Around the world, women in coffee face no shortage of discrimination and challenges, whether they’re farmers, roasters, or baristas. In East Africa, the economic and social gender gap in coffee is narrowing, but more needs to be done to improve gender equity.
At JNP Coffee, we are passionate about empowering women in coffee, and for us, this begins with improving gender equity for women in Burundi’s coffee sector. However, this is easier said than done – and there is plenty of work to do.
Let’s take a closer look at what we mean by “gender equity” – and how JNP Coffee is working to empower and embolden Burundian women.
What is gender equity in the context of coffee production?
The United Nations defines gender equity as “the process of being fair to men and women.” While gender equality means equal treatment in the context of responsibilities, rights, and opportunities, gender equity is grounded in fairness. Part of this means acknowledging that people have differing needs if they are to access the same opportunities.
As far as coffee production is concerned, the International Coffee Organization estimates that as much as 70% of the labor in coffee production is provided by women. This estimate rises to 80% in the context of harvesting activities, and to 90% in the case of fieldwork.
Despite this, somewhere between 20 to 30% of the world’s coffee farms are actually operated by women. Put simply, women carry out the bulk of the physical work involved in the world’s coffee production, without reaping their fair share of the financial rewards.
This isn’t just an issue of land ownership, either. Women in coffee production are often stripped of their agency, leading to such limitations as:
● Control over resources
● Freedom of movement
● Freedom from the risk of violence
● The ability to have a voice in society and influence policy
“Throughout Africa, the divide between men and women remains an important issue,” explains Jeanine Niyonzima-Aroian, founder of JNP Coffee.
“In East Africa, particularly in countries like Burundi, where 87% of the population lives below the poverty line, and 90% of the population are farmers. With women making up a significant portion of that workforce, gender equity is so crucial.
“Because of these conditions, girls and women are most likely to have no access to education and opportunities,” Jeanine adds. “So, promoting gender equity can help address these issues and change their circumstances.”
Burundi coffee & the challenges women face
In 2015, the Specialty Coffee Association determined that a sample of East African men earned over US $500 on average over the surveyed period for harvesting coffee. Their female counterparts, however, received just US $450 for the same work.
This kind of pay gap begins with a lack of gender equity at farm level. As it persists, it limits women’s financial access, and creates a cycle wherein they cannot challenge or change the status quo.
In many countries, including some in East Africa, land ownership is one of the biggest barriers for women.
In Burundi, Jeanine explains that many women often inherit nothing from their family. The current system recognizes women as “usufructuaries” rather than heirs, meaning that their right to use the land often depends wholly on the owner.
There are also other limitations which extend into key areas such as education, training, and finance. In many cases, women are still expected to manage households and take care of children by default. These beliefs can limit their financial and social independence.
However, things are changing, and we can see improvements across East Africa, including in Burundi.
According to CARE International, “women in Burundi [now] feel more able to disagree with their partners and negotiate conflicts – a confidence that is helping them grow more food and earn more money.”
How can we empower more women in coffee?
Specialty coffee has the power to change the lives of those who produce it. At JNP Coffee, we focus on leveraging that power to uplift women coffee producers in Burundi in several ways:
● Paying women directly for their work
● Emboldening women to challenge cultural norms
● Empowering women to become active participants in their local economies
Jeanine explains that women coffee farmers in Burundi represent a powerful workforce that deserves more recognition in the market. As part of this, JNP Coffee operates Dushime®– its premium payment program.
“From 2013 to 2023, we paid US $500,000 in premiums to farmers, most of them women, as we focused on members of the IWCA Burundi chapter in the beginning,” Jeanine elaborates. “To extend this program to others, we then created Dushime® – which means ‘let's be thankful’ – to encourage and recognize quality production with these ‘second payments’ to farmers.” Disbursements to date have now reached the half-million dollar mark.
JNP Coffee currently sources high-quality green coffee from, among other groups, a 600-member all-women co-operative. Many benefit from the Dushime® program.
“Today, more than 10,000 women and their families benefit from their share of Dushime® – a share of the quality premium achieved in world markets,” Jeanine adds. “With the bonus, women pay for their children’s education, invest in their coffee plantations, and save money for the first time in their lives.”
Other programs that empower women in coffee have included a savings and loan that develops future leaders, and a financial literacy project which teaches women how to save money in groups and offers microloans.
What about the future?
The International Coffee Organization estimates that closing the gender gap could boost global coffee production by as much as 4%. This is especially important in the face of rising demand from major consuming markets around the world.
There is a need for future sustainability in East African coffee production, and gender equity is an important route towards that goal. Through programs like Dushime® and collaborations with local organizations within Burundi, improved gender equity in East African coffee production is becoming a real possibility.
“In Burundi, where women have limited access to resources and education while being stereotyped, financial independence can mean a world of difference,” Jeanine concludes. “Now we are witnessing coffee farmers turn into entrepreneurs with more educated and healthy children. This means happier families and more empowered communities.”