Women are the backbone of African societies. Without their never ceasing hard work, our societies would collapse completely. It is time to honor their contributions by working towards gender equality in our communities. One way to do this is to place fair monetary value on the unique skills of African women, such as handcrafting shea butter, and compensate them with fair values for their products and knowledge. This economic and moral boost will lead to more gender equality in the family institution, and hopefully help preserve our sustainable traditional technologies.
Over the past seven years, our cooperative members in central Togo have seen a shift in family equality. Our members are able to bring money back home to assist both their children and husbands. In many cases, our members feel they have more voice and power in their families and communities. They also say the regular salary gives them more time, decreases their anxieties about providing for their children, and gives them a sense of freedom.
Shea butter has traditionally been a woman dominated trade in West Africa. While women gather and prepare the shea nuts individually, they come together in cooperative groups to bring the nuts to market. In addition, the traditional craft of extracting the oil from the nuts is entirely done by women and passed on to their daughters.
With growing demand for shea butter, the traditional knowledge and culture of shea butter and the involvement of women is threatened. First, nuts are being exported and oil extraction is taking place outside West Africa. Second, if oil extraction is happening in West Africa, there is increasing pressure to replace traditional techniques with mechanization. In both cases, traditional knowledge is not valued, and women are losing control of their resource.Alaffia Shea Butter Cooperative
It was in direct response to these changes that we started the Alaffia Shea Butter Cooperative in Sokodé, Togo in 2003. We organized the cooperative to create economic opportunity for women who were denied access to education and whose skills and knowledge are undervalued in today's societies. We also wanted to maintain West African traditional knowledge by traditionally handcrafting shea butter. Since women hold the historical, traditional knowledge of this craft, they make up 99% of the members. The funds generated through the sale of our handcrafted shea butter supports stable, fair salaries and also goes toward alleviating poverty and fostering gender equality in our communities.