For several years now, women have had to play a triple role in society; reproductive, productive and community managing roles, with each role entailing a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Due to culturally set gender roles; women have always been viewed as undeserving of any form of remuneration for any of the three roles performed. The stereotype that they were born for those tasks and thus it is their inherent nature to perform them has always prevailed, due to this, women have more often than not been shortchanged, and their roles have always been viewed as subsidiary to those that men perform. This dilemma was brought about by several issues such as cultural beliefs, stereotypes, religious beliefs and the fact that during the industrialization period, the idea was that men were better suited to work in the industries and undertake the more ``important jobs'' that deserved pay as women were perceived to be the weaker sex. As a result, the women were left back at home to tend to the children and the farms and the community as a whole.
The fact that the women were in charge of the farms means that they were responsible for; providing for the family and the community regarding food. They, however, faced several challenges such as lack of access to credit from financial institutions to advance their farming endeavors, lack of proper working environments, underpricing of their final goods as well as reduced pay- challenges that all came about due to the gender imbalance issue. The situation was so repulsive at times in that the woman had no say in what she would plant in her farm until the husband gave a go ahead yet the labor had to come from her.
A perfect example of this situation is found in West Africa. In many communities around Western Africa, a tree by the name of Vitellaria paradoxa commonly known as Shea tree thrives. For many years now, women have harvested the fruit of this tree. Once harvested, the fruit is then processed to form a popular and valued byproduct known as Shea Butter, which is used to moisturize and protect the skin from sun, wind, heat and salt water.
The Shea nut is in high demand, primarily because it is an essential component in quite a large number of cosmetics and beauty products. The final product of the Shea nut draws a lot of income for Ghana through exports. One would think that a community producing a commodity with such demand, would have better social and economic infrastructure. Sadly, this not the case. Many communities producing Shea, do not have appropriate living and working conditions for the women harvesting and processing the Shea nut. The women are often not paid fair market prices for their goods. They are instead, exploited and abused, which robs them of their desire to be empowered. Consequently, these communities remain undeveloped and impoverished.
If measured by basis of deliverables, women are seen to undertake way more roles than the men, yet only the men get to enjoy the fruits of their labor per say. Such situations are what propagated the start of movements such as Women in Development and Gender in Development. All the women were saying is look we've had it with the demeaning of our labor, we need better working conditions and fair pay and we need to be on level playing ground with the men. The situation in West Africa is no different.
Recently there has been increased efforts to raise awareness on laboring of women who are the backbone of this industry. The key goal of awareness efforts leans towards the achievement of decent work and economic rights such as fair market prices and women empowerment. Such efforts have helped promote the Shea industry sustainability, quality practices and standards, and an increase in demand for Shea in food and cosmetics. As a result, many women are starting to feel the impact through fair market value for their Shea products which consequently leads to several positive results such as better education for their children, and working conditions, decent work, and fair wages in communities always leads to better education, women empowerment, and community stabilization. The need to empower women can never be emphasized enough, and the fact remains that to empower a woman is to empower a nation.