Shea Butter - Empowering Women

Shea butter - empowering women

As cosmetics containing shea butter pop up on more and more Western supermarket shelves, little do buyers realize that sales of this age-old beauty-boosting nut are helping legions of African women feed their children and send them to school.

Shea butter comes from a fruit resembling a small avocado that grows on trees.

The scattered around villages cannot be planted. They grow alone, bearing fruit only after 25 years and then only once every three seasons, but their lifespan is a couple of hundred years.

For as long as anyone can remember African women have been using butter made from the seed found inside the shea nut for a many of reasons: cooking, healing and moisturizing skin and hair.

Rich in vitamins A, E and F Shea butter has great anti-wrinkle, moisturizing, skin regeneration properties and protects against the sun.

The popularity of Shea butter products has increased sharply over the years.

Women workers beat the paste by hand for 20 minutes until it becomes butter. Once separated, it is heated, filtered, cooled and either sold as butter or made into soaps and creams.

The work is done by hand, the profits shared by the women themselves.

 International Women's Day is celebrated each year on March 8, which in developing countries notably has focused on empowering women to take part in the economic as well as political life of their countries.

The president and founder of the association, Marceline Ouedraogo, said the production of Shea butter had helped women come together in the villages to produce butter for sale on domestic and international markets.

"Here the men provide only the millet or grain for the family. So whatever the women make helps feed the family, buy clothes and books so the children can go to school.

"Before they also sold butter or nuts, but individually, and the children had no clothes to go to school," she said. "Now they do the same thing but differently and earn more. And they've learnt to read and write and run the [cooperative] themselves."