A giant step for women
Fair trade women's cooperatives have served as a vehicle for introducing many traditional Palestinian specialty products to the world market – couscous, za'atar and tahini among them. These products, typically made by hand, have given women an opportunity to earn income important to their families. Equally important, it has empowered women, through business enterprise, to gain experience and skill in management, problem-solving, and cooperative relationships. Economic success has led to greater self-confidence, greater civic participation, and greater influence for many women.
As Palestinian men have been disabled, detained, and denied work because of Israel's military occupation, it has become increasingly important for women to provide for their families. Rural women with little formal training and limited access to any job market have joined in cooperatives to use the traditional skills valued by the natural and organic food movement.
A little help from PFTA
PFTA has been a big part of the women's cooperative success story. PFTA is committed to empower women and other excluded and marginalized groups and build their capacities for civic participation through economic opportunities. A lack of capital for initial investment has been the primary obstacle for women who want to start small agricultural enterprises. The micro-loan project is designed to enable small producers, and people with little or no resources, especially women, to take part in the production process and benefit from the fair trade returns. The micro-loan project extends two-year loans to individuals who otherwise would not have the means to start a business. All recipients are organized in fair trade producing cooperatives under the umbrella of PFTA gaining collective membership and representation for their cooperative.
PFTA empowers members by providing them with the capacity to produce and earn income, a market for their products, and increased social benefits through participation in cooperative and collective work. Micro-loans are typically extended to women member of producing cooperatives in amounts that range between $500 to $1500 per individual participant. These funds are used to purchase supplies and begin producing according to fair trade guidelines. PFTA and its exporting member Canaan Fair Trade (www.canaanfairtrade.com) ensure the success of micro-loan recipients by providing specific production methods, quality specifications and proper training, then marketing the products produced.
Example women's cooperatives that have been organized through the Micro-Loan Project include 4 cooperatives that produce couscous and za’atar with a total of 22 women, one cooperative of 5 women producers of sun-dried tomatoes, and one cooperative of that produces olive oil soaps.
This program has been made possible by the support of grassroots organizations abroad.Special thanks to the generous support of Resource Center for Non-Violence, Santa Cruz, CA, Project Hope, Canada, and Islamic Aid, UK. Organizations and individuals abroad may extend direct support to this program by funding a cooperative or one women to become a producing member in a cooperative. To extend support to the Micro Loan project contact PFTA at