Building a Gender-Inclusive Coffee and Cacao Industry: Challenges and Solutions


Women play a significant role in coffee and cacao production, yet they face numerous challenges that hinder their participation and limit their opportunities. The International Coffee Organisation’s report on gender equality in the coffee sector reveals that between 20% and 30% of coffee farms are female-operated, and women provide up to 70% of labour in coffee production. This percentage includes female agricultural workers, paid and unpaid labour providers on family farms, and self-employed farm operators. While these figures demonstrate the significant contribution of women in rural households, it is essential to acknowledge the gender-specific constraints they face. Addressing these challenges and building a gender-inclusive coffee and cacao industry is crucial in fostering equality, empowering women, and driving positive change.


Challenges Faced by Women in Coffee and Cacao Supply Chains


  • Limited Access to Resources: Women involved in coffee and cacao farming often encounter obstacles when accessing vital resources such as land, credit, and agricultural inputs. These challenges restrict their productivity and hinder their ability to improve their economic situation. In addition, when women do own land, their plots tend to be smaller and less fertile. This lack of access to resources, credit and ownership opportunities can perpetuate gender disparities in the industry.


  • Underrepresentation in Decision-Making: Women’s voices and perspectives are often marginalised within the coffee and cacao industry. This is often because decision-making power is closely related to the control of income and ownership assets,  meaning that men usually take control over decisions as they are considered the primary landowners. This can lead to unequal representation in decision-making roles and leadership positions. This lack of female representation limits their influence over policies and hampers progress towards gender equality.

  • Gender-Based Violence and Exploitation: Violence, including sexual harassment and exploitation, is prevalent in the coffee and cacao industry. Women often endure unsafe working conditions, discrimination, and unequal pay, perpetuating a cycle of vulnerability and marginalisation. The Specialty Coffee Association gives the example of coffee communities where women secretly sell beans from their household plots to earn a small amount of cash for themselves. Such acts, in turn, often provoke domestic violence as a result of traditional biases. 


Implications of the Gender Gap in Coffee and Cacao Value Chains 


The gender gap within the coffee and cacao industry has wide-ranging implications for sustainability, social justice, and innovation.  


  • Sustainable Development: Achieving sustainable development goals within the coffee and cacao industry requires addressing gender disparities. Women are vital in the value chain, from farming and processing to marketing and consumption. By excluding women or limiting their participation, the industry misses out on their valuable knowledge, skills, and perspectives. Closing the gender gap and empowering women in these sectors enhances the industry’s resilience, promotes environmentally friendly practices, and contributes to long-term sustainability. 


  • Social Justice and Equality: Gender equality is a fundamental human right. The gender gap within the coffee and cacao industry perpetuates systemic inequalities and denies women the opportunity to fully realise their potential. By marginalising women in decision-making processes, limiting their access to resources, and exposing them to gender-based violence, the industry undermines social justice and equality. Closing the gender gap is not only morally imperative but also crucial for creating a fair and inclusive industry that values the contributions of all individuals, regardless of gender.


  • Economic Growth and Poverty Alleviation: Women constitute a significant portion of the coffee and cacao workforce, particularly in producing countries. However, their contributions often go unrecognised and undervalued. Closing the gender gap and empowering women in these sectors can increase productivity, efficiency, and innovation. When women have access to resources, training, and decision-making power, they can effectively contribute to economic growth and poverty alleviation. Moreover, empowering women in the coffee and cacao industry has a multiplier effect, as they tend to invest a larger portion of their income in education, health, and their families, thus benefiting entire communities.


Building a Gender-Inclusive Coffee and Cacao Industry: Solutions


A comprehensive approach is required to build a gender-inclusive coffee and cacao industry. Companies can start by implementing gender-responsive procurement policies, engaging suppliers committed to gender equality, and promoting women-owned businesses within the supply chain. This ensures that the sourcing practices are gender-aware and contribute to women’s economic empowerment. Empowering women in the value chain is crucial for fostering gender inclusivity. This can be achieved by enhancing access to training and education, creating entrepreneurship and leadership opportunities, and encouraging women’s participation in cooperatives and associations. By equipping women with skills, supporting their entrepreneurial endeavours, and amplifying their voices, they can become active contributors to decision-making processes and agents of change within the industry. 


In addition, creating safe and fair working conditions is essential to eliminate gender-based violence and harassment. Companies must enforce zero-tolerance policies, establish grievance mechanisms, and provide comprehensive training on gender equality. Ensuring equal pay for equal work addresses wage disparities and promotes economic justice while granting access to healthcare and reproductive rights acknowledges and respects women workers’ specific needs and rights. Finally, collaboration and partnerships are crucial to driving systemic change. Engaging with local communities, supporting organisations working towards gender equality, and fostering collaboration between industry players, NGOs, and governments create a collective effort towards a gender-inclusive industry. By leveraging collective resources, knowledge sharing, and advocating for policy changes, the coffee and cacao industry can foster a more equitable and sustainable future for all stakeholders involved.




Building a gender-inclusive coffee and cacao industry is essential to address the challenges faced by women in these supply chains and foster positive change. Limited access to resources, underrepresentation in decision-making, and gender-based violence are significant obstacles that must be overcome. Closing the gender gap has wide-ranging implications for sustainable development, social justice, and economic growth. To achieve this, implementing gender-responsive procurement policies, empowering women in the value chain, ensuring safe working conditions, and fostering collaboration and partnerships are crucial. By embracing these solutions, the industry can create a more equitable and sustainable future for all stakeholders.