Women and men representing countries around the world met in Colombia this month to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing women in the coffee industry. Held in conjunction with Colombia’s annual specialty coffee fair, ExpoExpeciales, the International Women in Coffee Alliance’s (IWCA) eighth convention, Coffee & Trade Beyond Barriers, highlighted the importance of women throughout the coffee value chain. IWCA President Mery Santos acknowledged the achievements of the IWCA’s 19 chapters in the conference’s opening ceremony, which saw female representatives take to the stage carrying the flags of their respective nations. “The IWCA started when a small group of Canadian women travelled to Nicaragua in the hope of gaining a better understanding of the issues faced by women at origin,” said Santos. “We are now empowering women to reach a sustainable life through our chapters in more than half of the world’s exporting countries.” Santos told the crowd that the IWCA is committed to helping women reach the 17 targets set by the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals. “We have an obligation to form the alliances which break down the paradigms which exist for women in coffee,” said Santos. “The IWCA will continue to work towards gender equality throughout the value chain and reach our targets, which are in line with those set by the United Nations.” To wrap up her opening address Santos shared a quote from the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon. “’Investing in women is not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do,’” Santos told the crowd. The UN Women’s Regional Director for the Americas and The Caribbean, Luiza Carvalho, spoke about the importance of increasing women’s participation in leadership positions in the coffee industry. “In Latin America there has been a lot of work to promote women’s leadership in coffee,” said Carvalho. “But more can be done, and one way to incentivise increased participation is to ensure equal wages for women and men.” Carvalho said equality for women in the coffee industry would help contribute to a culture of peace and stability in producing countries around the world. “The agenda for equality is an agenda which applies to everyone,” said Carvalho. “We all win.” Executive Director of the International Coffee Organization, Robério Oliveira, President of the IWCA’s Colombian Chapter Yíver Vargas and the recently elected CEO of the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) Roberto Vélez also spoke during the opening ceremony proceedings. Vélez received a warm response from the crowd when he broke with the protocol of firstly welcoming his fellow speakers and extended the initial welcome to all the women in the audience. “For the women who came to see us from more than 25 countries, it is both a pleasure and an honour,” said Vélez. A key theme addressed by a number of speakers throughout the conference was the importance of gender equality to ensure sustainability in the coffee industry. Vice-President of Strategic Partnerships, Gender Program Advisor at Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) Kimberley Easson shared CQI survey results, which found that women were more than twice as likely to re-invest their earnings into their homes and communities than men were. “Gender equality is the basis for a sustainable coffee industry,” said Easson. “It is a strategic step necessary for everything we wish to attain: quality coffee, a reliable supply, healthy coffee families and a vibrant industry for future generations.” Easson shared the stage with FNC’s Women’s Coffee Growers Program Coordinator, Ana Maris Lleras, Café Africa, Country Manager, Catherine Murphy and International Trade Centre, Senior Program Officer, Penelope Hurndell. Hurndell recently travelled to Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania, assessing the work of the IWCA’s chapters. “I am not a candid person,” said Hurndell. “When I write a report I don’t hold back and sometimes these are not easy to receive. But these chapters pushed us to investigate, to provide information, to help them to be better.” Hurndell said her observations reflect her findings of associations from a range of different industries. “I can tell you that having done this work around the world, it is not the government run groups that are the most effective,” said Hurndell. “It is the groups run by people desperate to make change – these are the ones that thrive.” The fourth IWCA Convention came to a close at the MovichBuro Hotel in Bogota, with a huge crowd of women, and a few men, celebrating the achievements of women in a less formal setting – the dance floor.