Soroptimist: Helping Women and Girls Live Their Dream

Today is International Women’s Day – a celebration of women’s accomplishments and a reminder of what is yet to be accomplished. Hear what Margaret Lobo has to say »

What Soroptimists do is tangible: we provide blankets for new babies, scholarships for women, raise public awareness of domestic violence against women and the fact that women are being trafficked as sex slaves in our own home town! Why we do it is not always easy to articulate. It is the satisfaction of knowing a mother will have a toy under the tree for her child this year at Christmas; witnessing tears of joy from a Women’s Opportunity Award Winner; recognizing a humble woman who dedicates her life to serving her community; and sponsoring the construction of new children’s centre for facilitated parent visitations. Above and beyond all these wonderful occasions, we have fun!

To find out more about the tangibles of what we plan to accomplish this year, there is a description of our programs of service »

To tell you why we’re inspired to be members of Soroptimist, well, sometimes intangibles are harder to articulate but these women did a great job:

CSW Emerging Issue: Gender Perspectives of the Financial Crisis

Over 5000 delegates from Non Governmental Agencies ( NGO’s ) have registered for the 53rd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – held at UN headquarters in New York from 2-13 March 2009. CSW’s priority theme will be “The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS”. For more information and ongoing updates about the event, visit the SI Programme Blog »

Each year a small cadre of Soroptimists who are well versed in the advocacy process have been intimately involved in the working groups with their government’s missions meeting at CSW. SI is working toward improving our advocacy efforts each year and will be developing a little advocacy kit for attendees next year. The Commission on the Status of Women has published the Official Documents for this year’s session of which SI has been an active participant »

SI Statement:
SI co-signed Statements:

One of the constant things we hear from people is that they know who Soroptimists are, they know what we do, and they are impressed that we put action to our words.

Dawn Marie Lemonds, SI Programme Director

The following are excerpts from a written statement submitted by Stephanie Seguino for the interactive expert panel on the “Emerging Issue: Gender perspectives of the financial crisis” at the CSW on 6 March 2009.

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) has selected the emerging issue, “Gender Perspectives of the Financial Crisis” as the subtheme of the 53rd session of the CSW. There has been increasing concern among women’s organizations, networks and agencies about the impacts of not only the global financial crisis but the food, fuel and climate change crises on women. Gender advocates are looking at how to engage in further dialogue with the key political players and at key moments to ensure policy proposals include a gender perspective in the solutions of the global crises.

How is the global financial and economic crisis impacting development?
The impact of the financial crisis is affecting the whole world and is threatening long term objectives like the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals .

Not only the developed countries, but increasingly emerging economies and least developed countries are suffering the effects of this global financial crisis.

Financial markets have collapsed, lending and investments opportunities are declining and exports are falling as demand decreases.

In addition, developing countries, facing already higher food and energy prices, lack the means and resources to protect their financial institutions or banks from bankruptcy.

The results are falling stock markets, rising interest rates, and less government resources for socio-economic investments that benefit the poor.

How is the global financial and economic crisis affecting women?
Women’s jobs tend to pay lower wages, in part because women tend to have a higher rate of part-time employment, and are often not covered by social safety nets. Moreover, in countries without social safety nets, the impact on women is even more severe.

Employment losses or a slowdown in job growth is expected to contribute to growing unemployment. This finds women at the risk of being hired last and dismissed first.

Developing countries will be affected by the drop in remittances from family members in developed economies. Remittances give women greater autonomy and control over family matters.

Female-headed households are at greatest risk, with few if any savings to weather the crisis, and limited ownership of wealth and other assets, as compared to men.

Ethnic groups that are less powerful and immigrant groups will suffer in many of the same ways because they are similarly situated in the paid economy as women. Even in developed countries such as the US, Black and Latina women face particularly high rates of poverty.

The effects on women and therefore children will be transmitted through cuts in public sector budgets, due to falling tax revenues and foreign aid.

As food and fuel prices soar and adding stress and hardship to families, incidents of violence against women and communal violence increase.

What are policy and advocacy inputs to improve the situation for women?
Past experiences have shown that financial crises and neoliberal policy responses, such as Structural Adjustment Programs, have disproportionately affected women in negative ways. It is critical to recognize gender equality as a fundamental human right and an issue of social justice essential for economic growth, poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, and development effectiveness.

New indicators must be developed to measure the impact of gender inequality on economic growth by measuring the value of women’s unpaid work as well as by developing performance indicators to measure progress in introducing and implementing gender-responsive approach to public finances.

