Skip links


President’s Message November 2020

I am the new President of Soroptimist International of Great Britain & Ireland Federation. What a privilege and honour it is to be the President especially in our 100th year.

Who is 100 years old in 2021?

Soroptimist International is celebrating its Centennial in 2021 “Bright Past Brilliant Future”. Having been founded in October 1921 in Oakland, California and quickly spread around the world. Today we have 72,000 members in 122 countries, advocating for human rights and gender equality,  we are a Global voice for Women and Girls.

In the SIGBI Federation we have just over 6.000 members in 18 countries. Over the next year we have planned many ways to celebrate this milestone and the various ways we have made a difference. See our Centennial website for full details.

I have been a Soroptimist since 1987 and have had the wonderful opportunity, through my professional life, to see Soroptimists in action across the world. It is the work we do as a Non Government Organisation (NGO) with the

Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the UN

United Nations, through our consultative status with Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), that we can make a difference. That difference is now more important than ever, much of what we have achieved in the 100 years is being impacted by Covid-19.

“We are seeing decades of hard fought gains slipping away. The pandemic is having a disproportionate and devastating social and economic impact on women and girls including already reversing decades of fragile progress and deepening existing inequalities regarding gender” – Antonio Guterres

So how can Soroptimists make a difference?

We must “Build Back Better” if we are to have bright future. Our work with the 17 Sustainable Goals must influence all our Programme work, our focus must be to redress the balance for women and girls around the globe. Gender related violence placing women and girls at risk has escalated since March. It does not help that many women continue to be confined with their abusers, whilst resources and support services are redirected.

In the UK Domestic abuse is up by 40% and the numbers are even greater in other parts of the world. Women’s Refuges are full and the various agencies are struggling to cope. In south India they are looking at ways of removing the abuser from the house so the family can stay in the home. Human trafficking is also on the increase and is fast becoming the greatest earner in the world. We are told that the profit from this trade is £100,000 per person.

Female Genital Mutilation is another issue of great concern and one I am particularly interested in through my club’s work in Kori District of Sierra Leone. Conviction for rape are at an all time low, out of the 60,000 reported cases only 1,000 were submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service. Of which 1-5% went to court and of that small number only 1-4% were convicted. There are so many pressing areas that need our attention – where do we start?

The work Soroptimists undertake under the umbrella of Programme Action is a good starting place. We are using the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as our roadmap. Whilst acknowledging that we are going through difficult times which no one expects to end soon, we cannot go back to the failed policies that resulted in the fragility we now see around us. https://www.unwomen.org/en

My theme for the year is “Believe to Achieve”.  This has been my mantra in my 45 years in education, every child has the potential to do great things. We must give them every opportunity to achieve their aspirations. Let me tell you a short story – Mark was a very good runner and on Sport’s Day he took part in the Marathon – twice round the school field. At the age of 10 he was running the final leg of the field on his own. What potential! In discussion with his parents we arranged for him to join a local Running Club. His final achievement was to represent Great Britain in the Olympics – from small beginnings and a belief that he could achieve. Our chance to Educate, Enable and Empower girls has never been more important.

Though the joy of being President is tinged with sorrow at the situation we are living in – what strange times they are. It will be interesting being a Virtual President – my technology skills have increased exponentially, the use of GoTo Meetings, Zoom and Teams is daily, plus hours on the phone! However Soroptimists have risen to the challenge and embraced the changes forced upon them. Their increase in volunteering and service is amazing and their achievements make me very proud to be a Soroptimist.

Together we can make a difference. Please join us and help to ensure women and girls are Educated, Empowered and Enabled

So with a new year comes a new smaller Board for SIGBI with members from across the Federation:

  • President: Johanna M Raffan MBE, SI Thames Valley, England
  • President Elect: Cathy Cottridge, SI Southend, England
  • Director of Programme: Kay Richmond, SI Cardiff, Wales
  • Director of Membership: Chevonne Agana, SI Newtown, Trinidad
  • Director of PR and Marketing: Nisha Gosh, SI Pune Metro East, India
  • Director of Finance: Ruth Healey, SI Surrey Hills, England
  • Director of Governance:  Sylvia Watson, SI London Central & SW, England

You will have a chance to “meet” each member of the Board in the coming year as they undertake to contribute to the President’s blog each month.

Johanna M Raffan MBE
SIGBI President 2020-2021