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FAIR TRADE
CHANGES WOMEN'S LIVES

A few years ago, International Women's Day meant a cappucino break, and some nice words to female friends and colleagues. Now, all year round, the words INTERNATIONAL and WOMEN bring to mind great people from around the world, asking to be heard and celebrated at every opportunity. Remembering them means we are closer to sustainable community development, to eliminating poverty and child labour, to human rights.

It is now well-known that women around the world account for 70% of the 1.2 billion people making less than $1 a day. They provide for most of the needs of their families with food, health care, education, clothing and a safe place to live. They work an average of 60 to 90 hours a week, mostly as unpaid labour. Yet when able to generate income, women use a greater portion of their income then men towards the well-being of their family, paying for their children's schooling, better nutrition and medicine.

The poorest people are often of ethnic origin and living in remote areas. They were once self-sufficient, until their natural resources attracted international attention. For generations in these isolated groups, women have produced goods for their needs, weaving their community's cultural identity. Having inherited the knowledge from their mothers over many generations, women are skilled artisans, and can be counted in the millions around the world. They are the providers of clothing and household items such as bedding, cooking utensils, baskets, cushions and rugs. The techniques and colours used to embellish these necessities become the community's unique identity. At the same time, having small children and elderly people to take care of keeps them at home and limits their ability to be employed. It is not surprising that women account for the majority of artisans taking part in fair trade. The Fair Trade Federation, a membership organisation representing businesses and artisan cooperatives that are 100% committed to fair trade, has found that 70% of fair trade artisans are women. The woman's income can count as the only revenue for the extended family, sometimes providing for all its members.

Our producer groups say that 80 to 100% of their artisans are women, that most of them have children, that their income is used primarily for their children's needs, that their participation in a fair trade cooperative has improved their lives and their status as family members and community members. Fair Trade is one of few activities that has successfully helped women and their children out of poverty.

Ensuring women artisans are not exploited also prevents child labour. Paying artisans a living wage means younger members of their family don't need to earn additional income to feed the family, and are able to go to school.

Though there are millions of women artisans around the world, not all are involved in fair trade. More buyers committed to fair trade practices, coupled with increasing demand by consumers for fair trade goods, are key elements in making this change. Fair trade can make a real difference in the lives of women, their families and their communities. It can make a real difference in the fight against poverty. It's not about charity: it's about living in dignity, with honest skilled work, respectful exchanges, and beautiful things we can proudly bring home.

Written by: Nicole McGrath


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