To be efficient, effective, and accountable, public finance management systems and practices need to support rather than undermine principles of participatory and gender-responsive budgeting.

Information and resources
This information sheet primarily referenced the following papers and websites:

What’s Cookin’ in Leadership?

Registration is now open for the Soroptimist Women’s Leadership Institute, which will take place on July 3-4, 2009, at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.

Do you know the “ingredients” for a good leader? This two day seminar, which includes a special networking lunch and collaborative learning exercise, is an outstanding value at only $349 for Soroptimist members. Attendance is limited to the first 400 and open to all Soroptimist members. We have also secured a special Soroptimist room rate at the Westin Michigan Avenue: $169.00 per night single or double (plus tax). Be sure to make your own reservations today!

Click here to review the schedule, get workshop descriptions, read speaker bios and more »

Executive Director Leigh has created two videos about SIA and the most recent is about the Soroptimist Women’s Leadership Institute. Its just over 1 minute to watch »

And while we have your attention:

As the Renaissance Campaign nears the end of its fifth year, SIA has hired Kerr-Downs, a full-service market research firm, to conduct a new study that will help measure the campaign’s success and determine next steps. It will be open through May 31, 2009 and although it takes a little while to complete, it is well worth it so headquarters knows how to move forward. Make sure your voice is heard!

Visit to fill out the survey »

Memories from Sierra Leone and Project SIerra: a Family and a Future

An excerpt from Alison Sutherland, Quadrennial Project Liaison, on the memories and experiences of those who recently attended the first project tour:

People are working so hard to survive and feed their families. The lack of infrastructure and industry. The hardest thing was to say no when we have so much, and to realize how selfish our own society is.

Experiencing the dust, colours and sounds of village life; seeing the water pumps, thatched houses and the way people live. The dawn drive to Kamakwie through villages and bushland; women watching over a cooking pot on small wood fires; walking to the stream for water, laundry and bathing, or to the farm with pans, utensils or bundles of wood carried on the head; babies secured to their mother’s back with a cloth; meagre verandah market stalls, with a few cassava roots, pineapple or bottles of kerosene for sale; no vehicles for miles on the dust roads.

The grace with which we were received everywhere. Nothing seemed too much trouble. Arrangements were adjusted, dates changed, yet wherever we went, people gave us their time, welcomed us with open arms into their homes and communities.

Read the whole, very moving and exciting story on the SI Programme Blog »

Live Your Dream Art Contest: Polls are Open

We have received more than 4,300 entries for the Live Your Dream Art Contest from girls and boys throughout the world. A group of professional judges was charged with the challenge of narrowing down the entries to three finalists in each category (K-1, 2-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12). Now, it’s up to you to choose the winner!

Visit to vote for your favorites »

Live Your Dream Art Contest

Live Your Dream Art Contest

This year, on the first-ever LIVE YOUR DREAM DAY (March 8th, International Women’s Day), Soroptimist is asking you to forgo a simple pleasure (a gourmet coffee, manicure or glass of wine) and donate $5 (more if you can) to Soroptimist’s programs that help women and girls live their dreams. We have a big goal for this fundraiser – $200,000 – but we know we can do it!

Best Wishes,
Alice Wells, SIA President


SI received a report on Feb 13 from one of our SI Representatives to the United Nations – Lois Beilin:

A discussion on Trafficking in Persons was held on February 12 at the UN to put the spotlight on exposing denial and benign neglect. Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, Undersecretary General and UNODC (Office on Drugs and Crime) et al reported on countries that are working to expose, eradicate and prosecute the increasing rate of sexual exploitation, slavery, abduction and recruitment for war, trade in body parts and other crimes.

A summary of the post is available on the SI Programme Blog. Some key points to note from the UN report on Trafficking:

  • Data was gathered from 155 countries and is the first global assessment of the scope of human trafficking and what is being done to fight it.
  • The number of convictions for human trafficking is increasing. However, there are still many countries that lack the necessary legal instruments or political will.
  • The most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation and is predominantly women and girls. The second most common form of human trafficking is forced labour (18%), although this may be a misrepresentation because forced labour is less frequently detected and reported than trafficking for sexual exploitation.
  • In 30% of the countries which provided information on the gender of traffickers, women make up the largest proportion of traffickers. In some parts of the world, women trafficking women is the norm having been victimized themselves.
  • Worldwide, almost 20% of all trafficking victims are children. However, in some parts of Africa and the Mekong region, children are the majority (up to 100% in parts of West Africa).
  • Although trafficking seems to imply people moving across continents, most exploitation takes place close to home. Data show intra-regional and domestic trafficking are the major forms of trafficking in persons.

