Posted on 6 February 2020 by Billy Jones
The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.
UNDP’s Gender Strategy 2018-2021 endeavours to weave an emphasis on gender into the interventions and work it carries out, particularly in eradicating poverty and crisis management. Crisis response is a crucial arena in which the UN gender strategy is intended to be implemented.
Crises typically exacerbate pre-existing structural inequalities and have the potential to make the most marginalised members of a community worse-off.
Less access to decision-making arenas, a higher burden of care and less rights to land and resources typically produce a multiplier effect of the impact of crises on women as compared with men, especially in the Global South.
Flooding in West Pokot, Kenya
October-December 2019 saw one of the most severe floods in East Africa’s recent history with rainfall as high as 400% of the average. Abnormally warm water in the Indian Ocean created more rain that was carried inland. Three million people have been adversely affected by the flooding and at least 250 people have died.
In Kenya more than 130 people have died across the country. One of the worst affected areas is West Pokot which is home to many agro-pastoralist communities. In one weekend in December, over 60 people died in a landslide that brought mud down from the highlands, wiping out three villages.
What’s more, the region is very remote with poor infrastructure. Many of the road bridges have been swept away, making it extremely difficult to get emergency food, medical supplies and blankets to the remote, highland villages.
Gendered Disaster Relief?
Disaster relief efforts are on-going in the area through collaborative efforts by UN, Red Cross, the Kenyan Government and a number of other NGOs, spearheaded by the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The UN being at the helm means the operation ought to adopt a gender strategy.
Often it is the people who cannot access the emergency relief who need it the most. Distribution plans needs to take into account the social dynamics of the local context. They need to be aware of the different groups in a community and how they interact. Otherwise, they run the risk of distributing supplies to those that can access them rather than those most in need.
So, has this been the case? Has the relief effort prioritised the most vulnerable members of the West Pokot community?
In a crisis such as East Africa’s current floods careful, strategic planning is notoriously difficult to carry out – organisations need to just get out there and save lives, surely they don’t have time to worry about who they should prioritise and how they are exacerbating structural inequalities?
Hopefully this is not the response we hear from OCHA and their partners! A quick look at the situation suggests that a gender strategy is most definitely necessary – and doable – in West Pokot.
Men Giving to Men
The screenshot above shows emergency food rations being given out on the side of the road. Because the roads leading up to the affected villages were impassable, the food was given out on the road as close as the lorries could reach. What is striking here is that there are only men queuing up for food, no women.
But why are there only men here and what does this imply for the distribution of food?
It is likely that these men reached the relief via motorbike – a common form of transport in the area. Women don’t tend to ride motorbikes so they wouldn’t be able to reach the road as easily. What’s more, the women are more likely to be assigned the responsibility of caring for the children and elderly so they could not leave to collect the rations as easily. This is a strong indicator that access is dependent on gender. So, how food is later distributed within a household is also likely to be gendered.
The coordinated relief and distribution plans ought to be aware of this. It is essential that a gender strategy is identified as a need early in the planning stages of relief distribution. Having their eyes open to such gender dynamics from the off will help the relief agencies react appropriately. This will put them in a better position to channel support to those who truly need it most.