Tag Archives: Women’s Empowerment

Holistic health for community development

This year Social Business Network and the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Coop are excited to announce two scholarships for high school graduates from Achuapa, Nicaragua to attend the National Institute for Higher Learning in Oriental Medicine (IESMO). The Japanese-funded University offers an accredited five-year program in acupuncture and shiatsu massage. For decades the farmers Cooperative has supported a small acupuncture clinic to provide alternative healthcare options to residents, and seven years ago offered the first scholarships to two young women from rural communities to study in the capital. One of them has returned to Achuapa as a licensed Doctor of Oriental Medicine, where she has worked with the cooperative to expand the clinic and stock an herbal pharmacy. This year she also taught an introductory course in herbal medicine to a group of women in the Recognition of the Unpaid Work of Women Initiative.

Along with the expansion of the clinic in Achuapa and the decision to offer another round of scholarships, awareness of holistic alternatives to mainstream medicine is gathering support in Nicaragua. As private reiki, massage, and acupuncture clinics spring up in every major city, the Ministry of Health trialled the inclusion of one natural medicine practitioner at public clinics in Managua. The new program has received strong positive feedback, with many residents choosing to use massage or acupuncture as a treatment on the public health system. The Ministry of Health recently announced a plan to open a position for a natural medicine practitioner at clinics in four other cities in Nicaragua, creating even more job opportunities for graduates of IESMO. The farmers coop in Achuapa realizes that this growing demand for alternative health care doesn’t only provide the opportunity for them to support young people on a career path in natural medicine, but also opens up a new local market for farmers to grow and process herbs for natural remedies.

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Diosmara Rayos, first year student in front of a plaque of Japanese partners at the Institute for Higher Learning in Oriental Medicine, Managua, Nicaragua.

The first recipient of this scholarship is Diosmara Rayos, 19. Diosmara is a bright young woman who has shown her dedication to studies for many years: without an available high-school near her rural community, she left home at 14 to attend the high-school in Achuapa, where she graduated at the top of her class and then studied English for two years at a community college in Esteli before hearing about the scholarship for Oriental Medicine. She comes from the small community of La Arinconada in Achuapa, a land cooperative formed during the Agricultural Reformation in the 1980’s. She became familiar with oriental medicine when her mother began treatment for a life-threatening illness at IESMO, where she was treated by Japanese doctors for over nine years. Diosmara says she was inspired by her mother’s experience to study acupuncture and massage. We are very proud of her decision and thrilled that at the end of her first semester she is among the top students in her class!

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The Wide World of Women in Agriculture

Women’s empowerment, gender equality, climate change, sustainable agriculture, and the future of our food systems are topics that deserve the increasing academic and media attention they are increasingly receiving.  For academics, ethical business entrepreneurs and development professionals this means a constant growth of new resources to track impact and share political, economic, and educational strategies that bring together our common goals.  A new collaboration between “Feed the Future,” the US Government’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, USAID, the International Food Policy Research Institute, and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative has announced a new index that will add to the resources publicly available.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) claims to track women’s engagement in agriculture in five areas, including relative empowerment to men in their households and communities:

  • Production
  • Resources
  • Income
  • Leadership
  • Time Use

The case studies for the base-line survey work for the index were conducted in Bangladesh, Guatemala and Uganda, and the brochure claims that 19 countries will initially be included in the index. Although it is great to see resources directed toward understanding and improving the role of Women in Agriculture by these development organizations, this is by no means a strictly developing world issue. As organizations such as the Women’s Food and Agriculture Network in the US and the Women’s Food and Farming Union in the UK demonstrate, women have been and remain a vital force in the success of food production around the world, and deserve recognition and equal resources for their work. The increasing attention on the role of women in agriculture will hopefully expand to include a look at the empowerment struggles of women world-wide as stewards of the land and essential contributors to the future of our food.

Closing the Gender Gap

Image courtesy of the BBC, www.bbc.co.uk

Image courtesy of the BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk

Last week the World Economic Forum published the 2013 Gender Gap report.  The report began in 2006 and since then has attempted to annual review the accessibility of each nation’s resources to men and women.  The report focusses on 4 areas of equality – health and survival, educational attainment, political empowerment and economic participation and opportunities.  The scores are then averaged to create an overall ranking of countries.

