Women mark International Women’s Day in a dry spell mood.

As Kenya joins the world to commemorate women’s achievements in International Women’s Day, a large number of women residing in the   drought   stricken areas in   Kilifi County are marking the day in a dry spell mood.

Kilifi   county is one of the arid and semi-arid zones in Kenya, and women bear the brunt of the impact of the ongoing drought. Defying odds, not only are they in charge of providing food for their families, they also contribute to their household income through different means like harvesting aloe Vera or charcoal burning.

Bendera Salim, 60 and a mother of eight, is one of the 2.8 million   people affected by the on-going drought in the coast region and has been engaging herself in aloe vera business.

‘’This is my routine five times a week,” says Bendera, a resident of Jila. “I have to harvest aloe vera, extract the juice and boil it until it solidifies for sale to feed my family.

‘’On a good day, I get buyers instantly, but sometimes it may take a week or two as the market for this is not guaranteed, I sell a kilogram at 100 shillings,’’ she said.

It’s been more than two years now since the area received rainfall, 90 percent of the people are dependent on agriculture.

“I have been a farmer all my life. I can hardly remember a day when I did not work on my family’s land. I have experienced difficult times, but never before have I seen a drought like this one, and to survive one has to go  an extra mile of breaking the barriers no matter who you are, ’’ Says 60 year  Dama Kombe, pointing to her charcoal kiln.

Dama says she has been burning charcoal for the past two years.

‘’I sell 90 kg bags  of charcoal at  400  shillings at Bamba market and it’s never enough, the rise of food prices is another problem we are grappling with right now ‘’.

Dama who never sat in a classroom has also been doing an extra mile of mentoring school girls on early pregnancies.

Kadzo Kahindi going through the carcasses of her cows.She lost 29 cows due to drought.
Photo by Marion Kithi

‘’I saw the need to step up the role of mentoring and empowering young girls when Kilifi hit the headlines leading in teenage pregnancies, and I realized that parents are not ready to talk on sex education with their children,’’ She added.

The drought has also led to the deaths of livestock due to lack of water and pasture in the area, a wealth most residents depended on.

“Here in Kilifi we used to depend on our agriculture and sometimes when one season fails we turn back to our livestock for livelihood, but now we have to gather gravel and burn charcoal to sustain ourselves,” she remarked during a recent interview with the press.

When drought worsened in the area two years ago, quite a number of girls had to face the prospect of getting married for their families to survive.

Kadzo Kahindi still has a few cattle which she has been taking care of, but because of the drought that has made water the most sought after commodity in the area, she walks for over 20 kilometers to find water for the livestock.

‘’I had 50 cows, but most died and I’m left with 21 which I’m hopeful will survive, this is all I have now,’’ Kadzo says the deaths of her livestock has paralyzed her economy since she depended on them to survive.

 “We depended on sales from the livestock but now times are hard. Sometimes we spend without a meal,” Kadzo says. “If we get it, fine, if we don’t, we will still call it a day. Whenever we wake up, we do not anticipate any meal. On a good day, we have a single meal,”

Due to prevailing gender inequalities, women and girls tend to experience higher food insecurity and malnutrition. When food is scarce, they often get even less food than male members of the household.

Girls in this area have not also been left out, most times they are forced to skip classes, just to help their mothers in either burning charcoal or  fetching water.

Kache is a 15   year old school girl in Jila village; she misses out on classes to get water for her siblings.

Kache    lives with her   mother, her father migrated to Galana  Kulalu at Chakama in Kilifi County ,miles away from their home in search of job opportunities and it has been one month now. However, due to difficulties in finding stable work, he is unable to send remittances to his family.

“Being the first born daughter, sometimes I have to support my mother in finding water. I take water from Jerry Cans to school with me and on my way back I fill it up and bring back as much water as I can.  With the drought my mother does not have time to get the water herself, because she needs to find food for us, “.says devastated Kache.

With the drought that has made  water  being the most sought after commodity ,scarcity compromises their hygiene as the little water available is prioritized for drinking and cooking, and at times girls lack water to bath when on their menstrual cycle which apart from the stigmatization it also poses a health reproductive risk.

The most –affected counties by drought are Turkana,Wajir,Mandera,Garisa,Marsabt and Kilifi. Other hard –hit counties are Baringo ,kitui,Isiolo,Tana River ,Kwale,Kajiado,Narok,Lamu,Samburu

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