The shea tree is associated with women; traditionally, the seeds and butter are even called ‘woman’s gold’. Women collect shea nuts, women cook the nuts, women produce the butter and women sell it at market. In a world for women where access rights and control over resources is complex – and rare – the customary practices around this tree are extraordinary.
Today, shea is a hot commodity. Shea butter now travels from the hands of West African women across countries and continents, processed and packaged into items ranging from chocolate to face creams. But, they are not reaping enough of the rewards of shea’s newfound presence in the global marketplace. With exports booming and demand increasing, profits are not reaching the 16 million women in 21 African countries who live and labour amid shea.