In Latin America, a relatively small region of the world with closely neighboring countries, there is a large discrepancy in the WEF report’s finding.  While Nicaragua just slips in to the highest ranking countries in the world at overall 10th place, Guatemala ranks 114th – the lowest in the entire Western Hemisphere after Suriname in 110th.  Nicaragua’s 10th place ranking has made national news and earned it a place on many summary reports such as this one from the BBC on par with the European countries at the very top of the list – like Iceland, Norway, and Ireland.  But a glance at the breakdown by area shows that Nicaragua’s scores are disparate:  While a law passed two years ago requiring all political parties to support 50% women candidates in local and national elections is most likely responsible for the 5th place rank in political empowerment, the country lags behind in other areas, most notably in Economic Participation and Opportunities where it ranks 91st.  In these productive yet still resource-tight countries, there’s no question that closing the gender gap every year overall marks important advancements in the quality of life for its citizens.  But there’s still a lot of work to be done, which is why this report supports the relevancy of Social Business’s work with economic empowerment like the Recognition of the Unpaid Work of Women.  In fact, across Latin America the rankings for equality of Economic Participation and Opportunities fall in the 90th and 110th percentile, yet another reason to support equitable trade and trading organizations like cooperatives that uphold gender equality as central principles in their work.

Women from the Juan Francisco Paz Silva cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua

Press Release – Successfull Celebration of Women’s Empowerment Initiative in Nicaraguan Supply Chains

First-ever initiative to count the unpaid work of women in agricultural commodity production is successful in Nicaragua 

Ético: The Ethical Trading Company Ltd., British NGO Social Business Network, and Nicaraguan farmer cooperatives celebrate the ground-breaking innovation to Recognise the Unpaid Work of Women in Ethical Supply Chains.

 Ético: The Ethical Trading Company and British NGO Social Business Network are pioneering the first ever initiative to Recognise the Unpaid Work of Women in Ethical Supply Chains. Traditionally, the price for commodity products include only direct input and labour costs, and fail to recognize or take into account the supporting unpaid work which is done mainly by women.  This is the first time that rural women’s unpaid work has been recognized as a necessary input into production and one that should be valued and remunerated. This initiative was presented on July 3, 2013 to a group of 100 invitees, including representatives from Fair Trade companies Twin, Equal Exchange, and Liberation Nuts, the Nicaraguan Embassy, UK Government officials and Tesco.  The event was organized by Ético and Social Business Network, with support from Hoare’s Bank, the Bulldog Trust, and Raleigh International.  The speakers explained the pilot stages and preliminary evaluation of the initiative with small-farmer sesame and coffee Cooperatives in Nicaragua.

The initiative developed in 2008 during a visit of the Body Shop with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua.  Ético gender advisor Catherine Hoskyns conducted a pilot study of women’s labour in sesame production.  Her initial findings revealed that when women’s indirect labour (eg. cooking food for field labourers) and more general domestic work are included, this counts for around 22% of the total labour input in sesame.  The results of the study were used to apply an additional cost to the price of the sesame oil for cosmetics, and has since been used to apply similar costs to the sales of coffee from Nicaraguan Cooperatives.  The Cooperatives use the increase in price margin to organize women’s empowerment activities in their communities, such as education, savings and loans schemes and labour organisation, which bring women together and strengthen the cooperatives.

Left to Right: (Back row) Liberty Pegg, Felicity Butler, Albert Tucker, Nick Hoskyns, Christina Archer (Front Row) Catherine Hoskyns, Rachel Lindsay, Julia Perez.  Photo Credit: George Selwyn

Left to Right: (Back row) Liberty Pegg, Felicity Butler, Albert Tucker, Nick Hoskyns, Christina Archer (Front Row) Catherine Hoskyns, Rachel Lindsay, Julia Perez. Photo Credit: George Selwyn

