The women of western Africa have been using shea nut butter for centuries to protect their skin from dry Saharan winds. Through innovative enterprise, it's now protecting them in other ways, too.
Since 1994, a group of women in northern Ghana has been supplying shea butter to The Body Shop, as part of the company's community trade initiative. The profits from this relatively new export market are providing hope in a country where 43% of the population live below the international poverty line.
Profits to help communities prosper
The Tungteiya Shea Butter Association now provides a living for more than 400 women in 11 villages in the Tamale region of northern Ghana, The women earn independence and self-respect; their communities earn valuable resources, The women have directed their profits into water pipes and wells for their villages. They have provided better housing conditions and sanitation for their families, and have more money to spend on nutritious food. Medical care has improved, with three new medical centres founded on Tungteiya's earnings. They have built ten nursery schools and continue to provide funds for teachers and learning materials. What's more, they are able to give their children, particularly their daughters, the invaluable opportunity to attend secondary school. Tungteiya also offers its members basic business courses to improve their entrepreneurial skills.
The women involved say that these developments have earned them renewed respect for their work from the men in their communities. This is promising news in a country that ranks as low as 77th out of 130 on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index.
While this increase in respect is a huge development, Ghanaian women understand that the breakdown of deeply-rooted gender stereotypes is a process that will take time. By producing shea butter in their local communities, women are able to carry out their traditional domestic roles such as caring for children and sustaining the family. Many of the women say that by providing education for their daughters and sons, they hope that their work will affect the situation for future generations.
By sourcing products directly from producers in developing countries, the community trade initiative ensures a fair price for manufacturers. But the benefits also reach the developed world. The initiative has helped The Body Shop to expand its market and attract international attention, thereby providing an effective model for corporations to invest in ethical trade partnerships. …