“Thanks to the incredible success of our Shea Butter range, which is known and loved throughout the world, the number of women producing shea butter for L’OCCITANE has gone from an initial group of less than 100 to over 12,000 today!” says Olivier Baussan, founder of L’OCCITANE. Ordinarily so much excitement over shea butter is rare but in a place where an increase from 100 to over 12,000 women participants means a step closer to the emancipation of woman, there is much to be celebrated.
In the early 1980’s, L’OCCITANE, international French based boutique that sells natural bath products, skincare, hair and body care set up a co-development program with the women of Burkina Faso. It ensures that the women of Burkina Faso have not only a future but a career path of their choosing. L’OCCITANE pre-finances harvest by up to 80%, and helps the women’s groups with production, export and finding new outlets. A correct price is paid, which covers the production costs – including environmental and social costs – and leaves a margin for investment. L’OCCITANE’s Foundation supports projects that help develop the autonomy and economic emancipation of women by the creation of literacy centers, the access to microcredit, or bear the cost of medicines and treatments (http://fondation.loccitane.com). Boys receive preference in schooling; as such, girls’ education and literacy rates are far lower than their male counterparts. There was a time when the women of America were unable to vote and had no voice except the one given to them. For a gender that has come so far in the free world as to even have the notion of one day of having a female president, I have to ask…what about our sisters that aren’t so fortunate?
The UN Development Program Report ranks Burkina Faso as the country with the lowest level of literacy in the world, despite a concerted effort to double its literacy rate from 12.8% in 1990 to 25.3% in 2008. With rates this low and the mass majority of the families unable to afford schooling, where does this leave the gatherers? They are uneducated and therefore susceptible to what the world gives them. They are unable to fight for themselves or speak their voice because the system keeps them inferior and impoverished.
Companies like LOCCITANE offer an alternative to the imaginary line of Demarcation with an innovative approach to building schools brick by brick. From the green approach of using shea butter and other natural beauty secrets hidden within the motherland we are finally becoming aware of the way the other side of the world operates. Purchases and celebrating events like Woman’s Day allow us to be a part of a movement even if we are not physically there.
The road does not have to end in an uproar of what’s ethically wrong or right. There is hope in raising awareness for these women and women worldwide that are not even allowed to attend school. In America we look at going to school as a chore but when school is not something a woman can do leisurely it becomes a luxury. The less they know the farther from emancipation each woman is but the more we educate others the more we can help.