For generations cocoa has been deemed a ‘mans’ crop… but hopefully not for long!
Women have very little access to land unless they inherit a small amount or marry a man who already owns land. Even if a husband allocates some land to his wife, she still does not have ownership of it. This leaves them without a voice and unable to play a role in the selling of the crops and handling of the money. Although women are responsible for over 70% of the labor on cocoa farms they are paid very little or nothing at all. Any money they do get goes towards the family and the children, where in most cases the men keep any money they make for themselves and will even leave for periods of time to spend it.
Just like with most gender stereotypes women are expected to cook, clean, raise the children and tend to their husbands without help. As a cocoa farmers wife in West Africa you are expected to do all of those things plus work 8-12 hours a day in the fields. With lack of transportation and ‘basic’ necessities such as running water, they are forced to walk upwards of 20 miles a day, carrying back-breaking loads while running on only a few hours of sleep. This is everyday life for these women, they are not allowed to rest, not even when pregnant.
Women’s education is not considered a priority which leaves them vulnerable to manipulation. Even if a woman is able to obtain some farm land, the men will not help them and they do not have the means to help themselves. Without proper farming methods their crops are much more susceptible to pests and disease making it difficult to produce high yields of quality crops. With no support they struggle to balance farm work and home life.
In the past few years Cargill has been working with Kellogg, CARE and the African Cocoa Initiative to investigate more into the needs of women cocoa farmers to figure out what kind of support is best to help them progress.
“CARE’s research will help identify the specific barriers to women’s participation in training in order to make recommendations on how we can support people and the industry to integrate a gendered approach to cocoa training.” – Helene Gayle (CARE president and CEO)
Many programs have been put into place such as gender sensitization training which helps to raise awareness of equality. Another important program is female only training. Many female cocoa farmers husbands do not allow their wives to attend training meetings so by introducing a female only course, women are able to learn and participate without restriction.
With these programs in place women have been able to move up into higher positions in the industry, such as recorders, which helps them earn additional income. With proper education and increased literacy their crop yields are higher and the amount of registered female farm owners has risen. More women are able to send all their children to school, including the girls, which will help to better the future of the entire community.
Some experts say that this cultural bias, that has been in place for generations, needs time to develop and should not be pushed to change immediately.
I say keep pushing!