Why feminism is part of the recipe

In recent years the area of sustainability has increasingly gained the attention of people, businesses, governments and non-governmental organizations. The perhaps biggest player in the latter category, the United Nations Organization, has even developed a set of 17 goals which they envision to achieve until the year 2030 in order to guarantee a sustainable development of our world and the respective societies and businesses.

Among these goals, one will stumble upon the very obvious keywords associated with sustainability such as “poverty”, “hunger”, “climate” and “energy”. But one will also read about the term “gender equality” which is less frequently associated with sustainable development. So, one might ask himself: How is this related to the overall picture of sustainable development and how relevant is gender equality to the subject?

I’d like to approach the response to this question by drawing a mental picture: Imagine you are baking bread. The most important among all ingredients will be flour. Independent of the bread type and the recipe you have opted for you will most probably need a large quantity of flour. I would like to argue, however, that flour isn’t your most important ingredient. I would say that the most important ingredient when baking bread is yeast. Thought you only need a little bit of yeast, it is the one ingredient that will determine how big your bread will “grow” in the oven. And why do I talk about bread when the discussion truly is about sustainable development? Well, I think that if sustainable development was a loaf of bread and the UN goals were a recipe to bake that bread feminism would most definitely be part of that recipe. Feminism might be our yeast. I believe that though gender equality as one of many goals only makes a small part of the overall picture getting it right will determine to which extent we will be able to achieve or even exceed the targeted development.

Before diving any deeper into this conversation, it is important to understand what feminism is. Feminism is defined as the “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes” (Oxford University Press, 2018). In my own words, I would say that a feminist is someone who believes that men and women are equally human, equally important and shall be treated the same way – not only by law but also in society’s perception and culture. In the Republic Democratic of Congo, however, the reality is still far from this.

About 70.2% of the population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are women (Wikipedia, 2018). This represents almost three-quarters of the country’s 85.054297 million people (Worldometers.info). The labor participation rate of women however only accounts for 49.8% of women (The World Bank Group, 2018). If one does the math this would mean that only 29.7 million women have a job. Questions that run through my own mind after doing this math are: Why is that? And how is a country supposed to grow if a major part of its population is not efficient?

Photo Credit: Marie Frechon/United Nations 

Based on my personal experience I believe that a big part of the reason behind this is the Congolese culture. Having Congolese heritage, myself I have been taught from a young age to aspire to things such as marriage and having a family. Education and career are often associated with men only and being an ambitious and thriving woman is perceived as bad by many aspects of the culture. Though there are many flaws in this type of thinking what makes me the most concerned is the fact that the country needs women to be active participants of the labor market in order to outgrow poverty.

Like in many African countries, women make up a bigger chunk of the population than men do. I believe that if those women were not conditioned into thinking that they have to dedicate their lives to motherhood and marriage only they could move the country forward which would not only help with combatting gender inequality but this shift in thinking could also allow for women to have more access to higher income, improved health and a better education. Imagine if all these women were teachers teaching the future generations about how they all, boys and girls, could become anything they wanted to be? Imagine if these women were doctors treating the many diseases which have disappeared in Western societies? Imagine if all these women were businesswomen helping the country get access to the financial markets and getting the funds to run their own businesses? Moving into this direction would help reach so many goals for a sustainable development of not only the Democratic Republic of the Congo but the world as a whole.

The biggest problem, however, is that the change needs to happen in people’s mind, people’s thinking, people’s culture and changing one’s culture is a task which I myself would not know how to tackle. But it is important to keep in mind that as people change culture changes with them. So, if we could start educating and informing people on the issue perhaps we could start a movement which would shift the world citizen’s culture. As Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie put very nicely ”Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”

Ngozi Adichie, C., 22014. We Should All Be Feminists, London: Fourth Estate.
Oxford University Press, 2018. Feminism. 
The World Bank Group, 2018. Labor force, female (% of total labor force).
Wikipedia,2018. Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Worldometers.info, 2018. DR Congo Population (LIVE).




Supply chain of a t-shirt

Everyone has it in their dresser. Everyone wears it. The plain T-shirt.

