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Women and the Horn of Africa: The Suffering and the Solution

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

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6:56AM PDT on Oct 30, 2011

very sad... Europe, USA, etc always have so much food, and so much which is thrown away every day. And other countries have famines, wars, catastrophes,... they would be happy if "we" could give them the overabundance.

"Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten."
(Native American proverb)

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers." (Martin Luther King)

2:20AM PDT on Aug 20, 2011

Thanks for the article.

4:56PM PDT on Aug 19, 2011

The only way to bring communities or countries out of poverty is to educate women. This applies in all countries. Unless you have lived there, you have absolutely no concept what it's like to survive in a long-standing situation of drought, when you see your crops turn to dust and your stock die of thirst and hunger - all the while trying to keep you family alive.

When small loan systems are introduced, the women again step forward and produce wonders. However, if drought persists, people need help and women and children need protection, medical help and good nutrition. There is no other way out.

Why no NGO's have called for help in providing well water and drilling equipment, needs attention so that people can move ahead once the drought is over. What really makes me sad is that I live in a BC community where half our water is wasted due to the breakages in the poor quality system.

11:54PM PDT on Aug 18, 2011

The situation for the women is very concerning. Thank you for this information about their plight. I agree that the rights of women are important.

11:50PM PDT on Aug 18, 2011

I agree with other commenters that rapid population increase may well be an important part of the problem. The population explosion has serious effects, for the people and for wildlife. While it seems a good idea to grow a lot more food, I wonder what impact that might have for the remaining wildlife. Perhaps we should be growing just enough for our needs - and restraining those needs by restraining our human numbers and per capita demands.

5:06PM PDT on Aug 18, 2011

Just throwing this out there because I think it needs to be said.....maybe if the men of the world stopped behaving like such savage idiots a lot of the problems the planet faces would be alleviated or eliminated. The examples are all around us on a daily basis if we care to look.

Men seem to forget that we all come from mothers - whether they were good or bad, we wouldn't be here without them and should accord them a lot more respect than we tend to do as a gender and as a society.

8:36AM PDT on Aug 18, 2011

Bernard, thank you so much for your clear analysis of the facts! Without education and efficient birth control there is NO solution to the suffering.
Moreover, the woefulness for all life (humans - and animals who are deprived of their habitats more and more!) will be multiplied from one generation to the next one, if human breeding is not limited to an ecologically permissible measure.
Unfortunately, churches are blind for these facts and for the way to really help the people by limiting the exceeding population.

5:51AM PDT on Aug 18, 2011

The women in Africa need all the help they can get to escape the abusive men.

5:23AM PDT on Aug 18, 2011

Well said, Anna.

5:19AM PDT on Aug 18, 2011

Emily L. as African born I would agree with much of what you say regarding women in Africa and their key roles. You of course hesitate to mention the bad, bad; non-PC word “birth control” fearful that your friends may exclude you from the next coffee and cake get together. African women from time immemorial have been bought and sold and occupy a lower echelon than males. Any society across the globe where this is true remains stuck in some feudal time warp with women expected to shut their mouths, open their legs and breed. I have personal experience of hearing and seeing African women who try to control their own fertility being beaten or worse by husbands and other family members. Elevating women to an equal status is very necessary; birth-control driven by its women in Africa is the absolute key to on-going freedom from poverty and starvation. Discussing solutions to poverty in Africa without discussing birth-control is like discussing Malaria cures without discussing mosquitoes.

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