The event on July 3 demonstrated the transformative power of integrated supply chains.  It was held at 2 Temple Place and chaired by Albert Tucker, Director of Social Business Network.  The opening speech was given by Fiona Woolf, Lord Mayor Elect of the City of London and Trustee of Raleigh International, whose inspiration to support the event came from a visit to Nicaragua in 2012 where she was present at a meeting of women participating in the initiative.  She spoke of the impact that listening to the women’s experiences working with the program of the cooperative, and concluded, “That’s why… I will also be a champion for the unpaid work of women.  I think it has huge applications across the developed world as well as in the developing world.”  A vivid account of the different types of unpaid work which women do in Nicaragua was given by Julia Perez, of Achuapa Nicaragua, and Liberty Pegg, a former volunteer with Raleigh International. Catherine Hoskyns explained the initial calculation of women’s unpaid labour in sesame production and its significance, and Felicity Butler gave her first findings about the impact of the initiative. She is researching this through her Ph.D. at Royal Holloway University, which funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and The Body Shop.   Rachel Lindsay, representative of Social Business Network in Nicaragua, gave an overview of how this concept has been piloted in coffee sales and the support it has generated from the entire supply chain.  Christina Archer, Senior Buyer for Community Fair Trade Ingredients at the Body Shop, gave a testimony, emphasising that “This initiative does also make really good business sense, and strengthens the sustainability of supply chains… Our brand is about building self-esteem and empowering women, be they the women who use our products or the women in our supply chains”.  The event was concluded by Nick Hoskyns, Founding Director of Ético, who emphasised that when you bring together committed partners, you can use business to effect real change.   He emphasised that it was not easy to get this far but “with such good collaborators, many of whom are present, we have shown that we can still make trade fairer, just as we did with the establishment of Fair Trade”.  He also credited the cooperative organisations with being instrumental in the implementation of this initiative and using the additional funds so effectively for women’s empowerment.

Recognition of the Unpaid Work of Women

This summer Social Business Network and Ético will be celebrating our initiative to Recognize the Unpaid Work of Women in ethical supply chains.  Our pilot programme began in 2009 with the first-ever cost structure for an agricultural product that included economic remuneration for the traditional labor of women.

Much of the work women do in the production of agricultural commodities does not receive the recognition they deserve and is very often not remunerated.  These activities may be directly linked to production such as winnowing crops after they are harvested, safely storing crops at the home, and preparing food for field workers, or indirectly related to family production like fetching water, firewood and caring for children and elderly.  These are tasks that most rural women do regardless of whether their families grow crops for export, local sale, or autoconsumption.  Therefore, the value of the unpaid work of women has been calculated into the cost structure of our products and is included in the cost paid to the producer Cooperative.  The Cooperative uses these funds to empower women through making organizational, financial, and educational resources available to them.  Three years after the start of our pilot project, participation levels of women in the farmers cooperatives has risen sharply.  During a recent evaluation of the initiative with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua, both women and men involved in the implementation were asked what the programme has accomplished since it’s inception.  Here are some of their responses:

  • a better relationship between women in rural communities (una mejor relación entre mujeres en las communidades)
  • women are taken into account (las mujeres son tomadas en cuenta)
  • more active participation by women (mejor participación activa de las mujeres)
  • development of creative potential in rural families (desarrollo de de creatividad en la economía familiar)
  • independence and security of having savings in their name (independencia y la seguridad de tener ahorros en sus nombres)
  • more women are joining the cooperative as full members (más mujeres se están uniendo a la cooperativa como socios)
  • other organizations are beginning to recognize the work women do (las mujeres son mas reconocidas por su trabajo de otras organizaciones)
  • a positive example of development for youth and the next generation (buen ejemplo para las/los hijos y jovenes y herencia generacional)

Social Business Network has partnered with trade companies, volunteer organizations, farmers cooperatives and universities to make this initiative possible.  Through our work this initiative has sparked lengthy passionate discussions about the roll of women and how to effectively recognize their contributions to society.  The academics we work with even raise the question of whether the unpaid work that women do in consumer countries has been successfully recognized yet?  This innovation in ethical trading clearly strikes universal chords. While it has been enthusiastically supported by buyers in several continents, it continues to be an organic development that offers as much through it’s process as with it’s results.  We are looking forward to celebrating these achievements and the bright future this programme has as it expands to help more rural women reach their full potential in their communities.