Here at Kohana, you don’t have to go far to find someone who can testify to how hard it can be for women in the world of coffee. Just find our founder, Victoria, who can attest to the challenges women face—from the plantation to the executive suite—in our favorite industry.
The issue is especially acute in the third world, where the women who grow and harvest much of the coffee we love face more than their fair share of burdens. In addition to a daily struggle to maintain hope in the face of endemic poverty and difficult working conditions, they must continually fight culturally entrenched gender biases and the terrible inequality they create.
It’s not easy, but the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) is working to change that and more by building bridges between coffee drinkers and the women who make sure our cups are always full.
It started in 2003 when founders Karen Cebreros and Kimberly Easson visited Nicaragua and Costa Rica on a trip to explore the issues women confront in the coffee-growing centers of the world and forge friendships that could help address their needs and boost their fortunes. The trip was a success, and once back home, the pair found their message and their mission attracting the kind of attention that made the creation of an organization a foregone conclusion.
Today, IWCA has 19 chapters around the world, all working together to raise awareness of the issues facing women in the coffee industry, advocate on their behalf, and work to improve their lives and communities.
To that necessary end, the IWCA provides scholarships to children in coffee regions, health screenings for women growers and their families, workshops to teach them additional marketable skills, training sessions on everything from negotiating better prices for their to boosting crop yields, and badly needed help preventing coffee rust, a common disease that can ruin the coffee trees they rely upon for their survival.
The good people at the IWCA are also helping women-run coffee farms catch up to their competition by supplying the equipment that is so vital to success in today’s high-tech coffee industry. That includes essential machinery like coffee pulpers, washing stations, hulling machines, and other tools that are almost always financially out of reach for impoverished growers trying to eke out a living on the industry’s margins.
It’s important work guided by a belief we share—that women coffee growers and handlers deserve equality and respect, and that we can all play a role in helping them achieve it while creating better, healthier, and more hopeful futures for themselves and families.
Because there’s more work hiding in that cup of coffee we just savored than most of us can imagine, and much of it is performed by women we’re all unknowingly counting on. The IWCA simply wants to make sure that these women and their families get a fair shake. And that’s a goal we should all work to advance whenever we can.