Untying gender constraints, the cooperative way
Elegantly clad in a zebra-printed cotton dress, Outtara Aminata’s joyful demeanour belies a life most would consider tough, but which she has taken in her stride. Her story could be an inspiration for many seeking a better life for their families.
The 37-year old lives in a remote village of 500 people in the north of Côte d'Ivoire. Up at 5am, she used to only do the unremitting back-breaking work of maintaining a household. Now Aminita is also a smallholder cotton farmer. She took on her second, and only paying “job”, three years ago and has never been happier.
“Everything is different! My life is completely different. My children can now go to school because I can pay school fees. I didn’t even have one good dress before,” said Aminata, gesturing to the zebra print dress she and others in the Benkadi Women’s Association wear in her village of Tchewelevogo.
She is one of the 227 women farmers who have been recruited into cooperatives by Olam’s International’s cotton arm, SECO (Société d'Exploitation Cotonnière Olam) and are now part of a 17,769-strong network of smallholder farmers across Côte d'Ivoire that SECO works with to buy cotton from and improve their livelihoods in the process.
Integrating Benkadi and the other Women’s Associations into cooperatives, meant that - for the first time - these women had access to financial support to embark on an income-generating activity of their choice, cotton farming being one. And so the first independent female farmers in Côte d'Ivoire emerged, with the creation of communal plots of land to share amongst the group members.
SECO’s outreach programme through the co-operatives runs the gamut – from a continual farmers’ training programme to building infrastructure such as water pumps, health clinics and schools. The training itself goes beyond farming practices and includes social messages such as the importance of children going to school – rather than becoming child labourers.