Women’s rights in the cocoa sector: Examples of emerging good practice

Ama Marston


Many existing cocoa sector programmes have tended towards community development without understanding the links between female beneficiaries and their supply chain. This paper identifies 10 areas of emerging good practice to learn from and encourages looking at the social dimension of production and interactions between differing actors to bring a gender dimension. It also emphasises the need for adaptive good practice and the complex, sometimes slow, process of challenging deeply-rooted assumptions in order to change behaviours towards women’s rights in the cocoa sector.

The paper builds on priorities and examples identified for addressing women’s role as cocoa farmers during a multi-stakeholder meeting held in Ghana (Accra) in September 2015. It focuses on the large cocoa-producing countries of Ghana,  Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria. Emerging good practice embraces learning and the need for experimentation as circumstances change and evolve.

Women’s labour is often overlooked, but makes significant contributions across all stages of cocoa production to varying degrees. For example, official figures in Ghana suggest 25% of cocoa farmers. However, men farmers almost exclusively transport cocoa beans to marketing centres, limiting women farmers’ ability to benefit economically and assert their rights as cocoa farmers.

While work on gender equality in the cocoa sector is still in its early stages, good practice is beginning to emerge in 10 key areas:

  • Sex-disaggregated data and mapping will enable greater understanding of women in cocoa supply chains and encourage efforts to extend partnerships to include efforts of suppliers and traders.
  • Needs assessment is crucial to effectively support women’s roles through looking at differing needs between women and men, how they have come to exist and how to address these needs from a gender perspective.
  • Gender sensitisation builds awareness of roles and the contributions that men and women make, and create a shared vision for change.
  • Women’s leadership and voice: women, as well as communities, identify their own needs as farmers and their priorities to have the greatest impact and avoid unintended side effects.
  • Governance and diversity policies have often underpinned an organisation’s commitments to gender equality.
  • Women’s empowerment and leadership training enables women farmers to take on new roles and prosper both as cocoa farmers and as decision makers.
  • Technical training recognises that women farmers have distinct interests, needs, and requirements and account for them when designing the content.
  • Inclusive technology should be adapted to women’s needs, from tools made for different body types to design and use of ICTs that are not dependent on literacy, are affordable and can be adapted to address specific gender roles.
  • Access to credit allows women farmers to address constraints such as access to collateral and limited control over financial resources. It must also address the growth of women’s businesses.
  • Market access is critical for women farmers’ shared financial gains in cocoa. An enabling environment should include platforms, opportunities and trainings to increase productivity and build skills.
  • Engaging government is key to supporting the creation of an enabling environment and needs to include a transparent process where there is consistent communication between women farmers and key actors.

These lesson should be revisited, evaluated and adapted to the changing context of supply chains, communities and the lives of women cocoa farmers. Measuring and understanding the impact of interventions will be one of the main future challenges. Actors at each stage of the supply chain need the time and space to evaluate the social norms and biases rooted in underlying gender inequalities that shape daily practices and habits.


Marston, A. (2016). Women’s rights in the cocoa sector: Examples of emerging good practice. Oxfam discussion paper. Oxford: Oxfam International.