“Leaning on women’s local knowledge and willingness to innovate with technology has brought a solution to the restrictions imposed by this implacable virus on the most vulnerable.” For Mrs. Benoudji, whose passion lies in working with communities at the intersection of climate change and gender, there is much to be learned in tackling these crises. “Here at LEAD Tchad, we use education and development sciences in parallel to fight against gender-based violence and to promote the empowerment of women and thus address gender inequalities in the context of climate change in the Sahel region of Chad.”
The small landlocked country has faced increasingly rapid land degradation, desertification and continuous drought risk. Longstanding gender norms have restricted girls’ and women’s access to education, participation in the workforce and involvement in the global tech boom. Approximately 6.5 per cent of Chad’s population is online, according to World Bank figures, and as is often the case, tech and business are highly dominated by men. But these numbers are changing as women have begun to make their own pathways to sustainable development solutions in Chad. LEAD Tchad, a women-led organization reaching between 3,000 and 8,000 local women and girls each year, has turned to smartphone technology as a means to keep sustainable businesses running during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With travel restrictions and the closure of markets imposed by the pandemic, local women entrepreneurs mentored by LEAD Tchad have been cut off from their client base. The capital city of N'Djamena, a major trade location, was reporting the highest cases of the virus and was placed in strict confinement. Mrs. Bénoudji explained that the restrictions created a spirit of withdrawal and a concern for the limited solutions offered by modern medicines. “However,” she states, “this situation had an upside as many Chadians wondered about local knowledge and questioned how their ancestors treated similar illnesses”. The communities have since seen a revival in traditional medicinal plants. Plants including algae, local arthezemia commonly known as "chi", lemongrass, aloe vera, ginger are now found more and more in small home gardens and their value in markets has increased. But for those who do not or cannot grow their own medicines, the NGO sought a solution.
LEAD Tchad and local farmers’ organizations led an inspired collaboration, throughout Chad’s southern region of Mandoul. Together, they created an informal sales network enabling the exchange of money for products by mobile phone. The NGO began by contacting producers of plant-based products, many of them women entrepreneurs who had been mentored by the organization, and asked them to send a certain amount of their products for a trial run. Then they contacted their retail traders such as hairdresser salons who use and sell the products. Mrs. Bénoudji shared that LEAD Tchad itself is a major reseller of its mentees’ products, distributing them to partner organizations in Canada, France, and Morocco.
LEAD Tchad is no stranger to the community. In the early 2000s, Mrs. Bénoudji and her colleague, Mrs. Lucienne Mbaipor, shared a vision built on the belief that the women of Chad were capable of leading the country towards an equitable economy and a vibrant, biodiverse environment. In July 2005, they turned their dream into a reality by founding LEAD Tchad. Ever since, this local sustainable development NGO has been steadily helping to build community resilience through women’s and girls’ education and entrepreneurship.
Prior to the onset of the pandemic, their primary activities included the development of a directory of traditional practices and knowledge contributing to the maintenance of biodiversity, thanks to support by UNDP, GEF and Biodiversity ADD-ON Project. The organization has also established a regular partnership with Chad’s Ministry of Environment to develop climate change adaptation priority projects, and participate in international climate change negotiations to support local initiatives in favor of peace through development.
1. Gerhard Holub, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 2. Gerhard Holub, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 3. Luiclemens at Italian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 4. Photo credit: LEAD TCHAD 5. Gerhard Holub, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 6. 120, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 7. 120, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 8. Mark Knobil from Pittsburgh, usa, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons