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Nicaragua leads the way in recognising the unpaid labour of women

News from Nicaragua | Friday, 19 January 2018 |

Credit: Ariel Flores courtesy of Felicity Butler

Credit: Ariel Flores courtesy of Felicity Butler

Nicaragua leads the way in recognising the unpaid labour of women

Felicity Butler has completed her PhD on how the previously unpaid labour of women and girls can be not only recognised but also integrated into the pricing of products. This has the potential for a lasting impact on gender equality and efforts to tackle climate change.

Felicity’s research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and The Body Shop.

The Body Shop sources sesame oil from Juan Francisco Paz Silva co-operative in Achuapa. This involves a collaboration between Nicaraguan co-operatives, The Body Shop and the ethical trading company ETICO, to transform pricing policies so that unpaid work is recognised and remunerated accordingly.

Work traditionally done by women is starting to be recognised in the Fair Trade (FT) industry, but the shift is slow. As Butler explains, “Traditionally, the price for commodities such as sesame and coffee includes only direct inputs and labour costs and fails to recognise or take into account the unpaid work that supports production.” This labour is an essential contribution not only to production but society as a whole: women run households, raise children, cook and wash for the men who then go out to work in the fields.

Ético, an ethical business initiative working within coffee and sesame production chains with partner organisations, is changing its pricing policy to allow a premium which recognises the unpaid labour mainly but not exclusively done by women.

The initiative aims to “create a revolving credit fund for women to access. The sesame co-operative decided to make it compulsory for the women to have individual and group savings as well as individual and group businesses. They hope it will lead to collective empowerment with a potential for not only an economic impact but also a social shift. It has great potential to positively affect pricing strategies and create a race to the top for ethical buyers with other buyers wanting to match this successful pricing scheme. It could also change and influence certification standards which is particularly pertinent as there is an increasing interest in women’s empowerment and climate change.”

Butler explains, “The pricing initiative has started discussions on women’s contribution within Nicaragua and far beyond. The highly unequal distribution of unpaid and paid work is at the root of power relations between men and women and all-pervasive gender inequalities. The predominance of women in this work is not a result of their free choice or their relative efficiency or inefficiency. The division of work between men and women is largely a social construct determined by patriarchal traditions and values, and therein the way we measure economies is inherently sexist.”

Over the four year period of her research Felicity has witnessed significant change and benefits. Examples include more women joining co-operatives and becoming coffee growers, and a shift in gender relations with men taking on more domestic responsibilities as increasing number of women move into co-operatives and access more training.

The potential of this goes beyond economic benefits. It could go as far as creating a more equal and therefore empowered, and better off society as a whole. And Nicaragua, with its strong tradition of co-operatives, is a fertile ground for this.