Women make up 75% of the production labour in the Ethiopian coffee sector, the biggest African coffee exporter and fifth in the world. Yet, only 34% of the overall income is given to these women.  Female empowerment in Ethiopia is essential to not only improve gender equality but also tackle poverty in the country at large. 

Even though poverty rates dropped from 30% in 2011 to 24% in 2016, there’s a huge gap in the economic progression between rural and urban areas. Agriculture in Ethiopia greatly depends on coffee beans, with 15 million locals’ livelihoods tied to coffee production. Since coffee exports take up a great amount of the country’s total exports — in 2006, it accounted for 34% — the focus has been put on the coffee sector for efforts at reducing the country’s overall poverty issue. This includes actions taken by local businesses and international organisations, which include Nespresso, Technoserve and the Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC).

One of the issues that need to be addressed is that Ethiopian women are expected to work on farms as well as do the housework, which is a heavy burden. Heleph Coffee, a coffee producer and exporter based in Ethiopia, is among a number of local businesses that are taking action for female empowerment, by offering higher wages and comprehensive free healthcare for women. 

Its traceable product doesn’t only guarantee the quality, it also gives the opportunity for female smallholders to effectively market their unique, quality varieties, and promote their own brands.

As for the other companies involved, Technoserve partnered with Nespresso and worked with 96 coffee farmer organisations to implement structural changes by balancing the gender roles at wet-processing mills. Some of the Technoserve staff were designated as “gender leads” to lead discussions with local women and farming cooperatives. During these discussions, the gender leads emphasised how increasing female involvement in the coffee sector would be favourable for the economy and encouraged more women to be put in leadership positions so they could participate in important decision-making.

Additionally, agricultural merchant LDC found a way to work around the gender norms in Ethiopia. Since women in rural areas are expected to take on the household chores like cooking, LDC partnered with PUR Project and Strauss Coffee to come up with a more sustainable and efficient cooking stove. These stoves only use 50% of the fuel of a normal stove and greatly cut down the average workload of Ethiopian homemakers. This cultural compromise offers an avenue to economic empowerment for women, within the existing expectations of Ethiopian society.

Technoserve and Nespresso also started a training programme called the “AAA Sustainable Quality”. This initiative encourages smallholder coffee farmers to practice more sustainable and profitable methods for farming. Husbands working at smallholder coffee farms are encouraged to bring their wives to the programme — the percentage of women that became involved went from 1% at launch to 30% in 2017.

Gender inequality is so prevalent in our day and age that it’s important to take as many necessary steps as we can for female empowerment, especially in developing countries. While the progress to empower women in the Ethiopian coffee sector is slow, these efforts appear to be laying the foundations for positive future change.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *