Empowering women is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and improving conditions in agricultural supply chains. But what does it mean in practice? Manuel Kiewisch of Mondelēz International shares lessons from the consumer goods company’s Cocoa Life programme

Women’s empowerment is rightfully high on the global agenda: businesses and society are wising up to the gender dividend delivered when women take an active role in public life and leadership.

This goes far beyond the skyscrapers and corporate industries of the western world. The development community has long recognised the fundamental role women will play in achieving all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which is why women’s empowerment is relevant everywhere, including any kind of agricultural value chain; whether farming cocoa pods in Ghana, harvesting tea leaves in India, or drying coffee beans in Brazil.

Often structural societal norms must be addressed, or confidence and self-perception has to evolve

Besides its recognised importance, women’s empowerment is a somewhat elusive concept and companies grapple with questions like: what does it actually mean for the people we work with, and how will we know when it’s been achieved?

These are questions that we at Cocoa Life, Mondelēz International’s cocoa sustainability programme have been considering with Ipsos, our research and learning partner. Through on-the-ground projects, we seek to understand how and why specific interventions have the effect they do on local women, and the ripple effect this can have on both the community and local ecosystem. We have learned a lot along the way, and are keen to share our learnings, which can be applied across many different contexts.

It’s easy to assume that women will become empowered if more training is received, or more access is provided to new platforms. However, this isn’t necessarily the case: often structural societal norms must be addressed, or confidence and self-perception has to evolve. Progress happens at different rates in different places, according to local contexts and circumstances. A woman’s level of empowerment depends on the arena in which she is operating and is reflected through different lenses – as an individual, within the household, and in the community.

Cocoa Life set out to understand what empowerment means for women in cocoa communities. (Credit: Cocoa Life)

Through our work, we’ve identified several empowerment barriers in cocoa communities, where interventions, either targeted or mainstream, can improve outcomes:

• Women typically lack decision-making power at household, community, district and national level.
• They often struggle to access training and education to improve their own situation.
• And they typically face greater barriers around accessing finance, farm inputs, land, and participating in farming collectives and co-operatives.

One of the biggest learning curves for us has been in improving our learning tools to understand what empowerment means for women in cocoa communities and how we can describe progress. You won’t know you’re driving change unless you have a way to measure it. Initially, we concentrated entirely on observing quantitative change in the occupancy of membership and leadership roles by women within farming or community organisations. However, the feedback was, more often than not, at odds with the qualitative information we received from the communities themselves.

Women’s perception of their own abilities, self-worth, and optimism about the future are very high across West African cocoa farming communities

This is because quantitative key performance indicators (KPIs) simply do not offer enough for us to understand the conditions of women in communities, the interventions that best address their needs, and the impact of interventions on their ability to exercise agency. We explored alternative, qualitative ways in which women could have been empowered by our programme, and in 2018 refreshed our approach to achieving women’s empowerment by:

1. Streamlining women’s empowerment into our theory of change to formulate our understanding of how the programme interacts with the topic
2. Collecting a baseline to build a profile of women in cocoa farming communities
3. Building an analytic model to understand how the dimensions of women’s empowerment interact and change

These steps are not specific to cocoa, so can be used by anyone who wants to build a deep understanding of how activities impact women’s empowerment. Based on a first data collection in 2018, we were able to build an initial empowerment profile for women using three lenses — objective reality, self-perception and cultural norms — to reflect against three areas of empowerment: individual, household, and community.

The original graph appears in our third Lessons on Impact paper, published with Ipsos Empowering Women for more sustainable cocoa communities.

Using the methods described above, here is what we know so far from our empowerment profile of women in cocoa farming communities in West Africa.

Objective reality: Women in cocoa farming communities in West Africa have limited education, with just one-third of women in Côte d’Ivoire reporting that they have any formal education at all. While most women contribute to household income, only half of women in Ghana and one-quarter of women in Côte d’Ivoire have at least partial responsibility for decisions over major household purchases.

Self-perception: Women’s perception of their own abilities, self-worth, and optimism about the future are very high across West African cocoa farming communities. For women in Côte d’Ivoire, whilst almost all feel that their opinion is valued and respected, fewer feel that they can influence decisions or disagree with their spouse. Women in Ghana have more confidence than women in Côte d’Ivoire that they can influence the decisions of their community.

Cultural Norms: Motherhood and taking care of the husband and household are prioritised over education and a formal role in the household economy. In the community, women’s participation is generally confined to more traditional roles, such as organising festivals and entertainment.

Being on the ground enables us to ensure that we are involved in the lives of the women who are part of our supply chains

Creating a preliminary profile similar to this one will allow you to revise your theory of change and adapt your activities to create a positive impact for women more effectively.

Having taken cultural norms and self-perception into account, we use community participation as a tool to foster empowerment. This means making sure to include women in community planning meetings and processes, ensuring their voices are heard in community development.

Women are also specifically targeted for environmental practices training and livelihoods training, where they learn new skills that can help them to generate additional income for their households and exercise agency over resources. Women’s groups such as village savings and loan associations (VSLAs) and governance groups are an important focus for our programme.

Being on the ground enables us to ensure that we are involved in these crucial aspects of the community lives of the women who are part of our supply chains either as farmers, or as supporters of farming households. And it allows us to see the role it plays in creating more sustainable cocoa farming.

It is vital for companies to understand, measure, and report on their supply chains. (Credit: Cocoa Life)

Tracking women’s empowerment progress within supply chains will help improve our activities that interact with local empowerment challenges and improve the life of farmers producing our cocoa. As business partners, this is something that we strive towards. However, women’s empowerment is just one, albeit important, piece of the bigger puzzle.

The supply chains of some of our favourite household items are under more scrutiny than ever – from coffee and biscuits to clothes and makeup – and so it’s becoming vital for companies to understand, measure, and report on their supply chains. On top of this, organisations in a number of sectors are facing pressure to meet business-critical targets, whether it be by 2020, 2025 or 2050.

Impact is key. Transparency is crucial. And sharing knowledge is imperative.

You can read our full paper on empowering women here, or delve into a separate paper outlining our six lessons from impact evaluation here.

Manuel Kiewisch is global Cocoa Life monitoring and evaluation lead for Mondelēz International.

Main picture credit: Cocoa Life
Cocoa Life  Mondelēz International  SDGs  women's empowerment  Ipsos 

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