In Africa, people frequently say that women are “the motor for development.” In other words, the empowerment of women increases their ability to provide for their families and the community. Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is considered primarily women’s work, and it is estimated that women supply 60-80 percent of all food that is consumed in households and produced for sale throughout the continent. However, as in most African countries, women receive only ten percent of the total national income and own just one percent of all assets.
Soroptimist International, the world’s largest women’s volunteer organization, currently has more than 95,000 members in over 125 countries around the globe. Through volunteer-driven local projects the organization targets issues of gender inequality ranging from providing access to educational opportunities to combating trafficking of women and girls.
Soroptimist International also deals with the issue of gender and climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa, through acknowledging that women are disproportionately affected by climate change and taking steps at both the grassroots and international levels to combat this disparity. One of their five key programme objectives is to “Address the specific needs of women and girls by improving environmental sustainability, and mitigating effects of climate change and disasters.”
Sub-Saharan Africa is currently the worst-affected region by climate change; it has been the area hit hardest and fastest by climate-related catastrophes, decrease in precipitation and weather variability – the past 30 years have shown increased severity and frequency of floods, droughts, and other climate related disasters. It is also both the poorest and least responsible region for climate change in the world.
Due to Sub-Saharan Africa’s reliance on rain-fed agriculture (accounting for 10-70 percent of GDP throughout the region), lack of resources, information and infrastructure, its economy will be affected much more than most areas by climate change. This means that inequalities in food production between developed and developing countries will be further exacerbated as temperatures rise. Future global food prices are anticipated to increase 30-50 percent in the next few decades, partially due to climate factors, which will most seriously affect the world’s rural poor. It is estimated by scientists that around 65 percent of people that are at risk of future food insecurity are African.
Soroptimist International seeks to advocate for awareness of gender-sensitive climate related issues by educating the public and working with other organizations to campaign for policies that would address them. In 2010, Soroptimist launched their Disaster Recovery Grants for Women and Girls project, which provides disaster relief aid to women who are affected by different disasters around the world. In Cotonou Doyen, Benin, the organization rebuilt a school that was damaged by flooding, and provided the girls that had previously attended with school supplies so that they could resume their education.
The organization also works to create a change in the consumer mindset by educating on the importance of integrating sustainability into personal choices. Perhaps most importantly, Soroptimist International seeks to increase women’s involvement by dismantling the political and socioeconomic barriers to women’s participation in climate change related decision-making.
Environmental degradation brought on by climate change is particularly harmful to women due to the fact that they are usually subjected to working on the poorest quality land and seldom have any alternative sources of income. Through advocacy and training, Soroptimist International strives to eliminate this disparity and to build a more resilient Africa in the face of climate change by empowering women. To become a member with Soroptimist International and get involved in a local or international project, click here.