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Women-Led Emergency Response: calm, fair, accountable

Wednesday, June 21, 2017 - 13:41

The following blog is adapted from the original version by ActionAid Kenya. ActionAid is responding to the Horn of Africa drought crisis in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somaliland. Click here to support our Horn of Africa appeal.

In years of experience responding to disasters, ActionAid finds that international emergency relief operations are often marked by chaos. Hungry and anxious communities line up in search of food and other critical items. People are panicked. People are distressed.

But in Oldonyiro Nyiro, one of many locations in Kenya where ActionAid is distributing emergency relief items, the situation is calm and organised. Bags and boxes of food and other critical items like women’s dignity kits are piled up next to tarpaulins and drums of water. The local women are in control.

File 37689Women's dignity kits are being distributed. Photo: ActionAid

These women know one another, every family situation and they look after one another,” says Lurija Lesuuda, an ActionAid staff coordinating at the distribution centre.

“They know no one will cheat them. They know how much food we got and how much each is entitled.”

The women talk to each other and the women collecting emergency items. It’s a feedback loop in process, as they collect information on what local families are being affected by and what they need most dearly.

The process starts with the formation of a Disaster Management Committee at the community level whose members are elected. This is a women-led entity and its roles include identifying the community’s immediate and long-term needs and the most vulnerable community members who deserve help.

In ActionAid’s experience, women are almost always the first responders in emergencies. In the current drought in the Horn of Africa, women shoulder the heaviest burden in caring for their families and communities. Many women are travelling long distances in search of water and sustenance for their children.

At the distribution centre, there are visible notices that show what each community member is entitled to take back to their families. Women from the Disaster Management Committee sign for deliveries of emergency supplies and organise the crowd gathering based on the villages where they come from. The supplies are distributed calmly and carefully and after some chatting, the crowd dissipates.

File 37690The Chumi Yerre distribution point in Isiolo, Kenya. Photo: Alice Oldenburg/ActionAid

Traditionally, Samburu and Turkana women are not treated equally to men. They are excluded from most decision-making on all levels, from the household to community. Through taking charge of the emergency response, women in remote Kenyan communities are building their leadership skills, they are learning to speak up for themselves and standing up for their rights. For these women, it’s the beginning of change in their communities.


ActionAid has supported over 160,000 people to date across Kenya, Somaliland and Ethiopia, with emergency water, food and critical items like women's dignity kits and blankets. Help us to reach more by donating today.