March 8 is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme, #EmbraceEquity, shines a light on why equal opportunities aren’t enough and why true inclusion requires equitable action. Promoting gender equity in the coffee supply chain is a key part of Sucafina’s sustainability strategy. To support our gender work, we were delighted to welcome Robinah Najjingo as Gender Lead for Sucafina East Africa and the Kahawatu Foundation. Robinah, who joined in 2021 and is based in Rwanda, told us more about her role and why work to address gender inequity and inequality is so vital.
Q: What does your role as Gender Lead involve?
At the strategic level: I design all gender-related materials including policy, strategy, training, and communication materials; advise the management team on all work related to gender in the coffee value chain; and, with support from management, solicit partnerships and engagement.
At the operational level: I conduct trainings for staff and coffee farmers on gender equity and equality; support other Sucafina offices with training and advice on gender-related work; and support project implementation.
Q: Why do we need to address gender equity and equality in our supply chain?
Gender cuts across all sectors. It’s about enhancing human rights and social inclusion. At the moment, many women within coffee communities don’t have equal access to resources such as land, credit, or loans. In the bigger scheme of things, this negatively impacts coffee productivity and farmer income and can lead to increased poverty amongst women.
Training in gender equity and equality increases transparency in family and farm management, encourages collaboration in the use of family resources, and builds lasting relationships, trust, and shared values. These trainings play a key role in reducing gender-based violence (GBV), by increasing awareness in the community and openness to speak out, especially among women.
According to the International Labor Organization, increasing diversity helps to increase productivity: having diverse talent on board translates into different ideas and innovations. If more organizations like Sucafina were to tackle gender inequality, run gender analyses for programs, and provide the tools for men and women to improve together, I truly believe a higher quality of coffee would be produced.
Q: What is the difference between gender equity and gender equality?
Gender equality means providing equal opportunities for all people and eliminating discrimination based on gender. Men have always been involved throughout the coffee sector but according to the International Coffee Organization, women do up to 70% of the labor in coffee production – harvesting and grading, for example. But when it comes to trading, women make up as little as 10% of the workforce, so much more needs to be done to promote the inclusion of women.
Gender equity refers to fair and just treatment for everyone, regardless of their gender, in terms of needs, responsibilities, and resources. For example, when we talk about gender equity in our environmental work in the coffee sector, we look at how and when women are getting involved and what aid they are given to support them and help them progress in their work. Ultimately, gender equity is a practice and a way of thinking to achieve the goal of gender equality.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
At RWACOF (Sucafina’s sister company in Rwanda), we’re developing gender-responsive infrastructure, like building a safe room where women seasonal workers can rest during their breaks.
I’m also training our staff on gender issues and policy frameworks provided by the government; designing a gender training module for our staff; running trainings on gender equity and financial literacy; and educating communities on sexual reproductive health, together with local health centers.
Q: What do you like most about your job? What is the hardest part?
What I like most about my job is the way it impacts people’s lives in terms of promoting human rights – ensuring no one is left behind and that everyone’s needs are met. It’s about caring for people, because people are the most valuable asset of any organization.
The most challenging part is changing mindsets. We live in a patriarchal system where men are the dominant players, which is difficult to change. That shift requires continuous mobilization, raising awareness, engagement with men, and monitoring the implementation of our gender equality policy.
Q: How did you get into this field of work?
When I graduated, I got a job as a social empowerment trainer, a job I liked very much. It was an outlet for achieving my dream of supporting people, preventing GBV, and promoting social justice. Later, I realized that there were inequalities at my workplace and in the communities we were serving; this is what motivated me to pursue a master’s degree in Gender and Development Studies.
Due to the strong relationship between the Kahawatu Foundation and Sucafina, there was an opportunity for me to promote gender equality, diversity, and social inclusion within a multinational company and showcase how social issues can affect businesses when left unattended.
As Sucafina’s sustainability strategy grows and we develop our policy to identify and mitigate human rights issues in our supply chain, it is vital that we, as an organization, fully understand the importance of inclusion. We also need to be able to successfully embed it in our sustainability programs, taking into account what’s feasible at origin with regards to religion and culture.
Q: What advice would you give to a young woman or girl who wants to work in your field?
It’s really important for them to know and understand their rights and the laws protecting them – and to fight for them. To be able to advocate for others, having emotional intelligence and a sense of humor is also essential.