Changing gender roles in cocoa-growing communities in Sierra Leone

Musu Boima is proud to be a role model for greater gender equity in her household following her family’s participation in Gender Model Family training.

Musu and Vandy a modelled cocoa family in Komende village posed for a photo in front of the family house

It is 4:30 pm on a sunny Saturday evening in Komende, a village in Sierra Leone. The Boima family is preparing their evening meal upon their return from the farm.

Each of the seven-member family plays a part in the preparation of supper, in what has become a family ritual. While the father, Vandy Boima, 45, sorts the potato leaves, the mother, Musu Boima, 35 pounds the fish; Fatu,17 the eldest daughter, pounds okra while the eldest son, Lamin, 15, fetches water, and the little members of the family wash the dishes. 

The equitable distribution of chores based on sex is uncommon in most rural communities in Sierra Leone, and even less so in rurall villages like Komende, where the Boima family lives.  

Gendered responsibilities

Traditional practices and gender stereotypes place a heavy burden on women and girls, who contribute to the family farm, assist the family in the production of cocoa and other crops, and in small-scale animal production and business.

About 70% of women are employed in the agriculture sector and provide 75% of the labour along the food value chain, from production and processing to marketing. However, gender inequality, resulting from unequal power relations, including access to and control over productive resources, continue to limit women’s involvement in and benefit from cash crops production. Most women are, therefore, subjugated to performing largely unpaid care work with implications for their general empowerment.

“It was very stressful for my daughters and me. We cook, fetch water and fuelwood, clean and launder clothes. Despite our contribution, we get a small portion from the sales of the cocoa,” says Musu.

Leading by example

Musu’s predicament is gradually changing, thanks to a Gender Model Family (GMF) training Vandy Boima, her husband, participated in in August 2019. The training was organized by Solidaridad and facilitated by SEND Sierra Leone.

During the training, Vandy learned about gender transformative roles such as equity in the distribution of chores among family members irrespective of gender, equity in the distribution of financial resources, and consultation of family members in making key decisions.

Mohamed Jalloh, the lead facilitator from SEND, notes that the model family is made up of families that want to be a model for change and transformation in society by challenging traditional notions of gender roles and responsibilities. 

When gender norms are transformed through the promotion of the model family concept, there will be an increased partnership between men and women for inclusive family and community development” – Mohamed Jalloh 

For Musu, the Gender Model Family training her husband participated in has changed her family. “After the training, cooking, fetching water and fuelwood, cleaning and laundering clothes are evenly distributed among boys and girls. It has reduced the heavy workload on us. We appreciate Solidaridad for that,” says Musu with a beaming smile. 

The Boima family prepares potato leaves sauce as part of their regular Saturday dinner @ Solidaridad/ Sierra Leone

The Gender Model Family training is aligned to Solidaridad's strategic objectives of promoting gender-inclusive communities while working with farmers and key institutions to protect gender-transformative roles for women and men to control resources jointly or individually. 

Taking steps towards change  

Solidaridad’s Programme Manager for Cocoa in Sierra Leone, Lunseni Kappia said that the model family training has strengthened harmony within families and communities and has significantly changed traditional definitions of gender roles and responsibilities in the community. “Solidaridad believes that when roles and responsibilities are evenly distributed, neither the man nor the woman will exert power over the other, but would make decisions together and share their resources and benefits. This has a ripple effect on the community for inclusive development.”

In 2019, Solidaridad organized the Gender Model Family training in 72 cocoa-growing communities in the Kenema and Kailahun districts of Sierra Leone. Over 5,000 cocoa farmers participated. The training is slowly changing cultural roles and responsibilities in the family setting and increasing partnership between men and women for inclusive development.