To increase public awareness of human trafficking and rally the world to fight it, Mr. Costa appointed Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino as a Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking. “We know that Mira’s commitment to the plight of trafficking victims will move people to take action against modern-day slavery”, said the Executive Director of UNODC.

The Global Report on Trafficking in Persons is available online as a PDF file (292 pages) »

Project SIerra: 1st study tour report

Alison, Quadrennial Project Liaison 2007-11, borrowed an electrical socket at a friendly neighbourhood clinic for an hour to check her email before leaving for the airport. She’s had no daytime electricity where they’ve been staying!

She provided a great synopsis of their journey, filled with much heart felt thanks to their hosts. I encourage you all to read her story. One of the moving excerpts really bears witness to the empowerment provided by Project SIerra:

“upsetting scenes of extreme poverty and dire need of families recently joined to the programme and uplifting examples of some who had graduated and were successfully independent – my own group visited a young mother who had been supported to become a vehicle engineer, has joined the army as an engineer and driver – we met her brigade 2-I-C and superior officers who were clearly delighted with her progress and encouraging her. Her story was tragic – raped by rebels during the war, lost all her immediate family; now well on the way to independence and a good career to help her support herself and her child.”

Read the full project-sierra-1st-study-tour-report on the SI Programme Blog »l

Project SIerra Study Tour – A Pre-Tour Note

On 2 February 2009, 8 Soroptimists from the entire SI world were scheduled to leave Heathrow for the SI Project SIerra Study Tour in Sierra Leone….but…sadly they were stranded in the snow for a few days. We are patiently waiting for stories, which will be posted the moment they arrive- here is [Sandra’s excerpt from the] “pre tour” story to whet your appetite:

Some information about Sierra Leone: Population – 6,005,250. Land area – 71,620 (not sure how much that is in corresponding area in Australia) SL emerged from a decade of civil war in 2002 with the help of Britain and a large UN peacekeeping mission. More than 17,000 foregn troops disarmed tens of thousands of rebels and militia fighters.

A lasting feature of the war, which left some 50,000 dead, was the atrocities committed by the rebels, whose trademark was to hack off the hands of their victims. A UN-backed war crimes court has been set up to try those, from both sides, who were involved in the brutalities. The problems of poverty, tribal rivaly and official corruption that caused the war remain. There are 70,000 former combatants who have been disarmed and rehabilitated have swollen the ranks of the young people seeking employment.

SL has the lowest average income in the world and is the worst nation for childbirth in the world having the highest maternal mortality ratio, or risks of maternal death of any country. This is due to obstetric situations such as haemorrhage, obstructed labour, etc, caused by disruption to the health services by the rebellion. Official corruption is rife.

This is a very basic outline of the situation in Sierra Leone. Next time I will be able to tell you more about our partners Hope and Homes for Children and Helo a Needy Child International -HANCI and what we are trying to achieve with SI Project SIerra.

Read the whole story on the SI Programme blog »

Soroptimist International Quadrennial Project (2007-2011), Project SIerra: a Family and a Future, was launched at Convention in July 2007. The project supports women caring for children in extreme poverty and provides a caring secure family home for children who are alone or at risk of abandonment. The project location is Sierra Leone, West Africa. Our project partner is Hope and Homes for Children. Read more on the Project SIerra website [] »

Indifference is not an option for Soroptimists

Soroptimist International headquarters has released their report on the UN DPI/NGO Conference at UNESCO in Paris September 2008. Its theme was reflecting the fact that the Declaration was signed 60 years ago and despite this, Human Rights are often not observed by many governments and women are still struggling for their rights.

Some highlights are below, as compiled by the Margaret Cook, SI Assistant Programme Director, were shared in a report, which was shared on the SI blog:

There were 537 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) from 74 countries registered and SI was represented by President Margaret and Assistant Pprogram Director, Margaret Cook, as well as Dominique Mertz, Marie Christine Gries and Yseult Kaplan, three of our UN Representatives at UNESCO. With us were three young, self-funded Soroptimists: Maggie Memmott, Shireen Lackey and Gina Oliveri. They were able to attend because NGO’s had been encouraged to seek participants under 30 years of age (for which they qualified) – a really good move – which allowed us to have a larger delegation. Yes there were three Margarets!

