IWD 2019: A Strategy for Women’s Empowerment in Trade and Supply Chains

Ruth Murunga is a Kenyan green bean farmer who has participated in Traidcraft Exchange’s programme in the export horticulture sector. Credit: Traidcraft Exchange/Khadija Farah

Ruth Murunga is a Kenyan green bean farmer who has participated in Traidcraft Exchange’s programme in the export horticulture sector. Credit: Traidcraft Exchange/Khadija Farah

Today, on International Women’s Day, Traidcraft Exchange launches its ‘Women’s Empowerment in Trade in Supply Chains’ strategy. George Williams talks us through where this has come from, and why women’s empowerment is so important to us.

The report is available to download here.

I’ve worked at Traidcraft Exchange now for over eight years and throughout this time, women’s empowerment has been a central theme of our work. Our published strategy, launched today, is our attempt to bring all our thinking on this topic together into one place. 

The strategy is grounded in the work that we’ve been doing across South Asia and Africa, and is informed by our Policy and Advocacy activities too.

Where have we worked with women, and in which supply chains?

We’ve worked with women artisans in northern India who spend a large amount of their time doing vital preparatory work for handloom weaving – that is, getting the looms ready for their husbands, brothers and fathers. While it’s the men who are recognised as ‘weavers’, their work is impossible to do without the invisible and unpaid work of women.

In Bangladesh we have worked at the production end of the jute supply chain with farmers – most of whom are men – who grow jute. We’ve also worked at the manufacturing end of the same supply chains with businesses that create end-products using jute yarn and cloth. Working at both ends of the supply chain in this way revealed a hazardous, intermediary stage of processing that is conducted exclusively by women.

This stage requires women to stand for hours on end in polluted, stagnant water, and strip the jute fibres from the plant’s stem. This is critical but dangerous work which goes completely unrecognised by the sector that was once the mainstay of the Bangladeshi economy. These women are invisible, underpaid and subject to dangerous working conditions, yet their work is fundamental to the entire supply chain.

Over in East Africa we’ve worked with women beekeepers. The marketing of agricultural produce here is often dominated by men: women often do the most laborious and labour-intensive parts of agricultural production, but generally have much less role in the sale of produce, and therefore they have limited influence on how money is spent.

In contrast, honey is a supply chain men where men do not traditionally tend to dominate marketing –at least not in Kenya and Tanzania – and it requires relatively small start-up capital investment.  Therefore, we have found that honey is a supply chain where women can quickly learn the required skills and make the investments needed to start beekeeping, and can quickly increase their incomes through sale of honey and other bee-related products. 

It’s these examples and many more that have informed the development of the new strategy[1].

But what do these examples, and the many others from our work, tell us about what ‘women’s empowerment in trade and supply chains’ actually means? 

At Traidcraft Exchange we’ve come to the conclusion that our work needs to focus on enabling women to have greater power to benefit from and shape their own work, and that this comes about when women:

  • Are recognised for the important roles they play in trade and supply chains;

  • Gain equal access to economic resources and opportunities;

  • Derive equitable returns from their work and enterprise;

  • Have power in deciding how the rewards from their efforts are used;

  • Have a strong voice in shaping their working and living environments;

  • Can influence and derive greater benefit from fairer trade and enterprise policies and practice.

Bringing about these changes is how our work contributes towards women’s empowerment.  And by contributing towards this bigger aim, over the longer-term, we believe that we can contribute towards women:

  • Influencing a wide range of institutions and the policies and practices which affect their lives more broadly;

  • Having a better balance of non-paid work between men and women within the household and community;

  • Experiencing improved relations between men and women in all aspects of their lives at the personal, family, and community levels.

At the heart of the strategy document is a diagram that seeks to encapsulate in one image why we consider women’s empowerment to be an important strategic theme for our work, how we intend to address the issue (our four core strategies) and what change we want to see from our work (see below):

Women's empowerment graphic.png

Where do we go from here?

Achieving sustainable change takes time – which means that this is a long-term endeavour for Traidcraft Exchange and our partners. We’re not claiming to know everything about the topic, and we will surely continue to amend and refine our strategy as we continue to learn from our, and others’, work.

Please have a read of our strategy document here, and send your responses, thoughts and ideas about how we can continue to keep this at the heart of what we do to programmes@traidcraft.org.

George Williams is Traidcraft Exchange’s Impact and Learning Manager.

[1] You can read more about some of this work here, here and here.


Nancy Demuth