Yesterday was International Women’s Day. Across the world celebrations took place to mark the fact that the first International Women’s Day was held 100 years ago by men and women campaigning for equality. For breakfast I joined a packed audience at the Henderson’s at St John’s Café where Fair Trade pancakes were eaten while we listened to speeches from the Revd Shona Boardman, Curate at St John’s Church and Jennifer Wektaka, a coffee grower from Uganda. Shona gave an upbeat speech about the importance of celebrating International Women’s Day and concluded that “There’s a lot more work to to be done gals!”
Jennifer told us how she and other women farmers had banded together as a cooperative to get a fairer price for their produce. They eventually set up their business as a Fair Trade company. Their company name is “Gumutindo” which means an excellent thing.
The premium they get paid for organic coffee reflects the effort they put in and the extra price they command is reinvested. Coffee sales mean they can afford to send their kids to school. They invest the profit they make in their community on essentials such as school desks, new classrooms or safe water. Climate change has led to landslides which have affected farming and meant coffee crops were lost. So this year has been tough. But the Fair Trade Foundation has given them money to plant trees to stop soil erosion.
In the afternoon I joined fellow Labour MSPs to launch our Manifesto for Women. It includes a commitment to tackle domestic violence. If Labour becomes the Scottish Government we will ensure there are specialist police officers and Domestic Abuse Teams with new specialist prosecutors to work on domestic abuse cases.
The day finished with the Edinburgh University International Women’s Day Lecture where Irene Khan provided an authoritative overview of the position of women particularly in developing countries. She highlighted the benefits of taking a human rights based approach. She argued that policies on education, agriculture, trade and the economy stood a better chance of success if they were underpinned by equality principles. It felt like we’d come full circle from the morning’s inspiring account of the experience of coffee farmers in Uganda.