Women and the Horn of Africa: The Suffering and the Solution
Note: This is a guest post from Ritu Sharma, the President and Co-Founder of Women Thrive Worldwide — the leading nonprofit organization shaping U.S. policy to help women in developing countries lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
As the world watches, there is a devastating humanitarian crisis underway in the Eastern “Horn of Africa,” encompassing Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Kenya. More than three million people are on the brink of starvation in Somalia alone.
As in all crises, women are disproportionately impacted by this devastating drought-fueled famine. While they struggle to stay alive, they are forced to bury their children. In the last 90 days, close to 30,000 children under the age of five have died in the southern region of the country, and according to the UN, 640,000 suffering acute malnutrition could soon follow.
To make matters worse, women fleeing the parched and lifeless lands of Somalia also face rape and sexual abuse in the chaos of overflowing refugee camps and the lawlessness of the roads leading to them. The Dadaab camp in Kenya, built to hold just 90,000, is now home to 400,000 refugees, with thousands more waiting to be admitted and newcomers arriving every day. With officials entirely overwhelmed, outbreaks of sexual violence increased fourfold in June, doubled again in July and continued to rise in these first few weeks of August.
Yet, despite bearing the brunt of the crisis across their shoulders, women hold the solution in their hands.
After all, the enormous challenge of feeding a rapidly growing world– global population will eclipse 7 billion in the next two years — will fall upon small-scale subsistence farmers, the majority of whom are women. And while emergency aid is crucial to save lives in times of great need, we are just putting a Band-Aid on a wound that cuts much deeper if we don’t prevent a crisis like this from happening again. By investing in the long-term solutions to global hunger today, we can break the deadly cycle of famine for good.
That is where women come in. Although they already manage to grow 60 percent of Africa’s food, women farmers also lack the rights and resources they need to be truly productive. According to the World Bank, if women had the same access to productive resources like land and credit as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent and lift 100-150 million people out of hunger. That’s 50 times the number of Somalis currently in danger of starving to death.
Considering the crisis in East Africa is just the tip of the towering iceberg of global hunger — 925 million go to bed hungry every night — we can’t afford to ignore the potential of women to grow the food the world so desperately needs.
Together, we can ensure more women are cultivating crops to nourish their families than burying their children or risking rape to receive their daily ration. By investing in women farmers, we can help them feed themselves, their families and the world.
To learn how you can Help Women Feed the World, go to WomenThrive.org/FeedtheWorld