Championing gender justice in rural communities

Posted by Liz Foggitt on 15 October 2018

Women are crucial in agriculture. They help to ensure sustainability of their households and communities and often do most the hard labour needed on a farm. Without rural women working hard all over the world, we wouldn’t enjoy a lot of the food and drink we take for granted.

Despite this, many rural women are suffering disproportionally from poverty. Today is the UN’s International Day for Rural Women – a day to celebrate women in rural communities and champion gender empowerment projects.

At Twin, gender empowerment is a key pillar in our work with farmers, cooperatives, in our trading and marketing and in our advocacy work. To celebrate the UN’s International Day for Rural Women, we want to share some of our work in the Gola Rainforest in Sierra Leona.

After a long civil war, Sierra Leone is relatively unknown as a cocoa producer. But the conditions are perfect. The cocoa beans have notes of spice, cinnamon a fudge and go on to make delicious chocolate.

Goleagorbu Cocoa Producers Organisation (GCPO) is an association of farmers in the Gola Rainforest in Sierra Leone. It has over 1,000 members and is rapidly growing. The name was chosen because goleagorbu means ‘We who live in the forest’ in Mende, the local language.

The communities in the Gola Rainforest have suffered from ethnic conflict and the outbreak of Ebola. However, Twin is working with GCPO to improve farming practices, integrate rainforest conservation into farming and increase gender equality.

Portrait of Hawa

Gender justice is addressed by exploring how income and decision-making is done within families. Twin works with Comic Relief and RSPB to deliver workshops on gender. The sessions use the gender action learning (GALS) approach which offers creative ways for men and women to share their experience of decision making and daily work. Everyone is encouraged to draw pictures and symbols that represent their daily routines. The pictures offer a new perspective of gender roles and spark discussions on how traditional roles could be challenged and changed.

Hawa Daramy is in the Gaura Cocoa Farmers Association which is part of GCPO and has participated in a GALS workshops. She is now a master champion and helps to share learnings among the community in the rainforest. She has trained nine new members – from her household, from the cocoa group and from outside the group. The new members have also gone on to share learnings with their own households.

Hawa says she is very happy about the project and says that the training has ‘changed her life.’ Since participating in GALS she is managing the household with her husband and there are ‘no longer confrontations’.  She has three children aged 16, 10 and 6 who are all in school.

GCPO is a fantastic example of how farming communities are working together to make a positive change. In 2017, the first container of specialty cocoa ever produced in Sierra Leone was exported with the support of Twin Trading to the US specialty buyer Dandelion Chocolate. It is a demonstration that taking a holistic approach to developing farming practices works. If women are included in decision-making, then usually more sustainable practices are adopted.

We continue to run GALs workshops in the rainforest and take steps to ensure women like Hawa are acknowledged and appreciated for their vital contribution to producing excellent quality cocoa.