Raise Your Teacups to Celebrate International Women’s Day!
You may not know this, but the history of tea agriculture and women’s fight for equality are tightly intertwined. Traditionally, women worked in the tea fields harvesting the leaves, while men were in the managerial roles.
But today, women both here in the U.S. and in Africa are stepping into these key roles as social views about division of labor have shifted. Instead of being in the fields playing a supporting role, women are coming out in front and being supported. This wouldn’t even be a conversation even 20 years ago.
This shift is incredibly important, given that women who work in agriculture have less access to education and are generally more vulnerable to poverty, changing market conditions, the effects of climate change, and other life-threatening issues. With more women in managerial positions, though, organizations are starting to shift their priorities to better support not only women tea workers, but their communities as well.
One of the places where women are stepping up in a big way is in Malawi. Compared to other tea-producing countries, Malawi ranks last in gender equality, according to the Ethical Tea Partnership. Nearly half of all women in Malawi work in agriculture, and approximately 30 percent of all Malawian tea workers are women. Yet, only about 16 percent of managerial positions are held by women. What’s more, Malawi generally ranks very low for maternal mortality and female education, both issues that can be addressed by women achieving greater workplace and economic equality.
Malawi is also one of the largest tea producers in the world, and supporting women there means lifting up a sizable workforce. That’s why I want to highlight Malawian women tea workers to celebrate International Women’s Day. If you’re not familiar with it, this is a special day to celebrate women’s achievements and the ongoing fight for equality.
This topic is a core part of who I am as a black woman working in tea, and I believe it speaks volumes about where we are as a society in both the U.S., in Africa, and the global tea and women’s communities. Instead of playing supportive roles, women in tea are coming out in front and being supported, highlighting their gifts and talents, and not being watered down or silenced as they were in past periods.
One amazing example are the women of the Satemwa Tea Estates. The European Specialty Tea Association recently conducted a fascinating and inspirational webinar with Alex Kay, highlighting the strides they’ve taken to create opportunities for women both in their own organization and in their community.
Working in tea, I feel like I can be me. I can wear my hair loc'd and express myself in clothing that's bold and colorful. Most importantly, I can use my voice to make a difference. I can help elevate and celebrate those women by buying their products and introducing them to new audiences.
I'm grateful to those who support Cured Leaves Tea to join in this vision and fight for gender equality. They raise us all up by sharing our stories, purchasing our products, and providing opportunities for us to shine.
I also feel supported by my ancestors, family, colleagues, peers, and partners. I come from a lineage of proud women who blazed their own paths to success, oftentimes with little to no support. Right now, I feel as if they are holding me up on this journey, the same way I am working to hold up other women who may be struggling.So, please join me in raising your cup to the hardworking and passionate women who are taking the reins of the tea industry and making the world a more equitable place!