with producer organisations to make sure women are not only allowed in as members, but then given an equal vote in the democratic process governing the organisations. We run workshops and training sessions so female farmers can build their leadership skills and gain more confidence in their abilities and opinions, and to teach men how to shift away from enforcing the traditional gender roles that exclude women. And Fairtrade isn't alone in addressing gender inequality and the inclusion of women - it's also an integral part of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.  

Challenging gender-based patterns also means increasing the access women in agriculture have to productive resources such as land, market information, credit, and technical assistance to improve productivity and quality. Fairtrade is training women to take on management and ownership of the resources that enable them to generate an income. 

What are some examples of Fairtrade making a difference to women? 

Here are some case studies showing how Fairtrade's work has directly benefited women working in developing countries, and how gender equality leads to a brighter future for everyone! 

Sounds good. How can I support Fairtrade’s gender equality work?

You have the power to change the world every day by choosing to buy products - such as coffee, chocolate and tea - with the Fairtrade Mark. Look for the Fairtrade logo when you shop, and ensure better prices, decent working conditions and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in developing countries. Your choices can empower farmers to participate as equals, control their futures, and invest in their communities.