Whenever we buy a t-shirt, we are participating in a chain of events far reaching consequences (Goodonyou, 2017). But just because it only costs CHF 7.90 we buy it without further ado. The idea of this blogpost is to go through the life cycle of a t-shirt and try to explain, why it is important to think first before buying another t-shirt only because it has a funny motive on it. Lastly it should give an overlook at possibilities on how to act more sustainable.

Production of raw materials

The journey starts at a cotton plantation. To manufacture t-shirts usually cotton is used. The cotton needs to be spun into a fibre, weaved into fabric and lastly dyed and finished before it can be sold in the shops. To meet the high demand of the consumers, cotton grows in over 80 countries and is using up approximately 35 million hectare of land which equals the size of Germany (öko-fair).
No other plant is as much beset with pests, fungi, insects etc. as the cotton-plant. So cotton-farmers see themselves forced to use different synthetic and toxic chemicals in order to prevent a situation like this and to maximize the harvest.
According to the Worldhealthorganization annually ten-thousands of farmworkers die from the consequences of pesticide-intoxication and groundwater pollution.
Cotton production uses up a deluge of water. In order to produce 300 gr. of cotton (enough for one t-shirt) 2’500 liters of water are needed. So if we assume that one person buys three t-shirts, the usage of water would be at 7’500 liters just for the cotton production. With this amount of water, we could fill 45 bathtubs.


Once the cotton is collected and spun into fibre, the journey goes on to the factories where it is weaved into fabric, dyed and sewed. The fast fashion is driven by low prices and fast changing styles. The way that they can keep the prices low is through underpayment and poor working conditions. 63% of the earnings per t-shirt go to the prevailing store, 10% to processing of the raw material, 5% to the transportation and just 1% to the workers in factories. Forced and child labour is often found in the clothing and textile industry. According to the International Labour Organization there are almost 21 million people who are victims of forced labour within the textile industry (Goodonyou, 2017). To get the used look of jeans, they use the method of sandblasting and a lot of bleach which is very harmful to health and causing deaths. Often they can’t even afford protective wear.

Garment workers across the world face a daily grind of excessive hours, forced overtime, lack of job security, poverty wages, denial of trade union rights, poor health, exhaustion, sexual harassment and hazardous working places. Even in factories which on the surface look clean and modern, workers are often deprived of their internationally-recognized basic rights (Clean Clothes Campaign, 2012)

Distribution / Transportation

The manufactured clothes need to be transported globally to retailers and consumers (Goodonyou, 2017). Roughly 1/3 of clothing exports are exported from China (NZZ, 2013). This shows how long the journey of one single t-shirt actually is. The transportation-process leads to increased pollution by producing carbon emissions. One t-shirt covers approximately 20’000 km before it ends up in our closet. Along the supply chain it produces on average 5.5 kg of CO2, so if we assume that a person buys 3 t-shirts per year that would aggregate 16.5 kg of CO2per year.

Fashion Stores

Fashion Houses like H&M and Zara are members of the “Better Cotton Initiative” which supports sustainable cotton production but in the same time allows genetic engineering and pesticides. The lack of transparency on the part of the fashion houses misleads the end consumer (allnatura). In 2014 Inditex sold 10 Mio. textiles which were certified as organic cotton. But the amount of organic cotton was only 5% – 50%– the rest was conventional cotton (NZZ, 2016).

How to act more sustainable:


The idea with this approach is to maintain in the circle and with that, save valuable ressources.

Bring back / Recycle: A lot of stores take old clothes back and reuse the fabric so that it stays in the lifecycle and doesn’t go to waste.

Upcycle: Upcycling allows us to transform something old in something new without spending a lot of money or waste valuable ressources. Instead of buying ripped jeans we could easily transform an old pair of jeans by cutting some holes without risking any lives.

Look for lables: The quality label bioRe marks textiles made of organic cotton, grown in a sustainable and fair manner in the organic cotton companies of the bioRe Foundation in India and Tanzania. Throughout the supply chain, the way all partners work is guided by five values: Organic cotton, Fair production, Ecological and skin-friendly, CO2-neutral, Retraceable back to farming (Remei AG).

Reduce: A simple thing to do is to just reduce the amount of clothes we buy. Let’s be honest: who needs a douzen of t-shirts hanging in the closet?