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The History of Women in Coffee

Posted by Bean & Bean on
The History of Women in Coffee

Women’s history in coffee is a tricky subject to talk about, mainly because there's little visibility of women in the coffee industry. Many women participate in large numbers in the most labor intensive tasks of the coffee supply chain:  from working in the fields as a farmer to minding counter as a barista. There simply isn’t enough discussion about the kind of issues and harassment women face in the industry. 

Let’s take a look at available research and sources detailing the state of women in the coffee industry, including prevalent trends, and what needs to occur for gender neutrality to take place.

History of women in coffee

Back in the 1600s, when coffee first gained popularity in western regions, women weren’t allowed to be a part of the coffee processing or to even consume coffee. It was normal for the rich and wealthy men to savor the delicious drink in cafes. 

However, it was women who ran the coffee houses, and served the drinks. 

A petition was filed in the 17th century known as the “Women’s petition against coffee." This petition against the selling of coffee was supposedly filed by “women” who thought coffee made their husbands impotent. 

But, as rumor has it, the petition was started by men who wanted to keep the popularity of the cafes at a minimum. As coffee houses were places of business and important discussions that were meant to be kept exclusive. While this was done for “satirical” purposes, it displays the sexism that has existed and continues to persist in the coffee industry. 

Issues that women in the coffee industry face today

Surprisingly little research has been done in this field. A lot of the countries involved in  production are poor countries and thus have less resources to track and prevent abuse and harassment.

It’s hard to find raw data to assess what women are doing and how they are faring. 

Studies have shown that up to seventy percent of the labor carried out at coffee farms is by women. However, women are uninvolved in the supply chain side and business side of things. Women in coffee in poor countries find that they can't enter into local co-ops as they are unable to afford the fees, don’t own the land, and sometimes this is due to traditional prejudice

These women are also burdened with the household and child rearing. Where often the men just have an 8 hour workday, women on coffee farms can have up to 15 hour work days. 

These extra jobs and burdens take a toll and leaving less time for the business side of things. This leads to a very limited voice of women in the larger supply chain which makes it very hard for women to have a strong position and affect policy changes.

This all has the very unfortunate effect of silencing issues of exploitation and harassment on farms, with reports of sexual assault being documented in various poor countries. Women in these places find it tough to speak out, as they fear financial and social reprimands for their brave actions.

International Women’s Coffee Alliance

Research alliances like the International Women’s Coffee Alliance and Bean Voyage exist and have a tough fight ahead of them. However, they are rising to the challenge of spreading change by empowering women in these countries

Through showcase forums the ICWA is getting women more involved in the supply chains, by connecting women led farms with distributors all over the world.

Future of women in coffee

Promoting products of woman led farms to a wider audience assists female farmers. The larger issue is that most women are prevented from owning the land in the first place to run a farm. 

A recent UN report stated that less than thirty percent of coffee farms in poor countries are headed by women. Thus while NGOs are making a dent, there is still more that could be done. And with reports of men migrating away from rural producing areas, women have a strong chance of seizing ownership and moving up the supply chain. 

Promoting women-led coffee cooperatives

costa rica women coffee producers with coffee drying on raised african beds

If you’d like to support women coffee productions and sourcers, the Peru Las Damas is a great place to start. This coffee features a burst of lemon and orange flavors, along with earthy and nutty dark chocolate.  It's made by Cooperativa Agraria Frontera San Ignacio, which is a coffee farm run by a number of passionate and hard working women. 

Fair-trade certified with ethical practices, you can savor the delicate notes of this delicious blend, while ensuring the workers at COOPAFSI are getting paid fairly. 

Jiyoon and Rachel Mother Daughter Team at Bean and Bean Coffee Roasting Facility in Queens New York

While you enjoy and satisfy your coffee cravings, you’d be delighted to know that the sourcer of these coffees, i.e., Bean & Bean, is also a female-led business. Run by a mother daughter duo, the company sources only organic and fair trade certified coffee to ensure sustainability and fair compensation for the coffee farmers. Working to bridge the gender gap, Bean & Bean also partners with female coffee growers and strives for women to get their fair share.

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