Monday, November 7, 2011

Women's Empowerment and Fair Trade


According to Principle 6 of Fair Trade, We the producers, artisans, weavers, farmers, and craftswomen and men; We the Fair Trade Organizations, NGOs, and Community-Based Organizations; We the local, national and regional Fair Trade networks; We the advocates, activists and supporters; We the conscientious buyers, importers, retailers, and consumers; and We the global movement all embrace Gender Equality. However, we need to ask exactly what does this mean and how is it attained?

Obviously to begin we need to define Gender. Firstly, gender is not sex; it is not a biological difference.  In March, 2011 I examined how gender originates: International Women's Day: What is Gender?  To be succinct, Gender is a social construct; it is how society views and judges men and women differently based on five reproductive organs, our only physical differences. To understand that gender is a social construct is to examine the effects of this construct in our own lives. Ask yourself, what roles women have in the household, in the family, in the community, in society and within culture. How do those roles differ from the roles of men? What are the expectations a given society places on women and men based on those roles. 

When we separate sex from gender, we begin to see the differences between men and women are nothing more than socially constructed differences. It isn’t that men are better decision-makers just because they have a penis; or that women are better caretakers of children just because they can give birth. These are all assumptions; social constructs surrounding reproductive functions, not based on fact.  Now let's go on...

What is Gender Equality? 

Gender Equality is commonly defined as a social order in which women and men share the same opportunities and enjoy full participation in the social, cultural, political, legal, and economic arenas, to include both the public and domestic realms. In other words, there are no "glass ceilings" limiting levels of participation, no constraints placed on either men or women due to socio-cultural constructs or expectations, and no consequences for pursuing goals and ambitions in any of these areas. 


What is Gender Equity?

Gender Equity entails the steps, set of actions, attitudes, and assumptions that provide equal opportunities in the progress towards gender equality.

One action a state takes towards gender equity is to sign and ratify the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). To understand the principles of this convention, read A Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade: Understanding CEDAW. Once this treaty is ratified by the state, the onus of responsibility for ensuring equality between men and women belongs to the state. The state in turn enacts laws and policies to be implemented in the legal systems. Ultimately the implementation of gender equality laws influence the socio-cultural norms of society.  
 
Why is it important for the Global Fair Trade Movement to understand this?  To begin, there is a direct linkage between globalization, exploitation and poverty, which Fair Trade aims to address. Gita Sen, a well known Indian intellectual and author of Development, Crises, and Alternative Visions: Third World Women’s Perspectives, has greatly helped to transform popular thinking on Gender and Development. In her speech, Challenges to Gender Justice in a Neo-Conservative Era, she noted: 


"As kept being recorded in one human development report after another, was soaring global inequality, between countries and within countries, soaring inequalities between different classes, between different sections and segments of people and particularly the feminization of poverty on a dramatic scale.

Now this is interesting because globalization is often held up as being the era of the feminization of the labour force.  Women in fact have come into the labour force in large numbers. What is ironic therefore is that you have a feminization of the labour force and a feminization of poverty taking place simultaneously. And I think this reflects the paradoxes and the ironies of the current stage of global capitalist order.  Because it means that getting a job is no guarantee that you will be out of poverty.  The number of working poor, the insecurity for those who work and who struggle to survive increased.” 

                                                                                    - Gita Sen


Considering the ‘feminization of poverty’ Sen illuminates in her speech, the impact of the free market ideology on poor women in developing nations is particularly harmful. When we utilize a Rights-Based Approach we recognize poverty as injustice and includes marginalization, discrimination, and exploitation as central causes of poverty.   

For a Rights-Based Approach to be successful, it helps to have a comprehensive framework on which to build a movement. Winner of the 2003 Africa Laureate, Sarah Longwe, designed a theoretical model based on a five-step approach to Gender Equity, a model I utilized for my Master’s Degree thesis on the Obstacles and Approaches to Gender Equality in Sri Lanka, © 2008 (see below).


Longwe's Women's Empowerment Framework

The purpose of Longwe's Women's Empowerment Framework is to move upwards from gender equity to gender equality. Firstly, through the provision of the needs of women; then onto raising awareness of women’s rights. The third through fifth steps are to facilitate access to, participation in, and ultimately share control of three frameworks: Social-Cultural, Legal and Political. In short, Sarah Longwe’s Framework presents a Road Map to rise from gender equity to substantive gender equality (read: A Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade: Understanding CEDAW) as emphasized in the UN convention on Women's Rights and embraced by UNIFEM. Below is Longwe's Empowerment Framework, to see the progressive steps read it from bottom up; from Welfare to Control:


Longwe’s Women’s Empowerment Framework
Control
Empowerment seeks a balance of power between women and men, so that neither is in a position of dominance. It means that women have power alongside men to influence their destiny and that of their society. In Longwe’s view, empowerment is an inter-connected cycle of countering discrimination and oppression. Addressing the roots of inequality at one level leads to a discussion about all of the other levels. Empowerment takes place as individual women and groups of women move between levels, gaining strength along the way.
Empowerment occurs in the Process of Social Change
Participation / Mobilization
The individual woman in the home is not likely to make much progress in challenging traditional norms – Power expands in numbers and connection. Mobilization is therefore the fourth and crucial stage of empowerment, which enables the collective analysis of gender issues, and the collective commitment to action. Mobilization is largely concerned with redefining participation in decision making, as participation of a mobilized group will spark the search for empowerment at yet another level. In development projects, it includes involvement in needs assessment, project design, implementation and evaluation.
Social Change occurs with mobilization!!!
Conscientisation
Here an understanding of the difference between sex roles and gender roles comes into force with the belief that gender relations and the gender division of labour should be fair and agreeable to both sides, and not based on the domination of one over the other. Access now pertains to women’s access to factors of production, land, labour, credit, training, marketing facilities, and all publicly available services and benefits - on an equal basis with men. Equality of access is obtained by securing equality of opportunity through legal reform to remove discriminatory provisions.
Social Change is on the agenda!
Access
The gender gap at the welfare level results from inequality of access to opportunity, information, and other resources. Empowerment means that women are 1) made aware of the gap and 2) animated to take actions for gaining access to their fair and equal share of the various resources available within the household, and within the wider system of state provision. Action here takes women automatically to the next level.
Welfare


---------
At this base level work views women as passive recipients and welfare pertains to the level of material welfare of women, relative to men, with respect to food supply, income and medical care, without reference to whether women are themselves the active creators and producers of their material needs. This level is not sustainable nor does it empower women.


