A fair trade model is more than just good economics. It’s a moral imperative.
Seventy percent of impoverished adults are women, according to Fair Trade USA. While the reasons may vary from region to region, in many societies, women are put at a distinct disadvantage because of long held patriarchal beliefs and gendered assumptions. This problem is only heightened when resources are already limited, like they are in the developing world. In these regions, women are often excluded from key industries and denied an education; instead of seeking work, women are encouraged to tend to the home and community. In addition, women often have less access than men to important community resources such as medical care, credit, and career training.
When women are offered few resources and few opportunities for their voices to be heard, they have little ability as individuals to improve their means. Yet they have the potential to make an extraordinary impact on their households and communities if given the chance. They’re often tasked with the society sustaining responsibilities of rearing children, tending to crops, and providing clean water. If given the proper information and adequate resources, women make immediate improvements that serve as building blocks for future growth.
When considering sustainable aid, human rights organizations and fair trade companies seek to break down traditional employment barriers by offering impartial, equal opportunity employment. Fair trade jobs not only provide consistent work and a livable wage, they create an infrastructure that empowers women through training, educational opportunities, childcare, microloans, team building, and savings matching programs. They give women independence and they give them a safe space for voicing concerns. In the long term, they help balance the power between male and female, making it possible for societies to function for the benefit of everyone.
But how do we ensure that fair trade opportunities are truly fair? How can we, separated by hundreds or thousands of miles from fair trade co-ops, provide opportunity without encouraging dependence? This is an issue I think about often, as someone who runs an online store and blogs regularly about the topic; here's what I've found.
A successful fair trade operation relies on strong local leadership. Take Marceline Ouedraogo—she founded a woman-owned Shea co-op in her native Burkina Faso (a country located in West Africa) to address the economic disadvantages of women in her community. The program is self-sustaining and profitable for all members. The Hinga Kawa Women’s Association in Rwanda functions similarly. Rather than working for a larger coffee plantation, women earn wages directly from the coffee they produce, providing for basic needs and education for their children.
Likewise, Jesus’ Economy’s Empowering Women program in Bihar, India relies on local representatives to organize community projects, provide training, and spread the message of Christ’s redemptive love. It’s a fair trade model with the potential for longevity—for positive, society wide change.
In the words of the secretary of Hinga Kawa Women’s Association:
“[Fair trade is] a way for us to sell the coffee that we grew. It allows us to take pride in our work, and it is also a support network. It is a time for us to come together and talk about our hardships with other women who have experienced the same challenges. And it is a time for us to sing and dance... and laugh. For many women, this meeting might be the only time they've smiled all day."
We Can Change the World by Promoting Fair Trade
Fair Trade empowers women, thereby empowering communities. Empowered communities can change the world!
We as Christians have an obligation to support and promote fair wages and safe working conditions for all, to build up our sisters and brothers, to walk beside them on this rocky path of life.
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