The Heart of the Solution

Women and local communities will be first to face climate change and other emerging risks. Let’s engage and support them as the central actors they are.

From the Tostan team

Two Senegalese women dancing in celebration

Two Senegalese women dancing in celebration. Photo: Tostan.

As April comes to a close, many people are discussing Earth Day with a renewed sense of urgency given the bleak news on climate change and realization that rapid action is needed.

This offers an important moment to consider the challenges women, girls, and communities will face as climate change accelerates. These challenges join many others already confronting them. Yet this need not be only a negative story: Imagine the potential if women and girls could contribute their very best to develop and elevate solutions for positive change—in climate change and the other issues they face.

This often leads to the next question: How can we engage women, girls, and communities to create increased participation and sustained change—especially in the face of harmful gender norms, and in the context of interconnected challenges?

In fact, supporting women and communities is why organizations like ours exist. Since 1991, Tostan has focused on improving well-being in resource-poor communities through empowering education. Our curriculum is carefully designed for adults and adolescents—especially women and girls but also men and boys—who have had little or no formal school. Our program, led by a locally trained facilitator, meets people where they are, in local languages and using familiar methods. Learning is done through active, inclusive dialogue, and familiar, fun methods like song, theater, poems, and other activities. We support a leadership committee to coordinate and carry actions forward and better engage with local governmental actors and resources.

Over time, community members begin to learn about and discuss their ideas regarding a range of vital topics related to democracy, human rights, health, and many more issues. Moreover, communities even begin to take action with surrounding villages. Women and girls take on new roles, starting small businesses, running for office, co-leading community efforts. They carve a pathway to consensus to collectively achieve a community vision of human rights and positive values.

One of the key lessons we’ve learned over the decades is that the most important teachings emerge from within communities themselves. As the global community grapples with the realities and consequences of climate change, let us recommit ourselves to working to promote local leadership, empowering education and understanding, and to engaging women and girls to be at the forefront of the solutions.

Group of Senegalese women

Senegalese women. Photo: Tostan.

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