Creating Costa Rica’s First Gender Policy

For this blog, we spoke to Adriana Vásquez, who is leading Bean Voyage’s collaborative efforts with ICAFE to establish Costa Rica’s first gender policy for the coffee sector.

A hand holding a coffee cherry / Credit: Alexa Romano

How did this project come about?

“The idea for a gender policy for Costa Rica’s coffee sector came about thanks to ICAFE (el Instituto del Café de Costa Rica). It is a very old institution in the coffee sector in Costa Rica, and now for the first time, a woman is in charge. She realized that there is a significant gender gap in the sector and that there is a lack of gender inclusivity in the existing policy. In general, coffee policies do not have a gender focus, and yet there is a significant number of women working in the industry. So, at the start of this year, ICAFE representatives told us that they were hoping to develop a gender policy and that they wanted the support of Bean Voyage. At that stage, it was just an idea. Following our conversation, IICA, (el Instituto Interamericano de Cooperación para la Agricultura), provided them with financing to contract a consulting company, Tríptico, with which we at Bean Voyage were already familiar. Tríptico and Bean Voyage then applied to develop the policy together, and that’s how it all started!”

Are there similar policies that are already in place in other countries?

“From our research, it is something completely new, at least for the region and the coffee sector.”

Where do you think change is needed?

“I think there are significant gaps in every sector, but particularly in agricultural sectors. In the coffee sector, it took on greater importance from the moment a woman took charge of ICAFE. In my opinion, when women are not present in power structures, few people care about the situation. But when women feature in power structures, people begin to realize how many women there are that nobody considers. So, the need for a gender policy was pre-existing, but the director of ICAFE is the one who saw the gender gap and was willing to raise it. I believe that we need many more policy changes at the national level: at the moment, Costa Rica has a general gender policy that there should be 50% men and women in companies, but that alone doesn’t ensure gender equity. It doesn’t guarantee equal conditions with respect to the double or triple burden that women face, it doesn’t make the roles that women have evident, and it doesn’t ensure real participation on the part of women. For me, it’s about breaking the paradigm. It’s not just a case of giving a job to a woman, but also about guaranteeing equality of opportunity and conditions. INAMU (el Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres) has already made great steps towards this. However, there remains a lot to change in every sector.”

What stage are we at now?

“The first step involved undertaking a review of all the available documents and texts from ICAFE and the Ministry of Agriculture of Costa Rica. On the basis of that, we identified the areas we wanted to work on. Initially, we were just envisaging a policy focusing on women coffee producers. Then we had the idea of focusing on gender in the coffee value chain as a whole, as there are many women involved, and yet the vast majority of them are made invisible. We additionally analyzed international documents, and we’re currently at the stage of identifying people to be interviewed. These will be in-depth interviews with people from different parts of the coffee value chain. Following the interviews, we will begin focus groups of both male and female coffee producers, in order to identify the roles played by women, the challenges they face, how they would like a gender policy to be, and what their needs are.”

Credit: Alexa Romano

What do you hope the policy will achieve?

“The most important thing is that women’s presence in the coffee value chain is recognized and that they receive equal conditions and opportunities to their male counterparts. For example, in Costa Rica, many women who produce coffee do not appear on statistics because their business is registered under their husband’s name. This is mainly for economic reasons, such as not having to pay double the taxes or insurance for one nuclear family. Of course, women are free to sell their coffee under their husband’s names, but they should at least be represented in statistics. They are currently invisible, and it should be made clear that they participate in the coffee value chain at every stage, as producers, baristas, exporters, roasters, and much more.”

What do you think Bean Voyage has learned to date from this experience?

“We have learned just how expansive the coffee sector is. Before, we always focused on women producers in communities on the ground, and so we have learned more about figures in the coffee value chain who were not previously mapped out as part of our work. Undertaking policy analysis has meant that we understand better the structures at play, such as in the administrative or political parts of the sector. Although we were already aware of these aspects beforehand, we have become more conscious of the fact that the gender gap exists not only on farms but throughout the coffee value chain. We have become more mindful of just how much more change is needed in the sector in general, and of our role in this.”

Any final thoughts?

“At Bean Voyage, our mission concerns not only gender in coffee but in the whole agricultural sector. So, this gender policy is our opportunity to learn many things as an organization, and also to explore other sectors where change is needed.”

Adriana Vasquez (standing) during a group meeting with ASOMOBI / Credit: Alexa Romano

Written by Alice Mee

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