International Women's Day (March 08) is asking each and every citizen to #BeBoldForChange to help forge a better working world - a more inclusive, gender-equal world. Here, Taco Terheijden, Director of Cocoa Sustainability at Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, reflects on why a thriving cocoa sector is predicated on successful female role models.
Women’s economic empowerment is critical to a sustainable cocoa sector, and a cornerstone of the Cargill Cocoa Promise. Women’s economic wellbeing builds the capacity of the farms, and is directly linked to a more productive crop, increased household income, better-educated children, and enhanced health and nutrition.
Indeed, data from The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that if women had the same access to resources as men, farm yields could increase by 20 to 30 percent. What’s more, the FAO states that increased income to mothers in farming communities can have a tenfold impact on children's welfare, compared to income held by men. Therefore, empowering women in cocoa growing communities is imperative in tackling child labour and protecting children.
At Cargill, we champion women across the cocoa value chain – helping them to get the recognition they deserve for their contribution by giving role models more visibility and, ultimately, challenging the gender stereotypes that so often hold women back.
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Cargill is taking a leadership role on women’s economic empowerment. Our programs are distinct and different. We’re working – systemically, at scale and across the value chain – to offer the skills, the tools and the resources to empower women on cocoa farms. Our evidence-based approach also means that we can quantify the difference we’re making across the cocoa value chain.
We are taking a sector lead by conducting gender assessments and developing specific gender approaches within our action plans. These are aligned to our overall contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals, one of which, Goal 5, focuses on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls across the world. As a result, our efforts are dedicated to doing more to support women across the cocoa sector. It’s a challenge we are well-placed to help with, as a result of working with partners from civil society, NGOs and government on the ground over many years.
Our strategy has been to develop scalable, practical interventions specifically for women. These are insight-led, based on a clear understanding of the barriers they face. Take training in agricultural skills: CARE helped us to identify distance and timing as two key obstacles. As a result, we adapted our training approaches to more convenient times and locations.
Victoria Awine is a 62-year-old cocoa farmer from Sefwi Asawinso (Ghana). She has been growing beans on her three-hectare smallholder farm since 1980. Three years ago, she had the chance to participate in the Cargill Cocoa Promise. Earlier this year, Victoria told me that since then she ‘saw the performance of my plantation multiply by three!’
Cargill is helping women to confront cultural norms that act as barriers in cocoa-growing countries; notably, how roles as mothers and caregivers can clash with paid employment and involvement in community decision-making. Practical measures to give women access to affordable credit is a key stepping stone in their empowerment. That’s why Cargill introduced community-based Village Saving and Loan Associations (VSLAs). These self-managed groups provide women with safe ways to save money, take out small loans and access emergency loans. Currently, we have more than 90 VSLAs in place supporting over 4,000 farmers, of whom over half are women.
The VSLAs also play an important part in boosting women’s self-esteem and pave the way to a new generation of female entrepreneurs, who are role models in their own right.
“I teach other women how to make savings and credit. The women’s association is really very important for us because it allows us to have some money and do business,” Yvonne Loulou Amenan, a cocoa producer in charge of the ECASO - Soubré VLSA, explained when we recently met to discuss the initiative. “This allows us to help our husbands educate our children, take better care of ourselves in the event of hardship or in cases of urgent necessity.”
We recognize that there is no silver bullet to ensure that women are championed and fully supported in the cocoa value chain. All of the leading companies in the sector - including Cargill - are increasingly focused on understanding what works and what doesn’t through CocoaAction, in order to learn from initiatives. At the same time, we remain focused on our own distinct programs. For example, we are piloting new training and funding programs in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon. Through these, we will be able to define best practices and scale them in West Africa and other cocoa-growing regions. In short, women’s empowerment is a key part of our commitment to helping farmers and their communities achieve better incomes and living standards.
Ultimately, we believe that is vital to give women the platform to be visible, vocal and understood. We are showcasing the contribution that women make to cocoa sustainability across the value chain with the publication of our new interactive storybook. Bringing together stories from women working across West Africa’s cocoa sector to highlight the progress, as well as the challenges of gender equality in the sector.
Throughout March 2017, there are over 100 events happening at Cargill locations around the world to celebrate, honor and train women. This included global participation by Cargill employees in the 10,000 step #March4Women with CARE, a long-term strategic partner to Cargill in cocoa and chocolate and other sectors.