In rural areas, where it’s often difficult to create change when it comes to gender equality, Fairtrade Associate Wardah Hasyim has dedicated her life to improving the lives of women.
A true powerhouse, she’s the perfect example of how we can #BeBoldForChange – not only does Wardah have near-endless experience in social justice and a thesis under her belt, but she also has experienced poverty first-hand. The daughter of a rice farmer, she’s been affected by conflict and has seen the effects of a world that ignores women. And she’s been passionate about change her whole life.
“I’m a daughter of a rice farmer and I’ve experienced poverty first-hand so I’m very passionate about this; you can’t know it until you experience it. Those people talking about the theory of poverty – I have more than enough theory because I’ve been there.”
A Fairtrade Associate in Indonesia, Wardah’s life has been dedicated to working on the field with conflict-affected women. Having started working with Fairtrade in May 2016, Wardah works with more than 28 cooperatives to support their work and ensure all Fairtrade practices are in place. She supports rural Indonesian producers in their work and has spearheaded studies on how communities are rebuilding from the tsunami that happened just over a decade ago. It’s safe to say Wardah’s impressive portfolio works to make the world a better place – and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I feel the job is really rewarding,” she says. “It’s becoming the top priority of any position I’ve had before and in the future. It’s my passion to get involved in any role that offers not only tangible benefits but also satisfaction and serves my passions. I want to promote social change.”
One of the most important things in her goal for social change is promoting a more equal society when it comes to gender. In the developing world, poverty, disaster and conflict affect women most deeply – one reason is that they are the people who leave paid work to care for children. It’s also common for women to lack access to essential training and development which could help them grow in the workplace.
A way that we at Fairtrade work to help farmers overcome this is by linking them with other farmers so they can all form a group, or a cooperative. Instead of working alone, farmers are able to access community-wide change and more sustainable incomes by joining together.
But there are some barriers that can make it difficult for women to advance independently. Wardah says that if you want to be a member of a cooperative of farmers you need to own land first. However, “in a community like ours, your piece of land will naturally be under your husband’s name,” she says. “There is always negotiation in the household but since it’s registered under his name, he has every right to be a member of the cooperative.”
That’s why, even though achieving gender equality is quite challenging, it’s one of Wardah’s main focuses. There are plenty of signs that the old imbalances are beginning to change, too; one of the cooperatives Wardah works with is Koperasi Kopi Wanita Gayo, a women’s only farming group that empowers female producers and provides them with employment. Joining the cooperative means that women can access training that was previously only available to men.
“Even though the man is a registered member, the cooperative boards need to know is that it’s a matter of the whole household and they can’t just give training to men. I need to promote the concept of gender and this is going to be my top priority,” she says.
She wants every board to pay attention to women as well as the men. At the moment, Wardah says some boards don’t consciously establish programs to put women first. What the boards may not realise, though, is that the investments achieved through their involvement with Fairtrade are already helping women
But “without any intention, the board has done things to help women. They set up a preschool – now mum can have a break!”
With their children at preschool, mums can also return to work without having to devote valuable hours to childcare. This is a vital step in helping women become active participants in their communities and giving them a voice in the cooperative’s decisions. With the ability to work and earn money, they gain back their independence and can shape their own futures.
Putting farmers in control is Wardah’s goal for the future
In the future, Wardah wants her own role to be more hands-off, but that doesn’t mean she’s giving up on her dream. It means she sees the best way of empowering producers is to give them the tools they need to create change on their own.
“I want to stay here helping my people. I want to stay in my place and I want to do something for them… In five years’ time, I will be just relaxing,” she jokes before continuing. “By that time I would have transferred knowledge, understanding and skills to them, empowering them so they are more autonomous. I might shift into another role like building networks. I want to be a teacher for new cooperatives and a point for farmers from other cooperatives to learn.”
Last week we featured the story of María Edy Rivera, a Fairtrade coffee producer and cooperative board member in El Salvador.
She says, “I am an empowered woman, a woman who has tried to set an example; I have fought to belong and represent the rights of rural women in public spaces where decision-making takes place. I am the first woman producer to sit on the Board of Fairtrade’s national organisation in El Salvador, and I have achieved this because I discovered how to value myself as a woman.”
Read more from our first post in the lead-up to International Women’s Day – and stay tuned for more in the coming weeks. We’ll hear from the Chairman of koperasi Kopi Wanita Gayo, the female-only cooperative dedicated to giving women a voice and changing land ownership rights for women.