6 Mar 2020

“I have been empowered”: how women in Ghana have grown as cocoa farmers and leaders

In the run up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, we are featuring some of the countless inspiring women who work in Fairtrade farms and communities. Today, meet Mary Nsiah and Abena Boame, who have grown as cocoa farmers and as leaders in their cooperatives through the support of the Fairtrade West Africa Cocoa Programme.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment is the focus of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5. What does it mean in practice in many of the rural farming communities that grow the world’s food?

If you asked Mary Nsiah what empowerment looks like to her, she would point to leadership opportunities and a stronger voice in her cocoa farmers’ union Asunafo North in Ghana.

“Initially, women couldn’t share their opinions in union meetings,” she says. “Leadership roles used to be assigned to only men in the unions, but currently, I am also the President of Duase Society,” a smaller cooperative within the larger farmers’ union.

The change has come about in large part through the Fairtrade West Africa Cocoa Programme.

The Fairtrade Standards mandate equal treatment of women, and prohibit gender-based violence and harassment. Cooperatives are now also required to develop a gender policy to commit to women’s empowerment and gender equality, as well as to identify specific plans to increase women’s participation in and benefits from Fairtrade.

While these rights and intentions are spelled out in the Standards, producer organizations receive support and training from the Fairtrade West Africa Cocoa Programme to integrate them into the culture of each organization and community.

Edward Akapire, Head of the West African Network for Fairtrade Africa, notes that the programme’s work includes activities to raise awareness about gender issues, and support producer organizations to understand and integrate women more fully into their membership and decision-making. In 2019, the programme’s activities reached more than 34,000 farmer participants, a quarter of which were women. This year, 260 cocoa producer organizations will receive support from the programme. Of these, 28 organizations are benefitting from additional training and coaching visits by programme staff on a variety of topics, including expanding gender equality efforts as well as good agricultural practices, climate change adaptation, financial management, and more.

Edward points to additional projects in Côte d’Ivoire, such as the Fairtrade Women’s School of Leadership, that have enhanced the self-confidence and self-esteem of individual women, empowering them to understand their rights, build their financial and farming skills, and support other women farmers. According to Edward, the more than 60 past and current participants of the Women’s School of Leadership have gained resources so they can “contribute to their cooperatives and involve themselves in income-generating activities.”

Today, Mary says that the Fairtrade West Africa Cocoa Programme has played a role in empowering the women of Asunafo North.

Another cocoa farmer, Abena Boame, agrees. She is the Treasurer of Anwiam Society and the Environmental Committee President of the Anwiam Cocoa Farmers Union, which is a farmer society of Kukuom Farmers’ Union, a Fairtrade certified cooperative in Ghana.

“The Fairtrade [programme] has been of enormous benefit to me. Through their training programmes, I have been empowered and can properly manage my farm to take care of myself, and my family.”

We will be publishing an evaluation with more detail on the West Africa Cocoa Programme later this year.

Fairtrade supports women to participate equally in agriculture, earn better wages and succeed on their own terms. Read more about Fairtrade's work on gender equality.