Women Pastoralists Feel Heat of Climate Change

Members of the Samburu tribe in Kenya. Samburu women
pastoralists are affected by climate change.

By Sharon Birch-Jeffrey, Africa Renewal
NAIROBI, Aug 14 2019 (IPS)

For many people, climate change is about shrinking glaciers,
rising sea levels, longer and more intense heatwaves, and other
extreme and unpredictable weather patterns.  But for women
pastoralists—livestock farmers in the semi-arid lands of
Kenya—climate change has forced drastic changes to everyday life,
including long and sometimes treacherous journeys to get water.

Faced with an increasingly dry climate, women pastoralists now
must spend much more time searching for water. That takes time away
from productive economic activities, reinforcing the cycle of


A marginalized group

“Women are the ones who fetch water and firewood. Women are
the ones who prepare food. Women are the ones who take care of not
just their own children but also the young ones of their animals as
well,” Agnes Leina, a Kenyan human rights activist and
pastoralist, told Africa Renewal.

Leina established the Il’Laramatak Community Concerns
organisation in 2011, because women pastoralists have inadequate
land rights, are excluded from community leadership and are often
not involved in decision making, despite the responsibilities they

This year, Leina was invited to the Commission on the Status of
Women at UN headquarters in New York, an opportunity she used to
promote the rights of the Maasai, seminomadic pastoralists of the
Nilotic ethnic group in parts of northern, central and southern

Climate change has made their situation worse, she says.

“Women are the ones who fetch water and firewood. Women are
the ones who prepare food. Women are the ones who take care of not
just their own children but also the young ones of their animals as
Leina’s organisation addresses the loss of earnings women incur
due to climate change by creating programmes that teach them how to
make and sell beads, mats, and milk products. It also helps foster
girls’ resilience by giving them the tools to set goals for

She says it used to take her about 30 minutes to fetch 20 litres
of water from a river not far from her mother’s home, which was
hardly enough to wash clothes and utensils and take a bath. That
was until the river started receding.

The time she spent fetching water increased to “one hour, then
two hours because, of course, there was no water and so many of us
lined up for the little that was available. Then suddenly it
completely dried up.”

Now, she says, “You have to travel to another river, which is
like one hour’s walk, to fetch water.”

As a result, many girls between ages 14 and 16 run the risk of
being attacked by wild animals or becoming victims of sexual
assault while searching for water. They have no time to do their
homework and, for fear of being punished, they miss school, she

Other girls, discouraged by these realities, “settle for a man
in town who has water and then marry him,”  Leina admits with

Agnes Leina.

Climate change also increases the pressure for child marriages.
In pastoralist communities, livestock is a status symbol. Losing
cattle because the land is too arid for them to survive may compel
a father to offer his young daughter’s hand in marriage in
exchange for more cows as a bride price.

Africa is highly vulnerable to climate change. The UN
Environment (UNE) projects that some countries’ yields from
rain-fed agriculture will have been reduced by half by next year.
Countries hard hit by land degradation and desertification include
Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

“Most African women depend on rain-fed livelihood systems like
farming and livestock keeping. Therefore, any shift in climate
patterns has a significant impact on women, especially those living
in rural areas,” concurs Fatmata Sessay, UN Women regional policy
advisor on climate-smart agriculture for East and Southern Africa
Region. UN Women’s mandate is to advance gender equality and
women’s empowerment.

Globally, nearly 200 million nomadic pastoralists make their
livelihoods in remote and harsh environments where conventional
farming is limited or not possible, according to the International
Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Glo.be, the online magazine of the Belgian Federal Public
Service’s international development aid programme, reports that
Kenyan pastoralists are responsible for up to 90% of the meat
produced in East Africa. Kenya’s livestock sector contributes 12%
to the country’s gross domestic product, according to the World

Therefore, a changing climate has serious implications for the
country’s economy.

In 2014, Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and
Fisheries, with support from the International Livestock Research
Institute and the World Bank, began a livestock insurance programme
for vulnerable pastoralists. That programme has provided some
relief to women pastoralists.


Technology to the rescue

UN Women is also mobilizing efforts to secure land tenure for
women. It is working with the Standard Bank of Africa to help
African women overcome barriers in the agriculture sector such as
providing access to credit.

Technology is key to saving the water that disappears after a
torrential rainfall, says Leina. Windmill technology, for instance,
could allow women to access water 300 feet underground. The snag,
she explains, is that it’s priced out of the reach of women
pastoralists. She hopes authorities can help.

Houses in some rural areas of Kenya have thatched roofs that
cannot channel water to household water tanks in the way that zinc
rooftops can. Commercial water trucks can fill up household tanks
for a fee of up to $60 per tank, but most rural households cannot
afford that much.

The situation for women pastoralists is grim, which is why Leina
hopes raising awareness of how climate change is threatening their
livelihoods may get increased attention—and support—of the
Kenyan government and its international partners.

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Women Pastoralists Feel Heat of Climate Change
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Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Women Pastoralists Feel Heat of Climate Change