Within the world of global trade women face a particular challenge and none more so than indigenous women. 1.3 billion People live below the poverty line and around 70% are women. Over the past 21 years poverty among indigenous women has risen by 17% in 41 developing countries.
Most people would agree that Fair Trade offers a concrete contribution to poverty alleviation, however a question often asked is ‘How much of a difference does Fair Trade really make to the lives of people in the developing world?’
Well in the case of many indigenous women of Latin American, the benefits are not only economic, but also political and social.
One such example is the work of the women of Sureñita in Honduras. The Cooperative’s Sureñita (Cooperativa Regional de Producción Agropecuaria La Sureñita Limitada – COREPROSUL) consists of 134 local women who process cashew nuts, which are then exported to European Fair Trade retailers including Oxfam in Belgium, Gepa in Germany and Solidar’Monde in France. The cooperative buys the cashew nuts at fair prices from local farmers, 60% of whom are the husbands or family members of the women within the cooperative and the remaining 40% are independent local producers.
| COREPROSUL production site
The women work within the Cooperative for 10 months of the year and the revenue they generate is not only a vital source of income for their families but it also enables them to fund development projects within their communities including the repair of school buildings and local roads.
Maria Antonia Lopez, the Sureñita president, says about the cooperative “Our communities have seen and felt the support of cooperative as we generate jobs and income within our communities.” According to her Maria Antonia, the cashew nuts processing generated popular recognition as one of the successes of the cooperative that contributes to local community development.
Maria de los Santos Muñoz is one the women taking full control of their lives. Maria joined the Cooperative in 1993 with only a primary school education with her, which is common among the majority of women in her community. Maria lives in the community of La Constancia, Namasigue municipality, with her farmer husband. It is an area of Honduras where most women have little chance of development. However, Maria’s story illustrates the type of positive impact the Fair Trade approach can have on the lives of women.
Very quickly after she joined the Sureñita, Maria started training within the organization, taking a range of courses including management, accounting, gender studies, computing, processing and marketing of cashew and today Maria is the General Manager of one of the Sureñita Processing Plants.
She is currently completing a Bachelor’s degree and has also been able to study and train in the USA, Central America, Panama and the Dominican Republic. She willingly shared her knowledge to the rest of the women in the cooperative.
Maria is an example of a woman who took advantage of the opportunities that the Fair Trade movement has provided.
Across Latin America, there are many examples of indigenous taking control of their lives within the Fair Trade set up but even if you assume that the story of the Sureñita and Maria de los Santos Muñoz is unique in the entire Latin American region and beyond, I believe it is the perfect riposte to the original question of ‘How much of a difference does Fair Trade really make to the lives of people in the developing world?’
Their story illustrates what is possible when women are able to take advantage of the opportunities within a freer, fairer society. More importantly women like Maria are living, breathing examples to the women and young girls of their communities that the world just might be a little bit bigger and fairer than they might have been led to believe.