Addressing gender issues in the commodity sectors of developing economies is one of IDH’s five impact themes, and directly relates to the fifth Sustainable De­velopment Goal: gender equality.

IDH’s focus on gender equality and empowerment be­gan some years ago in coffee and tea, but it was not until 2016 that gender was denoted a core focus across multiple programs as an impact theme.

The core of the learning agenda on gender issues is making practical, business-relevant plans for creating a balanced, safe, and productive working environment.

Target 2020:

As gender became one of our impact themes only recently, IDH still needs to develop overall 2020 goals for this topic.


  • SDG 5 Gender Equality


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Sectors: Coffee
Sectors: Coffee
Sectors: Apparel
Sectors: Apparel

From theory to practice: building gender equality into programs

Gender is a key impact theme in IDH’s 2016-2020 Strate­gic Plan, in which we set out to embed gender equality into our transformation strategy. For IDH, gender is a key driver as well as a key concern for sustainability in both supply chains and landscapes. IDH works in many sectors where women play a role in the supply chain: through production of food crops and sales of cash crops, through employment as workers on commercial farms, and through their role as traders and proces­sors. However, women often have fewer opportunities to progress and are more vulnerable to exploitation. We see that women often do not own any assets; and at farmer trainings, men more often turn up although wom­en do most of the work. Looking at the current statistics, women make up around 43% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, and even more women are employed in agriculture (70% in South Asia, 60% in Sub-Saharan Africa), but less than 20% of the world’s landholders are women.

Focusing on gender for IDH means looking not only at gender empowerment – lifting up more vulnerable groups – but also looking at providing equal access to services and understanding household dynamics. For example, situations where men attend the training programs while women do the actual work.

Judith Fraats, Program Manager Tea

The fact that gender is important and should be integrat­ed into supply chain approaches is recognized. But nei­ther IDH nor our stakeholders have sufficient knowledge and experience of the “how-to question”: how to inte­grate gender into supply chain approaches? We need to step up our act. IDH has therefore committed publications to this impact theme and an (expert) learning network is under development.

With a partner base of 350 public and private partners, united in 11 commodity and 11 landscapes programs, and active in 40 countries, IDH is committed to making an impact on gender equality through the work we do in global supply chains.

How to reach a gender proposition

The IDH gender proposition has three core elements, each with different levels of engagement and depth in terms of our interventions:

Gender equality can be a goal in itself, but also a pre­condition to realize deeper impact through our ongoing interventions in other impact themes by applying a gen­der lens on smallholder livelihoods, improved working conditions and living wage, mitigation of deforestation, and responsible agrochemical management.

Improving the economic position of wom­en and reducing gender-based violence

IDH is addressing worker-management dialogues in the apparel industry with the aim of improving the position of women. In the coffee sector, the Sustainable Coffee Program in collaboration with Hivos and Agri Profocus developed a toolkit for coffee farmers addressing in­equalities that women and youth face in the coffee sup­ply chain.

In the tea sector in Kenya, IDH started work on gender in 2012 through its partnership with the Ethical Tea Part­nership and the Kenya Tea Development Agency, focus­ ing on gender discrimination and harassment through a social issues program reaching over 1,000 managers, supervisors, and staff members. This led to the following concrete achievements:

  • 50% of women in supervisor positions and 33% of women in management positions;
  • More equal employment opportunities – women taking on more roles that were traditionally reserved for men (e.g. truck driver);
  • All factories have sexual harassment and discrimination policies in place; grievance complaints and disciplinary procedures are included in induction training for new employees.

In 2016, IDH convened a platform in Kenya with several tea companies to create a joint agenda for action to ad­dress gender-based violence (GBV) in the sector and share best practices. IDH will also publish a common training manual on addressing GBV in the Kenyan tea in­dustry, and we are developing a roadmap for plantation management on addressing GBV alongside field-level projects to implement the roadmap. And Kenya is only the starting point.

In the flowers sector in Ethiopia, through the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative, IDH has carried out a gender pro­gram with EPHEA in partnership with BSR HER project, reaching 7,000 workers and 400 peer educators trained on hygiene, nutrition, family planning, and gender-based violence. This has led to:

  • 59% of women in the targeted farms (7,000) in­creased their level of awareness of their rights regard­ing protection from sexual harassment and were bet­ter informed about hygiene, nutrition, family planning, and reproductive health;
  • 46% of the pilot project farms (12) developed and started implementing a gender policy;
  • 62% of the pilot project farms (16) had active gender committees and an effective reporting system.

While sector players may see gender balance as a repu­tational issue alone, the logic of gender interventions is also driven by an effort to improve key business areas. By supporting workers to empower themselves, and by training producers on gender-balanced practices, we can create safer, happier, and therefore more produc­tive, working environments. And by training farming families on household (financial) decision-making, for example, and the division of roles and responsibilities in the household, we can promote improvements to the livelihood of the farmer that also have gender-positive effects.

Look inwards: the gender discussion at IDH

Our journey towards practical, gender-balanced pro­gramming started with discussions about the internal or­ganization of IDH. It is here that we began to understand what it means to look at issues with a gender lens.

Agrochemical issues do not necessarily happen in our backyard. But the gender discussion is happening in our daily life: inside and outside IDH.

Judith Fraats, Program Manager Tea

Throughout IDH, men and women work at different levels in the organization, and in the field. For an international organization like us, it is important to learn how to be more aware of existing gender norms in the different cul­tural contexts in which IDH works. When we prototype solutions in any sector, we are dealing with both men and women. However, depending on the target group and whether it is mostly women or men included in the activities, we might see a completely different outcome. It is important to be aware of this, and to consider dif­ferent routes leading to the same result depending on gender.

Working together with organizations that have the expertise

IDH doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel. Many training programs on gender have been done in the past, and a lot of research already exists. If you look at certain sup­ply chains—processing factories, for example—women often make up 90% of the workforce. By default, if you work with these factories and train their workforce, inevi­tably this will have an impact on the women who work in these factories.

At IDH, our mission and expertise is to enact change through the supply chain. We denoted gender as an im­pact theme because of its importance: we believe that women are key to drive growth and sustainability in the commodities and landscapes that we work in. We see it as our role to convene partnerships, and bring expert partners to the right place at the right time, where they can provide the right guidance. What we need now is a commitment to do more. We can’t just say we will train disadvantaged gender groups, and hope the training will work. We need to navigate difficult terrain, finding answers and gender-smart business practices that can have a real impact on the ground.