Sunday, March 8, 2015

Embracing Optimism on Women's Day

It's a slightly bizarre concept - an International Women's Day - when one considers that women make up essential half of global population (49.6% according to the World Bank). Despite near parity of population, it is pretty well-established that women in many places are marginalized, and afforded little or no decision-making power or voice in society. Even in the 'Western World', we still struggle for comparable salaries and employment status, and other less tangible social inequities. However, it is also rather amazing how much the discussion of gender issues has evolved, particularly within the international development sphere, since I started cluing in about five years ago. This year that 'Day' carries a bit more weight for me, as I grapple with writing a master's thesis focused on female farmers and climate change. It also means that more people have sent me interesting tidbits (especially within the agricultural realm) related to the theme of the day - 'Make it Happen' - around achievements toward greater equality.

In regions where a globally-traded commodity crop like cocoa is the main source of income, serious power dynamics can manifest. Perhaps it is in part a product of long practiced gender-based divisions of labour, and an undervaluing of those tasks traditionally allocated to women. Yet the transition to growing a money-maker like cocoa puts more at stake and can exacerbate an already unequal distribution of income and control. With consumers placing more responsibility on the metaphorical shoulders of corporates, greater expectation of efforts to improve working conditions, wages, and yes, women's equality. An Oxfam blog post provided some initial insight into what major industry players are achieving on this front, and the nacent 'commitments' by companies for a more sustainable future. More than anything, it's a reminder of how recently these concerns around gender have entered mainstream consciousness.

As you might have gleaned by this point, I spent the summer in a region of Ghana where cocoa dominates, chatting up farmers on a daily basis. It is currently uncommon, however rapidly changing, for a woman to control a substantial farm, and even moreso a cocoa farm. While I did meet women who felt powerless or underappreciated due their lower prestige lot, there were also seriously strong women who ran their own farms, found creative ways to provide for their families, and embodied a much more optimistic outlook on life. What empowers these women, and makes them different from others, is a topic of a future blog post (and to some extent, an academic thesis?), but it's important to note that hard work and strong drive play as much of, if not greater, a role as the accessibility of resources and inheritance of land. Instead of focusing primarily on the 'victims' (which is still important!), it is encouraging that the theme this year has narrowed in on the positive steps women have made. Perhaps this is the optimist in me, but success stories can go a long way to motivating additional strides.

On that note, I will also just add that from now until May, I will continue reminding you about the Live Below the Line Challenge. So, make sure to take a look at my page and the charity for which I'm fundraising (checking the gender, food security, and sustainability boxes)!

Read all International Women's Day posts*:
2012 - Women in Ag

* I never noticed before how uninspired these titles are!

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