How to Conduct Research To Empower Women in Cocoa

Author Marta Massera

Learning Agenda Research Analyst
World Cocoa Foundation

Insights shared in a recent WCF webinar show innovative ways to design, implement, and measure the impact of projects and programs on women’s empowerment in the cocoa sector

 Women’s empowerment is increasingly seen as a key factor for sustainable agriculture. For instance, data shows that closing women’s productivity gaps in African agriculture could increase food production and consumption by 1.5 to 10 percent and reduce poverty by 1.2 to 13 percent. In the cocoa sector, women play a critical role in agriculture and community development, and can ensure greater economic stability and food security within their households.

However, in today’s cocoa supply chain, women and girls continue to face significant barriers towards the achievement of gender equality and empowerment. Challenges also remain on how to adequately measure their contributions in cocoa-growing communities. That is why it is urgent to identify and implement innovative metrics and research methodologies.

This was discussed in a recent World Cocoa Foundation webinar. Anna Laven, Senior Associate at KIT Royal Tropical Institute, and Pabla van Heck, independent social innovation and design thinking consultant, shared insights from the first phase of the Resilience Journey – a program launched in 2019 in partnership with Mars Wrigley, and aimed at designing an approach to women’s empowerment and gender equality in cocoa growing communities. In the first phase, called the Empathy Generation, the team’s goal was to understand the behaviors, experiences, and attitudes of women in their households and communities in Indonesia, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

Within each phase and across the whole Resilience Journey, van Heck and Laven adopted a Human Centered Design (HCD) approach that places women and their context at its core, while challenging assumptions, redefining problems and making relevant recommendations. As van Heck pointed out during the webinar, the objective is to define the real problem to solve. “Without understanding the problem to solve, it becomes very hard to innovate”. Laven also presented the KIT Women’s Empowerment model used in the study, which is based on the understanding of empowerment as the expansion of choice and the strengthening of voice.

 In the webinar, van Heck and Laven discussed with participants their main findings from the Empathy Generation phase:

  • Adolescence and early adulthood are critical life stages within women’s life cycles.
  • Gender equality cannot be achieved without men and boys.
  • In all three countries, social institutions and gender norms are key barriers to the achievement of girls’ and women’s empowerment.
  • Cocoa remains male-dominated, with the widespread myth that the sector is not suitable for women.

Measuring projects’ and programs’ impacts on women’s empowerment is another priority for the cocoa sector.

Why is it important to have women’s empowerment metrics?” Agnes Quisumbing, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI, asked during the webinar. “Many agricultural projects that claim or want to empower women, only reach or benefit them” by providing women with inputs and increasing their wellbeing. Yet, these projects are ultimately not enhancing women’s decision-making power with households and communities. To fill this gap, Quisumbing presented the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI). The Index was first developed in 2012 to monitor and evaluate women’s empowerment in the US Government’s Feed the Future initiative, and it is now used by various organizations and individuals to design and assess interventions.

Quisumbing showed different versions of the WEAI that have been developed for different purposes. For instance, the project-level WEAI (pro-WEAI) focuses specifically on agricultural development projects and uses data from separate male and female quantitative surveys from the same household as well as qualitative data. A more recent version is the pro-WEAI for market inclusion (pro-WEAI+MI), which specifically investigates barriers to market access and inclusion, as well as the impact of market-focused interventions that aim to empower women. For Quisumbing, as the pro-WEAI+MI is currently being tested for higher-value and large-scale marketable products, it could become particularly useful to the cocoa businesses.

To provide a concrete example of the Index’s application, Elizabeth Bryan, Senior Scientist at IFPRI, showed how the pro-WEAI tool has been used to measure changes in women’s empowerment following a small-scale irrigation project in Northern Ghana, in the Garu-Tempane District. In her analysis, Bryan found only a marginal impact of the intervention on empowerment indicators. For the researcher, qualitative data were specifically relevant to understand how men and women were understanding concepts of empowerment in the community, what were their aspirations, and the underlying processes of change.