Women’s School of Leadership a catalyst for gender equality, Fairtrade says


Fairtrade Australia New Zealand explains how the Women’s School of Leadership, including new schools for coffee farmers in the Pacific, act as a catalyst for gender equality in developing regions.

Fairtrade originally established the Women’s School of Leadership (WSOL) in Africa to help female farmers generate more income through smarter farming and give them the confidence and skills to thrive in Fairtrade certified cooperatives.

Fairtrade Australia New Zealand is now rolling out the life-changing initiative in Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea. CEO Molly Harriss Olson says increasing the opportunities available for women in these communities has flow-on effects for everyone.

“We know that women do more work for less pay, the world over, but in developing countries the impact of this is magnified. In those countries, research shows that if women don’t get paid, the whole household suffers,” says Molly.

“More money for women means they can choose to spend money on things that support their children and the household. This then improves the chances of their family achieving health and prosperity.

“When women are empowered, the whole society benefits. There’s less poverty, more food, and more education.”

According to United Nations research, providing women with access to information can mean huge gains in productivity.

“On average, women make up about 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. Evidence indicates that if these women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 per cent, raising total agricultural output in these countries by up to 4 per cent. This would reduce the number of hungry people in the world by around 15 per cent,” Molly says.

Programs like WSOL are not only educational but aim to empower female farmers to increase financial security for the laborious work they already undertake. It also helps farmers diversify income streams so that their families have more options when a crop fails or the market price of a particular commodity falls.

When the program was launched in February 2022 in Timor-Leste, the 26 participants were drawn from the Fairtrade Cooperative Comercio Agricola De Timor (C-CAT).

C-CAT is one of Fairtrade’s fastest growing coffee cooperatives, increasing from 107 farmers to 1206 in just seven years. It currently exports 150 to 200 metric tonnes of Arabica coffee, mostly to the United States, Canada, and Japan. The coffee is both Fairtrade and Organic certified.

The initiative also launched in PNG in May 2022 with participants coming from Unen Choit, Alang Daom and Neknasi cooperatives in the Southern Highlands.

“The first cohort of students in Timor-Leste will graduate in October 2022 while Papua New Guinea participants will be due to graduate in December 2022. The participants in both countries are being drawn completely from Fairtrade coffee cooperatives,” says Molly.

Throughout the Fairtrade system, the year-long program teaches confidence, money management, sustainable farming practices, and gender rights to leaders in local communities.

Ten training modules for the school are broken into human rights and women’s rights, Fairtrade standards and gender strategy​, confidence building​, cooperation and group cohesion​, women and leadership​, women and economy​, budget management​, income generation and diversification, negotiation and influence, power​ and masculinity, and gender equity.

“From the very beginning, the lessons learnt by participants in place likes Cote d’Ivoire have been applied in some amazing ways, often to generate new sources of income,” Molly says.

“For example, two school canteens using the food crops grown by a women’s association have been set up, providing more than 100 primary schoolkids with lunch.

“Often, these side enterprises by women supplement incomes and protect families against wildly volatile commodity prices. This, in turn, means the children are more likely to go to school.”

It’s farmers like Eva Mendonça from Timor-Leste who will reap the benefits of the new WSOL program.

Married with two children and a student at Cristal University in Timor-Leste, Eva is a member of C-CAT and determined to be a role model for women in her community.

“Here at the Women’s School of Leadership, we learn about women’s rights and gender equality. Through this opportunity, we can demonstrate that women are entitled to the same opportunities as men,” says Eva.

“I want to be a leader because there are young people who, despite having completed their studies, are still abandoned in our village, so I want to bring them together to create our own opportunities, like growing vegetables.”

Novelia Mendonça Bolan is a young female farmer from Timor-Leste that has not let adversity stop her from achieving her goals. At 18 years old, she is studying general nursing at the University of Dili.

“It’s important for women to be involved in farming so both genders are equal,” says Novelia.

“At the end of this course in September, I want to go on to teach women in rural areas who lack knowledge of this type of training.

“Many of my fellow women cannot express the knowledge they have. I want to attend this training at WSOL so I can lead them.”

The World Trade Organization’s Enhanced Integration Framework program and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade fund the WSOL in Timor-Leste as part of a larger ongoing program to promote gender equality, climate resilience and trade in the region. The PNG program is funded through New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Roy Trivedy, United Nations Resident Coordinator for Timor-Leste, was at the official launch of the program and extended his congratulations to Fairtrade ANZ.

“I’m excited about the launch of the training centre for women coming from cooperatives from six different municipalities of Timor-Leste,” says Roy.

“I think participants will learn about the way the world works, the way that cooperative’s function, the way that markets work and also their own role and how to support their cooperatives and their communities in Timor-Leste.”

Roy says this is the first time a gender equality course is taking place in Timor-Leste, with many young people learning about Fairtrade across the world, and how it supports families and the economy.

“This course is extremely important because it builds self-confidence. It helps people to understand their own role in society and how they can support their own communities and cooperatives,” he says.

“I think the Fairtrade movement will really assist coffee producers, families, and the economy of Timor-Leste to be stronger, more sustainable, and more equitable.

“Together, we can break down gender stereotypes in Fairtrade farming communities and build up a new model of women as entrepreneurs and leaders.”

Fairtrade ANZ CEO Molly Harriss Olson adds that the company’s partners, including donors and licensees, see the long-term value in the Women’s School of Leadership.

“We look forward to this being the first of many of these programs in the years to come,” she says.

For more information, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=dv3EYrdw5LU or https://fairtradeanz.org/

This article appears in the June 2022 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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