Maria Villeda is one of the 2.2 million women from rural Honduras. “Living in the outskirts of  La Labor, Ocotepeque, has always been a challenge, especially for women my age and young people”, Maria explains in a quiet tone while standing near her family’s coffee farm. Maria is a friendly and driven 38-year-old woman, who usually has a smile in her face. However, at times she seems somewhat frustrated and troubled. 

With limited access to resources, knowledge and technical assistance, Maria, like many women in Honduras, have not been able to live up to their capacities and fully achieve their dreams. Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS), with grant support from The Starbucks Foundation, is aiming to break these barriers with a new project in Western Honduras. The project aims to close the gender gap in rural communities and increase the resiliency of coffee farming families. Building leadership skills with women and working with all members of farming families to enhance equitable participation and create new sources of income are key elements of the project. At the same time, activities will contribute to healthy homes through improved water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices. 

The 18-month project, “Breaking Down Gender Barriers”, will be implemented in the departments of Ocotepeque and Copán, Honduras. It will directly benefit 1,750 farming families, 900 of whom are women and girls. An additional 7,350 indirect beneficiaries will be positively impacted. 

Gender Inequality in Honduras 

“As much as I’ve been wanting to have more opportunities to support my husband with our coffee farm, oversee our finances, and find alternative work opportunities to increase our household income, I’ve always been limited and encouraged to stay at home and take care of our children”, says Maria. In Western Honduras, only 23% of female coffee farmers are affiliated with farmer organizations (FO). The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated the burden on women, due to increased time invested in housework and unpaid care work. Lack of opportunities also contribute to high rates migration; in Honduras, women account for 59% of migrants1 (higher than the global average). 

Gender equality is not only a human rights issue but one which affects family business and country development2. “Studies have shown that increased access to production outputs like fertilizers can have a direct impact on agricultural outputs in developing countries”, confirms Elda López, Chief Financial Officer of HRNS in Central America. “As part of this work, its vital to include all members of the household, including men and women to promote teamwork, and re-examine traditional gender norms”. 

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Honduras 

Among the adverse conditions of inequality in Honduras, WASH is also a challenge most farming families are facing. “We recently conducted a baseline study that surveyed 10% of the total population in Ocotepeque and Copán to better understand the reality of smallholder families in our project region regarding water quality, cooking, and hygiene”, explains Pablo Ruiz, Chief Executive Director of HRNS in Central America. 

“Our family gets water from the community piped water system every day. We use it for drinking, cooking, washing, and taking showers”, expressed Maria while quirking a brief smile. Just like Maria, 70% of farming households also reported having access to consistent water sources and believed it to be drinkable. The curious thing was that the baseline study showed quite the contrary. All household water samples were determined to not be suitable for human consumption. A major part of local communities are depend on contaminated and impotable water sources.  

As Maria welcomed HRNS technicians into her home, they noticed a hot pot of water boiling over some newly lit firewood and strong burning smell. When asked about her cooking method,  she said, “I always use firewood for cooking. About 100 logs of wood are used every week”. In Western Honduras, 89% of households use firewood for cooking and 68% of these, do not have efficient cookstoves that reduce firewood consumption and emit less smoke. This not only results in higher household costs but leads to respiratory diseases and contributes to deforestation.  
“There is certainly a gap on how families understand WASH, with the water they are drinking and how they are cooking” explains Ruiz. While drinking contaminated water has led to gastrointestinal diseases in the household, the lack of non-efficient cooking stoves has also led to respiratory disorders and contributed to additional burden on women as they are usually the ones taking care of the household. “Improving water quality and implementing efficient cookstoves are high priority to contribute towards healthy households.” 

Breaking Down Barriers: Promoting Empowerment and Equality  

The Breaking Down Gender Barriers project aims to address these challenges of gender inequality and WASH, working with smallholder families like Maria’s. Part of The Starbucks Foundation’s commitment to positively impact women and girls in coffee, tea, and cocoa-growing communities, the project will adopt a holistic approach, integrating socio-economic aspects, health, education, and improved water access and resources to enhance gender equality, economic opportunities, and family well-being.  

In addition to supporting women and girls, HRNS will work with smallholder families as well as farmer organizations. By the end of the project  

Women and girls have developed:

  • leadership and self confident skills
  • increased access and control of economic and financial resources

Farming families are:

  • supporting equal division of responsibilities and sharing of resources and benefits for all members
  • improving resiliency to unexpected shocks
  • taken steps to improve WASH practices at home

Farmer Organizations have:

  • increased participation of women and female youth through inclusive strategies
  • promoted better WASH practices among farming families
Follow more updates on project activities. For more information on the project “Breaking Down Gender Barriers”, download the Project Factsheet.