Cappuccino? Latté? Macchiato? Americano? (Double) Espresso? Industrial? Fair trade? Now, tell me how do you like your coffee? But more importantly, did you know that up to 70% of the labour force producing these precious beans is composed of women? But that (only) between 20 to 30% of coffee farms are operated by women, depending on the region? 

I guess you can see where I am going with these numbers. Countless reports have highlighted that women working in the coffee industry face lower access to many resources and services, such as land, information, and credit, than men. These disparities result in a measurable gender gap in terms of income and profits. For instance, women-run households will yield 39 to 44% less revenues than those owned by men in Ethiopia or Uganda. 

Following recent trends, the development and expansion of agricultural production have witnessed an increase in the number of women working in plantations, and the coffee industry ain’t different. Whilst many claim that this so-called ‘feminisation’ of agricultural labour allows many women to earn a ‘decent’ income, potentially lifting them out of poverty and empowering them, the reality points to a gloomier story. The competition between companies to lower their costs and increase their profits has resulted in them hiring workers who are willing to take more insecure jobs with lower wages, something women are more prone to do. Hence, the number of women farmers keeps growing but that does not mean that their living circumstances follow the same upward trend. 

Decision-making and leadership roles in the coffee industry still remain primarily dominated by men. Yes, women are cultivating coffee, but they are not selling it, and when they do, they earn far less than their men counterparts (where the exact gender disparities differ per region). In addition to economic burdens, women also face specific constraints to their agency, such as their ability to move freely, their lack of decision-making power in the household related to external matters (e.g. finances and economic decisions), their double-shiftAlso called the double burden, this double-shift represents the workload of people who both work to earn money and are responsible for significant amounts of unpaid (domestic) work at home. A double-shift, which primarily falls onto women in traditional (heterosexual) family units.× close and the burden of unpaid labour, or the fear of sexual violence, which all hamper their empowerment. This is true across coffee production, from industrial to fair trade production. 

Closing the coffee gender gap means working towards a more equal agricultural industry as well as boosting its output by 2.5 to 4% globally. However, would this increase in profits benefit society equally is another question? Nevertheless, building a more sustainable coffee industry starts with women’s empowerment, with a more equal access to productivity gains, resources, land ownership/certification, and property rights, with financial literacy and access to finance, representation in decision-making positions, and with the application of sustainable standards.

Only then, will your latté macchiato with a double shot of espresso truly be empowering for you and the women involved in cultivating, selling, supplying, grinding, and providing it.