What I appreciate about Longwe's model is that Empowerment is not a given, and the end result is not equated to material gains. Empowerment takes place as individual women and groups of women move between levels, gaining strength along the way; Empowerment occurs in the Process of Social Change. However, one thing remains - How does this empowerment framework relate to Fair Trade? 
 
This may seem a bit academic, but to test where Fair Trade stands in relation to empowering women on this framework, I have placed relevant principles of Fair Trade in line with the level of actions taken towards gender equality.

Longwe’s Women’s Empowerment Framework

Fair Trade Principle
Empowerment seeks a balance of power between women and men, so that neither is in a position of dominance. It means that women have power alongside men to influence their destiny and that of their society.
Control
Principle 6: The organization actively promotes applications from women for job vacancies and for leadership positions

Women’s collective analysis of gender issues, and the collective commitment to action. Redefining participation in decision making, as participation of a mobilized group will spark the search for empowerment at yet another level
Participation
Principle 6: Women fully participate in decisions concerning the use of benefits accruing from the production process; The organization respects the right of all employees to form and join trade unions of their choice and to bargain collectively.
Principle 2: The organization finds appropriate, participatory ways to involve employees, members and producers in its decision-making processes.
Principle 4: A fair price is one that has been mutually agreed by all through dialogue and participation; equal pay for equal work by women and men.
Understanding of the difference between sex roles and gender roles; division of labour should be fair and agreeable to both sides, and not based on the domination of one over the other. Access now pertains to women’s access to factors of production, land, labour, credit, training, marketing facilities, and all publicly available services and benefits - on an equal basis with men.
Conscientisation
Principle 6: The organization provides opportunities for women and men to develop their skills; in production situations where women's work is valued less highly than men's work, women's work is re-valued to equalize pay rates and women are allowed to undertake work according to their capacities.
Principle 8: The organization develops the skills and capabilities of its own employees or members; Organizations working directly with small producers develop specific activities to help these producers improve their management skills, production capabilities and access to markets
Principle 3: (When a pre-payment is received) from buyers, (the organization) ensure that this payment is passed on to the producers or farmers who make or grow their Fair Trade products. 
Empowerment means that women are 1) made aware of the gap and 2) animated to take actions for gaining access to their fair and equal share
Access
Principle 6: The organization does not discriminate (regardless of) gender or sexual orientation; The organization takes into account the special health and safety needs of pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers.
The gender gap at the welfare level results from inequality of access to opportunity, information, and other resources
Welfare
Principle 1: The organization supports marginalized small producers… it seeks to enable them to move from income insecurity and poverty to economic self-sufficiency and ownership.
Principle 6: Organizations working directly with producers ensure that women are always paid for their contribution to the production process, and when women do the same work as men they are paid at the same rates as men.
  
From this matrix we can clearly see that Fair Trade is not solely about earning a living wage, but is genuinely a movement which embraces gender equality. To make Longwe's framework easily accessible and functional for the women and men of Fair Trade I have published it here on a downloadable pdf format:
Longwe's Women's Empowerment Framework

However, before we celebrate the proactive steps Fair Trade takes towards women's empowerment, I invite you to read a blog post which is reflective of the realities on the ground for some Fair Trade producers. While on the Journey for Fair Trade in Ache, Indonesia, I discovered that despite FLO certification, none of the twelve cooperatives had followed through on their obligations towards empowering women. 

Their failure to follow our shared principles was reflected in the fact that most of these coffee producers had NO WOMEN REPRESENTATIVES out of the 50+ elected representatives in their decision-making bodies. Granted, a couple cooperatives I had been exposed to in the region had elected one or two women to decision-making boards, but this was hardly representative of the women's membership. I encourage you to read the post: Coffee Part III - Empowering Communities through Action in which I discuss what actions I took to break the ice to address this seemingly culturally sensitive issue. Not that change imminently followed my actions, but a seed was dropped, and social norms questioned for the first time.


With that said, Johannes Egger the FLO-Cert Auditor for Indonesia has presented me with another experience he has with two cooperatives, "There are also some success stories in Aceh!!!! There is one with a complete board of a cooperative of women. Another successful cooperative is managed by a woman (one of the best managements I have seen the last three years)."  I find this to be an inspiration, that change can happen through Fair Trade!

My point here is that 
Fair Trade is as much about Social Change,
    as it is about Empowering Producers.
 

When I call for integration of a Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade, I am calling for the enactment of what has already been set in motion through our shared principles: Women's Empowerment through Social Change. 


Join Chou and I in integrating a Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade.

Mitch Teberg, MA 
International Consultant
Sustainable Development / Fair Trade/ Women's Rights and Gender
Researcher / Trainer / Consultant   

Feel free to add your comments, thoughts or ideas below or catch me on facebook.



To see how Longwe's framework was utilized to analyze the national women's movement of Sri Lanka, I have published it here in a downloadable pdf format: 

Obstacles and Approaches to Gender Equality in Sri Lanka, Mitch Teberg, 2008



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