One of the most satisfying aspects of my work is sitting down with farm families and trying to solve a problem creatively. During my last visit to Peru, we were having a discussion with CODEMU (the Women’s Development Council) on how to insure effective participation of the women in the Oro Verde coop’s decision making. Everybody who sells Fair Trade coffee puts gender equity, etc. in their literature, but there are lots of nitty gritty reasons why women don’t fully participate, even though Fair Trade rules require it. One reason is that most of the women have kids, and as every working mom (and dad!) who is reading this knows, it is impossible to participate in a meeting when you’ve got an infant in need of a change or a two and three year old falling down, spilling a drink or crying at the injustice of the sharing impaired. (I remember once when I was a lawyer/stay at home dad I had a three way international call going on while I tried to change Sarah’s diaper- okay, just the tip of the iceberg!).
We came up with the idea of creating a day care program during assemblies, committee meetings and other gatherings of the coop. Now this may seem pretty straightforward up here, but it is not common at all in rural coffee village settings. According to Melba, the head of CODEMU, the social expectation there is that a woman will take care of the kids while doing everything else at the same time, even if it means not being able to stay in a meeting or stay focused. As a result, women are rarely effective participants in these meetings, which determine the nuts and bolts policies and practices that control their economic lives.
We co-created and funded a program to bring in day care providers, toys and a safe space for young children at the Oro Verde headquarters in Lamas. After six months, we found that it was helpful but not great – the women were having trouble finding skilled caretakers who were available for short gigs. As we analyzed the problem, it became clear that the issue was that the coop was only looking for degree-holding social workers or psychologists for daycare, as there is a knee-jerk reaction in many Latin American communities for degrees, hierarchy and licenses. I suggested getting a list of responsible sixteen and seventeen year olds who could provide short- term oversight and care and who would love to make the money (read: slightly older babysitters!). Although this was a new concept in this rural area, Melba and the women of CODEMU thought it might work. The big annual meeting is coming up in April, so we will see how it works.
Small steps, shared ideas, a little help from your friends. That is how we build community around the coffee world.