Women pastoralists feel the heat of climate change.


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 poverty.

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.

Ms. 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 shoulder.

This year, Ms. 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 Kenya. Climate change has made their situation worse, she says.

Ms. 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 themselves.

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...

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