By Luís Fernando Guedes Pinto, Certification Manager of Imaflora
International organisations and United Nations' reports have for some time now been highlighting the importance of women to achieving lasting sustainability in agriculture. One of the strongest conclusions made in Food and Agriculture: The future of sustainability, a report released by the UN Division for Sustainable Development, is that female farmers should be the top priority of investments in agriculture. Last year’s annual report of the Human Development Index (HDI) also focused on equity and sustainable development, underscoring the critical role of women in moving the sustainability paradigm.
Despite this emphasis at the international level, gender equity in the field still lags behind.
Non-discrimination a critical criterion of SAN standard
Recently a team of auditors from Imaflora, the Brazilian member of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), met with unfortunate circumstances during an audit to the Rainforest Alliance / SAN standard. On a farm in the south-central region of Brazil, an area considered to have very modern agriculture and a strong level of governance, auditors discovered that female rural workers hired for the same job as their male counterparts were being paid lower salaries. Although the farm managers attempted to justify the difference in pay, the farm owner was surprised by this evidence of gender discrimination when contacted by the auditors.
Circumstances such as this prevent approval of the farm for certification because the SAN standard has a critical criterion that deals with discrimination against workers on the basis of gender, ethnicity, race, age or religion. Unlike non-critical criteria, upon which compliance can be improved gradually, full compliance with critical criteria is mandatory to achieve certification. As a result, this indicator of gender discrimination requires immediate resolution for the farm to move forward in the certification process.
Strategies to promote gender equity
There are many ways that certification can impact women and have implications for gender equity. Within SAN, we have identified different strategies for identifying gender issues and promoting gender rights.
For example, the situation described was discovered by an audit team composed of both a man and a woman. In general women auditors have more awareness and sensitivity to investigate this type of situation and on the other side, female workers and community members often do not feel comfortable communicating with male auditors. SAN will soon be adopting an auditor training policy that requires certification bodies to include women on their staff. This should ensure that female workers or community members impacted by certified have more input in audits.
Our experience at Imaflora of actively involving women in the audit team has also shown us the potential to create indirect outcomes that have a broader impact on gender equity. For instance, women who are given the opportunity to lead auditing teams are empowered to take up strong roles in the certification process, which advances their professional trajectories and improves the gender equity of the standards sector as a whole.
In many cases these same lead auditors are interacting from a position of authority with farm managers and company owners who are accustomed to a traditionally male-dominated space where women are not typically part of decision making. This supports gradual change in agriculture towards the recognition of women as important and equal social actors.
Studies on gender impact essential for fuelling learning in standards
With examples like this in mind, sustainability standards and certification systems should be incorporating gender equity more explicitly into their policies and practices, moving from a superficial treatment of the issue to the implementation of strategies that can make a real difference. A more concerted approach to gender will also help build up studies on certification impacts that are needed to improve standards.
One such study, coordinated by Imaflora in 2010 and conducted independently by the NGO Women’s Network, looked to assess the effects of certification on women in cocoa farms in southern Bahia, Brazil. Although it represented a small sample study, it still pointed to some trends. It concluded that although there had not been greater empowerment of women as actors in the cocoa supply chain, important improvements affected all community members in these certified areas, such as access to clean water, health services and education.
These preliminary findings need to be tested more widely in other regions and supply chains to feed the learning and revision of sustainability standards systems so that changes towards equity and non-discrimination (not only, but including gender) are achieved in the field and with impact throughout value chains.
For more information about ISEAL's Impacts project click here.
For more information on the SAN Standard, click here.
For more information on IMAFLORA, click here.