Gender inequity becomes starker during times of crisis. The current climate disaster affects women and girls more than men due to social and economic vulnerability. Poor people are more affected by climate change. However, the roles of women put them at higher risk.
Traditional gender roles place women at the frontline when seeking resources from nature, such as firewood and water. The responsibility of ensuring a family’s survival often falls to women. As a result, reducing resources puts a higher burden on women and pushes them further into poverty. Studies show that more women than men die in natural disasters. This is because of long-standing inequality in providing information, enabling mobility, and access to resources.
Agriculture is the primary source of income for most women. They are farmers and make up the majority of low-income agricultural workers. During long periods of drought and erratic rainfall, girls are often forced to leave school to help bring in income for basic survival.
The pressure of drought on girls in Kenya
A report by KBC found that families are being forced to marry off children to feed the rest of the family. Kajiado County is one of the most severely impacted locations in Kenya. According to the Kajiado National Drought Management report, farmers have lost over 50% of their livestock, with the rest facing malnutrition.
“We are worried about our animals. We are worrying about how life will be,” said Nelson Ngida, a community outreach worker in Kajiado.
The Kimengele river has dried up. The land won’t yield anything. This presents a disproportionate problem for poor women and girls. One of the women interviewed by KBC said she worked at a nearby maize farm in Oloitoktok to provide food and school fees for her family. She earned Sh300 each day. After the drought, she lost her income and couldn’t afford books, food, or healthcare. Her 14-year-old girl was forced to flee after her uncles tried to marry her off when the family’s income ran out. The mother said they’ll have to marry her off if she returns even if she hasn’t undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
A statement from UNICEF shows this has been a trend during extreme weather. Families marry off their daughters to secure dowries and have fewer mouths to feed. This also increases cases of FGM at younger ages to prepare the girls for marriage.
Girls are fleeing to seek shelter in rescue centres like the Nice Place Foundation. These centres offer a safe haven for girls escaping early marriage and train others in girls’ rights advocacy. Speaking to KBC, 19-year-old Margaret Naneyo, a survivor, explained, “In our community, they only pay five cows, sugar, blankets… and they marry you off.”
Naneyo’s father and grandfather lost all their cattle in the drought. Together they conspired to circumcise her and marry her off. She resides at Nice Place and is interning at the Kimana Health Centre in Kajiado County.
When asked about the government’s response, Dr Leina Mpoke, the acting County Executive Committee member on gender in Kajiado County, said, “It’s a very sorry situation. For the first time, we have had four consecutive seasonal failures of rainfall in the county.”
He added, “It is the concerted effort of everyone to try and address the problem. We do have clear guidelines for chiefs, policies, and we have a system where the chief can actually act and apprehend those that are causing this. Not just early marriages but even FGM.”
The drought is rolling back measures taken to curb early marriage and FGM, which has been criminalised in the 2001 Children’s Act. Chiefs will protect the young girls who escaped their families.
Women and girls are also at increased risk of infection during their period. This is because the lack of water makes sanitation difficult or impossible. Pregnant women also face the risk of malnutrition. They also can’t access pre or post-natal healthcare, increasing infant and mother mortality.
What can be done to make things better?
Governments and other policy-makers must include women when making decisions as the ones who are custodians of the resources they rely on. Their perspectives can offer great insight into mitigating, adapting, creating technology, and adapting to the effects of climate change.
Financing needs to be flexible to meet women’s needs. Involving women in designing the criteria for disbursing resources for climate change. To enable farmers to adapt to climate change, sustainable technologies need to consider women’s indigenous knowledge. Gender inequality is at the forefront of making things worse for women and girls in times of crisis. Lack of education, access to money, or illiteracy. Women should get access to training and credit to enable them further to participate in climate change policy-making.
Women’s groups should be better funded, and more centres cropped up to provide a safe space for girls seeking to escape child marriage and FGM. These centres should also contain more female specialists who can then train these girls in usable skills to provide enough income to support their families.
Women don’t get enough training in renewable energy management. In developing countries, many poor people don’t have access to electricity. This leaves them relying on non-renewable energy like charcoal and firewood. Due to traditional gender roles, sourcing firewood falls to women. This leads to gender-blind solutions to applying renewable energy solutions to mitigate climate change. Therefore, more women should be involved in national decision-making when applying renewable energy.
The Kenyan government should also safeguard the right to education for young girls. It should also prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any family members who try to curtail their education. The guidelines in place to help chiefs apprehend such members have done little to mitigate this crisis affecting women. Until more is done, centres like Nina Place will be overrun by young girls looking to escape.
With people forced to migrate in search of food and water, more mobile clinics should be established to ensure that women and girls get access to healthcare during the drought crisis.
Drought In Kenya: How The Government Can Better Prepare For Disaster
How Climate Change Affects Our Daily Lives
5 Ways Climate Change Will Affect Our Lives
Environment: 6 Ways To Adapt To Climate Change
The effects of climate change in Kenya
How Climate Change And Gender Are Linked & Why Women Are Most Affected