Empowering women in cocoa communities: Cocoa Life partners speak at EU women’s empowerment conference

by 20th Mar 2015
The panel discussing ‘Empowering economics: Enabling an environment conducive to the full participation of women’. Cathy Pieters is second from right and Sofia Sprechmann is in the middle. The panel discussing ‘Empowering economics: Enabling an environment conducive to the full participation of women’. Cathy Pieters is second from right and Sofia Sprechmann is in the middle.

Promoting gender equality is a core belief of the Cocoa Life programme. For years we have been working with partners including humanitarian organisations like CARE International to implement programmes that empower women in cocoa communities, writes Cathy Pieters, Global Director of Cocoa Life, Mondelēz International.

So I was delighted to be invited to speak on behalf of Mondelēz International and Cocoa Life at the High-Level EU Event on Women’s Empowerment and Sustainable Development in Riga, Latvia, on 2 March. The audience of roughly 200 attendees included government and European Commission officials, NGOs, and other stakeholders. The purpose of the conference was to highlight best practices for female entrepreneurs and to reinforce their contributions to sustainable social, economic, and environmental development.

With Cocoa Life, we are determined to create empowered, thriving cocoa communities and we want to do this at scale. A key driver of sustainable development is gender equality. In Ghana, women cocoa farmers earn 30% less than men. In Cote d’Ivoire, in some places, it is 70% less.

So there is a lot to do.

We’re interested not just in the return on our dollar investment, but also in having a positive impact on farmers and their communities. As Sofia Sprechmann, the Programme Director for CARE International, says: “The economic empowerment of women means more than just the apparent markers of advancement, such as more jobs or higher incomes. Women need to have the power to act on economic decisions on a level playing field with men. For this, they need the systems and structures in place to ensure that they succeed, such as access to skills training and opportunities for dignified jobs. This requires a collaboration of both the public and private sectors, such as CARE’s partnership with Cocoa Life.”

CARE’s expertise is essential in our goal to establish a sustainable cocoa programme. Our missions overlap as we both believe in addressing the issue of women’s empowerment from a holistic perspective. Our Women’s Extension Volunteers sensitise cocoa communities on topics like domestic violence, child labour, and the importance of women in community meetings. “We know that business can play a vital role in tackling poverty and injustice,” says Sprechmann.

Working with CARE, we also established Village Savings and Loan Associations, which provide start-up funds for small businesses and capital for small farmers. The majority of these beneficiaries – 68% – are women. As one example, Dorcas Affukwao, a 41-year-old cocoa farmer and baker in Ghana’s Wassa Ekutusase, used an interest-free loan from the programme to replace a bag of flour that was destroyed by rain. This prevented her business from almost collapsing, and allowed her to continue to support her eight children.

“With our partnership, we are looking to bring lasting change for the cocoa farming community. Women play a key role in the production of cocoa, and in the quality of the final product. Our work with Cocoa Life addressing the challenges that women face on cocoa farms, both on the individual and community level, will benefit the livelihoods and resilience of farmers in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, thereby improving the living conditions of thousands of people in cocoa-farming communities,” says Sprechmann.

Our goal is to ultimately source all of our cocoa sustainably, mainly from the Cocoa Life programme. We believe that empowered women are key to this sustainable development. And when women hold important, decision-making roles, entire communities benefit. It is also our belief that community solutions become more effective when action plans speak for the whole community, because all voices are heard.
At the end of the conference, the majority of the audience said that they felt optimistic about the future of women’s empowerment, and I agree.

This is just the beginning of the conversation.

This blog was first published on Mondelēz International’s Cocoa Life website

Cathy Pieters

Cathy Pieters is Global Director of Cocoa Life for Mondelēz International.