Published in the Summer 2006 issue • News Flash
Truly fair trade
Caffeine addicts have embraced the fair-trade coffee market as a way to minimize consumer guilt while maximizing coffee intake. But while fair-trade certification boards ensure that the money you spend on your fair-trade latte gets to the farmers’ co-operatives that produced the beans, they can’t follow the money home to see how it’s distributed among families. In communities where men control the economy, this can mean that revenue from fair-trade coffee doesn’t reach women and children.
A group of women in the Northern Peruvian Andes have come up with a surprisingly simple but bold solution: they’ve formed their own coffee collective, Café Femenino. Since 2004, instead of selling their harvest alongside male relatives, they’ve been selling it through a women-only collective. There are more than 750 women involved in the project, spread throughout 50 communities in Peru. They control the cash and management of the fields and have been spending their profits in different ways than men might. Many women have used revenue from Café Femenino to send their kids to school and improve the condition of their homes. This has created profound change in an environment where, according to a collective member featured in the documentary Café Femenino, Worth Celebrating, “women are not supposed to give their opinions with the family. They are like furniture.”
Isabel Uriarte Latorre, export manager for the collective, says that the goal of Café Femenino is not just to sell coffee. Women living in isolated rural areas are hit hard by global poverty. They have little access to education and face a 70 percent chance of being sexually assaulted. Café Femenino has created a support network for women that is also a means to empowerment and independence.
Bill Barrett, the director of Café Femenino, Worth Celebrating, says that the women in the collective are surprised to learn that women in a wealthy country like Canada still face some of the same problems with gender inequality. And so another goal for Café Femenino is to connect with women in other parts of the world and “help women to be women.” Barrett co-owns Planet Bean Coffee in Guelph, Ontario, which roasts and sells Café Femenino Coffee and provides free coffee to women’s shelters through a group called Guelph Wellington Women in Crisis.
For many of us in Canada who still struggle against sexism, Café Femenino is not just a source of high-quality coffee—it’s a source of inspiration.