Global Resources

Women's rights in the cocoa sector: examples of emerging good practice

Author: A. Marston
Publisher: Oxfam
Publication Date: Mar 2016

Women cocoa farmers are central to the sustainability of the cocoa supply chain, cocoa growing communities, and increasing cocoa production levels, yet their efforts too often go unrecognised. Empowering women cocoa farmers not only has a positive impact on the lives of women, men and communities, but also has a business advantage. When women have control over their own income or family earnings, they reinvest in their families, children and communities, increasing their well-being and sustainability. This report produced by Oxfam provides examples of emerging good practice to address gender inequality in the cocoa sector, and highlights where there is potential to make even greater change.


The report emerged from a multi-stakeholder meeting held in Ghana in 2015, which included cocoa traders, chocolate brands, cocoa producers’ organisations, government, and NGOs, and is supplemented by additional research. The aim is to present a broad overview of best practice across ten key policy and practice areas, split into four stages:

  • Understanding the problem: this section includes best practice examples and analysis concerning sex-disaggregated data, women’s leadership, and understanding community contexts.

  • Building awareness and securing commitments to equity: this section looks at gender sensitisation trainings, and governance and gender commitments.

  • Building capacity: this section discusses leadership capacity building and empowerment, and technical training.

  • Providing access and tools for change: access to credit and resources, inclusive tools and technology innovation, access to markets, and working with government are the final four areas from which best practice is highlighted.


Each of the four sections provides an overview, goals to work toward, and examples of best practice from a number African-based programmes. One such example is the Farmer’s Development Union in Nigeria, which has adapted the Gender Action Learning System to build greater understanding of gender issues in cocoa communities between women and men, and to build the foundations for empowering and supporting female cocoa farmers. Other examples include Oxfam’s own work with the Fair Labour Association to map women’s work in the cocoa sector of Côte d’Ivoire, which identified a far more extensive network of women contributors than recorded by unions or plantations, and Kuapa Kokoo, a Fair Trade certified cocoa cooperative in Ghana which undertook a three-year partnership with WIEGO in 2012 to train 2,800 Kuapa women cocoa farmers in leadership and participation.


A key finding of the research with regard to Nigeria was that higher levels of formal education, greater amounts of time available for contributing to cocoa farming, and the ability to make greater financial contributions were the three key factors for advancing women’s autonomy in the cocoa sector. Facilitating these factors will require investment in building the skills and knowledge of women and girls, and reducing women's excessive unpaid care and unequal housework responsibilities so that they can participate in farming, and thus become economically empowered.


The report closes with a look to the future, suggesting that actors at every stage of the cocoa supply chain need to evaluate the assumptions, social norms and biases that underlie their daily practices and habits, from identifying the problem, to building capacity, and on to creating context-specific enabling environments to ensure success. Women must be at the heart of this change, leading their own empowerment and development in ways that will allow them to make greater contributions to the cocoa sector, and have their existing roles acknowledged. The authors conclude that overall, the research points to the overarching importance of transparent supply chains that are in direct engagement with producers, particularly women, and that good data and gender needs assessments are an essential starting point to enable work on gender sensitisation, governance, training, and market access, among other critical steps.