Steps towards gender equality in the Pacific

It’s been a year of gender empowerment for Fairtrade coffee producers in the Pacific through a new program called the Women’s School of Leadership (WSOL).

2022 saw the graduation of the first cohort of students from the ground-breaking schools in both Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea (PNG). Around twenty students in both countries were participants in the program, taking part in a series of workshops on topics as diverse as income diversification, sustainable farming practices and gender equality.

Amy Child, Gender and Child Protection Advisor for Fairtrade Australia New Zealand (ANZ), said that the initiative is lifechanging for everyone involved.

“It’s not just women who participate, although they are in the majority. The school is really about getting both men and women to understand the value of women in business, leadership, farming and across all parts of society,” says Amy.

“The hope is that all the participants go on to become gender equality ambassadors and leaders in their own communities so that change happens from the ground up.”

The schools were well received in both countries with local dignitaries and government officials, including President Dr. Jose Ramos Horta in Timor-Leste, attending the graduation ceremonies. This was, in part, a result of the program being designed from the grassroots and utilising in-country expertise so that the lessons were relevant and culturally appropriate. For example, the PNG school had a name change. It became the Gender School of Leadership despite the program usually being referred to as the Women’s School of Leadership in other parts of the world.

“We felt that Gender School of Leadership made more sense in the PNG context after consultation with lots of different stakeholders. I am also proud to say that we drew upon local skills to deliver the curriculum so that it worked for PNG,” says Gabriel Iso, PNG Team Leader for Fairtrade ANZ.

“The coffee growers know that we understand not just the coffee business but also what the community needs. Our work is about fair pay for coffee but also assisting in areas like women’s rights, child protection and environmental sustainability.”

The program is delivered in modules and in PNG, the facilitators were thrilled to learn of the popularity of outreach work that participants were doing in local communities between classes. It was reported that in some remote villages more than 100 people travelled to listen to school participants speak about how to change the gender paradigm.

PNG participant Veronica Akianang expressed it in this way:

 “In all rural communities, women and girls are often neglected, yet they are passive achievers… They plant the trees, they plant crops, they do care for land, rear animals, and work on the farm each day, yet, their voice is not being heard. They are left behind … and are unable to reach to their full potential.”

This outreach work continues even after the participants have graduated. The final class supports the students to plan activities within their communities and guides them through making it happen. Fairtrade ANZ also ensures that the senior members of the farming cooperatives participate in gender training so that there is support for the (often young) ambassadors from within.

This is especially important in PNG coffee farming because women are highly involved in farming and the business. Indeed, women work alongside men at every step of coffee bean production and are almost exclusively responsible for the coffee bean sorting. Sorting is the final quality control step in the farming process when the beans are separated by hand leaving only the highest quality. This means women make a tangible difference to the price the producers receive and the ongoing trade relationships they are able to develop.

Recognising womens’ contributions is crucial for both the women themselves and their communities because when womens’ work is valued, it means their opinions and ideas are also valued. This enables them to become decision makers and leaders, which are all steps towards gender equality, especially in rural communities.

And respect for women is intricately linked to much of the other work that Fairtrade does as Amy Child explains.

“Fairtrade means fairness for the whole community. It’s not just about price and premiums. It means fairness for children who get to go to school, it means fairness for future generations through sustainable farming practices, and it also means fairness for women.”

For more information, or to arrange an interview with:

PNG Gender School of Leadership participant, Veronica Akianang;

Amy Child, Gender and Child Protection Advisor, Fairtrade ANZ;

Gabriel Iso, PNG Team leader (based in PNG) for Fairtrade ANZ;


Please contact Virginia Jones, Ph 61 0439 430 033 or

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