Gender and the social and economic impact of drought on the residents of Turkana district in Kenya
Wawire, Violet K.
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The study seeks to assess the adaptive strategies employed by men and women within their respective social and economic backgrounds to cope with challenges in the drought-stricken Turkana District. The study utilizes qualitative research methods to exhaustively and effectively explore the famine situation in the district. Consequently, purposive sampling was used to select three locations with varying climatic and social conditions within the district. These are: the dry purely pastoralist Kapua area, the pastoralist agricultural area near Turkwell River and the Kalokol area near Lake Turkana, where fishing is done. Key informant interviews were used to obtain data from village elders, government officials and men and women living in the district. Focussed group discussions were used with officials working with the Catholic Christian Fund, a nongovernmental organization working in the district to alleviate the effects of drought. Direct observations of the social environment and document analysis of related literature from various sources were also used. The data analysis tools included content analysis and simple statistical methods to complement the qualitative data. Although both men and women play important roles in the pastoral economies, women’s roles were found to be more taxing and crucial since women were responsible for cultural reproduction in addition to domestic chores and livestock production activities. It was found that drought affected the performance of gender roles due to the scarcity of basic resources for both humans and animals. The greatest challenge faced by men was the reduction in their authority as household heads and breadwinners since women were in charge of the famine relief food. The challenges women faced constituted lack of time and energy to perform their gender roles under the strenuous drought conditions. The adaptive strategies employed by both men and women were noted to be creative and practical, centring on the physical and social environment and on gender roles. They included pastoral supportive activities such as agriculture and fishing, migration, use of wild fruits and dried plants as human and animal food, herd splitting, food preservation and water conservation methods, assistance from charitable organizations, formation of youth/women groups, and other economic activities. The study has identified gender as the main determinant of how well the residents coped with drought. However, gender was complemented and affected by factors such as proximity to urban centres, the lake and the river; socio-economic status; and availability of social networks.