At the International Cocoa Initiative, we support our partners to empower women in cocoa communities. That’s because women have a crucial role to play in the fight against child labour. In this article we explore some of the ways that supporting women in cocoa-growing communities can be beneficial to child protection.
Educating women can help protect children
At ICI we often emphasise the importance of quality education for children in the fight against child labour, but adult education is also important. Research by ICI and others shows that when adults are more educated, particularly women, their children are less likely to be involved in hazardous work. There are many benefits to adult education, beyond the link to child labour: literacy and numeracy skills can help households improve their quality of life, and their ability to run businesses. This can help break the cycle of poverty, which is one of the underlying causes of child labour in many communities.
Creating wider support networks and access to finance in communities
Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) are savings groups, often targeted at women. VSLAs act as rural banks in areas where access to finance is overwise difficult or hard to come by (find out more here). Women organise themselves with the support of a trainer. In addition to this literacy and numeracy classes can be run as part of the set-up of these groups. Participants make regular financial contributions and after a short time can take out small loans that can, for instance, be invested in small businesses or support their children’s education. These groups can bring some financial benefits to women, but importantly they also build a strong sense of social cohesion and can empower women to become decision-makers in their households and communities.
Increasing household income, boosting resilience
Income-generating activities (IGAs) promote access to alternative livelihoods, in addition to cocoa production. Activities can take many forms and include helping women to start small businesses, such as artisanal crafts and solar panel rental, as well as to diversify their agricultural production, for example through rice or vegetable farming. This can lead to financial benefits, helping diversify household incomes. From ICI’s experience, this additional income is often used to finance children’s education: covering fees, schoolbooks or uniforms. They can also enable families to better weather unforeseen shocks to income (such as cocoa pod disease, or price crashes) that can put children at greater risk of becoming involved in child labour. IGAs can also be directly linked with VSLAs by encouraging women to invest their loans in these particular activities. When used together in this way, they can be effective tools of empowerment.
Engaging women directly in the fight against child labour
At ICI we work closely with community members and staff of cocoa cooperatives to set up and implement Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS). These systems are embedded in cocoa communities to identify child labour and put in place effective solutions for those in need or at risk. They also allow for ongoing monitoring of every child’s situation over time. Community facilitators, who are often cocoa farmers themselves, play a vital role in CLMRS. They are key players in identifying children in or at risk of child labour and help to raise awareness. Analysis of CLMRS data shared with ICI by several different implementers shows clear benefits to employing women as monitors. ICI’s Review of the Effectiveness of Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems (phase II – forthcoming) shows that female monitors are significantly more likely to identify child labour cases than male monitors, suggesting that additional efforts to recruit and train women would improve the effectiveness of these systems.
Supporting women, supporting the entire family
All the activities mentioned above can have an impact on women’s empowerment and their role in household decision-making. Together they can not only strengthen the position of women, but also help to address gender issues and benefit the entire household and the community at large. This may mean that children are less at risk of becoming involved in child labour, that children’s opportunities to learn and thrive in school increase, and that the whole family’s welfare improves. That is why addressing specific issues faced by women, be they social or economic, through sustained interventions, is necessary to strengthen the position of women in their communities and households.
This article is part of a series highlighting what works to tackle child labour (more information here). At ICI we are working with our partners and the wider cocoa sector to ensure that these activities are scaled up as part of child protection systems to reach all those in need. Find out more in our 2021-2026 strategy.