The many workshops reflected how groups defend human rights and work to establish them- especially in the lives of girls and women. President Margaret observed that “to be in the conference room lined with portraits of members of the Committee who drafted the first Declaration of Human Rights was a great honour! The first chairperson of this Commission was Eleanor Roosevelt who played an instrumental role in the drafting. At a time of increasing East West tension Mrs. Roosevelt used her enormous prestige and credibility with both superpowers to steer the process towards its successful completion.”

Education and empowerment were the words that Maggie Memmott felt were central to many of the speeches and discussions. Her recommendation for action by Soroptimists is to educate and be educated! She attended a workshop ‘Dreams In Action, the Millennium Development Goals Realized: How to Design Human Rights Issues into the Classroom Curriculum to Inspire Leadership, Creativity and Social Justice’ which illustrated the necessity of education and empowerment. She says: “The speaker described a school in a very impoverished area of South Los Angeles who were taught core subjects using the Millennium Development Goals as a framework. Junior high students are encouraged to make a difference for others today no matter how little they have themselves. Students and parents are empowered by experience of volunteerism and giving in their local community as well as even poorer villages and more disadvantaged students in Honduras. The curriculum is available free from”

NGOs have a great role to play, being on the ground, observers of any sign of tension and able to alert institutions if there is a risk of resurgence or emergence of a conflict. We observed that ’Reaffirming Human Rights’ is:

  • to defend the Universality of the Declaration
  • to affirm the indivisibility of the principles in the Declaration
  • to educate people on Human Rights, young and adults, particularly the poorest
  • being without illusion about learning from history- history does not mean progress
  • being aware that peace needs to be constructed- it is not inscribed in human genes
  • to reflect on new emerging Human Rights to be defined and defended (rights to resources, to welfare, right of nature itself…)
  • to reflect on the duties of mankind- developing a Declaration of Human Duties?

Yseult Kaplan asks ‘What do I retain from this Conference?’. Words that have struck me were challenge, citizen, indifference, dignity, universality, fear, words. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been reaffirmed and has to become reality as it is not more difficult to defend now than it was 60 years ago, despite the impact of its violations and legislative texts against it. The ultimate object of the debates was also to extend a challenge to Civil Society and its capacity to structure itself to defend the Human Rights. It is civil society who has the rights and it is up to it to maintain its rights.

There was regret that the event has not received the attention and information which it deserved on the part of the media. The forecourt of the Paris Town hall was closed instead of being a forum for discussion of the state of Human Rights. One has to say ‘NO’ to indifference and let the principles announced in the Universal Human Rights Declaration enter into daily reality of all citizens of this planet.

Dignity, cornerstone of the Human Rights, will be real when all its standards are applied. Debates on the achievements of Human Rights in situations of insecurity, of violence and conflicts have highlighted the depth of ethical principles scorned and the observation of a series of crises utilised to limit Human Rights in the world. One has to concentrate not only on the victims but also on the aggressors. The issue of Human Rights must be revisited under the aspect of universality and of the critical consequences of globalisation. “The fight is ahead of us, not behind us” Stephane Hessel confirmed. He was one of the original team who drafted the document 60 years ago. Now in his nineties he spoke without notes and with a strength of purpose.

To conclude I would refer to the keynote remarks of Ingrid Betancourt.  What has struck her and attracts her attention in the world that she finds after her release after 6 years of captivity? It’s the appearance of insidious fear, fear of fear, fear of others, fear of other cultures, and also fear of being wrongly judged, this last one often preventing us from going to the end of our thoughts. One has to have the courage to say the truth, she confirms, and one has to insist on the importance of the word and the fact to be able to express oneself with the purpose of promotion and protection of Human Rights.

There is one thing certain- Soroptimists cannot and must not rest. Their awareness raising, advocacy and action is needed in the field of human rights.

January Update from SIA-HQ

Congratulations to our very own Shirley McCoy, SI of Dundas, Ancaster, Flamborough, Ontario and also to Sumie Ito, SI of Tsukuba, Japan; Raquel Arreola Ruiz, SI of La Mesa, Mexico; Linabelle Villarica, SI of Meycauyan, Philippines; Tazuko Tanaka, SI of Kyoto, Japan; and Patricia Donohue, SI of Watsonville, California. These women have been elected as members of the Soroptimist International of the Americas Board of Directors and will assume that office on September 1, 2009, and will serve in that position through August 31, 2011.

Once again, Soroptimist is a Global Member of the Global Summit of Women. This year’s summit will be held in Santiago, Chile, May 14-16. Soroptimist members can receive a 5 percent discount on registration. This upcoming global gathering focuses on the new leadership models that women bring to political and business leadership in the 21st century. Consider attending this important and informative meeting of business and professional women from around the world.