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Each year, on International Women’s Day, we celebrate women in our societies. As Social Development director at the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), it is my job every day to make sure the potential of women in cocoa growing communities is fulfilled. Now that the celebrations are winding down, I would like to share with you an example of the major impact empowered women can have on cocoa-growing communities, and my take on what we have learned through three years of a Village Savings and Loans Associations program, part of amplifying WCF-led CocoaAction.
Starting in 2015, WCF member Mars Wrigley Confectionery and its DOVE® Chocolate brand partnered with CARE to create Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) in the Nawa region in South West Côte d’Ivoire, a key cocoa producing area. A VSLA is a group of 15-30 people, mainly women, who choose to work together and pool their savings. The money can then be borrowed with interest by members, over an agreed period. To date, through this program, nearly 300 VSLAs have been created, mobilizing more than 7,500 people, including 80% women in the departments of Guéyo and Soubré in Côte d’Ivoire. Together, the VSLAs have mobilized around $300,000 in savings and taken a similar amount in loans to invest in their households’ needs and communities.
Crucial activities that benefit VSLA members include (i) creating and maintaining a group dynamic to grow self-esteem and self-confidence, (ii) providing access to basic financial services (savings and credit), (iii) unlocking entrepreneurial potential by learning to identify, create, and manage an income generating activity.
But, most importantly, the VSLA approach favored by CARE focuses on coaching sessions involving both women and their spouses. The objective is to foster men’s understanding of the changes their wives are going through – something that is essential to achieving success. We need to ensure men welcome their wives’ empowerment, and see them as partners for a thriving household. This family coaching is an important success factor that explains the tremendous entrepreneurial momentum that flourished among the “bees” of Guéyo and Soubré.
The program was recently celebrated with the launch of building a new Guéyo market. This is where most of the products of income generating activities linked to the VSLA (production of vegetables, cassava, palm oil, palm oil soap, fish, clothing and garment) converge. On March 6, 2019, Mars Wrigley Confectionery and its brand DOVE® Chocolate, in partnership with CARE, officially laid the first stone of the market in honor of International Women’s Day. This long-term effort, sustained in partnership with local authorities, will benefit the entire community for decades to come and provide a permanent place for women to sell their products.
As I learn from examples such as this VSLA program, I am more and more convinced of the importance of achieving four basic steps for real gender empowerment:
- Start with confidence-building;
- Give women equitable access to opportunities;
- Help manage the change and rebalancing of social norms in the community;
- Work closely with authorities to achieve structural and long-term change.
These are the principles that WCF and its member companies promote for more prosperous cocoa households and vibrant, empowered cocoa communities.
Our women have become like bees in the village today. They are active everywhere and all the time; it reflects on their homes and the whole community.Gbaglé Pierre Village Chief of Bobouo 1, Guéyo