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The Art of Women Leadership in Emergencies: Calm, Fair, Accountable

Friday, June 16, 2017 - 09:41

By John Kisimir

Over the years of emergencies experience, I have always attributed relief food distribution to chaos. It is a situation of distress – hungry and anxious communities lining up most times in a disorderly manner.

The questions in beneficiaries’ mind are “Will there be enough food for everyone? Will I get my share? Could someone short change me?

But when I arrived at the Oldoinyo Nyiro, one of the many locations where ActionAid is providing food to drought affected communities, the situation was calm. Bags and cartons of food were piled up into different groups at the distribution centre. Different community members, mostly women, were seated near the food supplies.

There is the usual chat as they updated one another on their family situations – how far their husbands and livestock have moved away in search of pasture. An old woman was loudly talking on phone with her son in the city, thanking him for sending some money for the previous night. I got to eavesdrop on whose child is unwell and whose last cow starved to death the previous day.

I am not used to this. Why is everything so orderly,” I asked Lurija Lesuuda, the ActionAid staff in charge of food aid in the area.

“Because they know no one will cheat them,” Lesuuda responded. ”They know how much food we got and how much each is entitled. These women know one another, every family situation and they look after one another.”

I got to understand how ActionAid handles food aid. The organization basically drops off the food at different locations and the rest is left to thewomen in the community.

File 37059Women leading food distribution in Isiolo

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 most vulnerable community members who deserve help. They also play the role of working with ActionAid to procure the food. They are trained on how to support the community on how to fairly share the food that is available.

At the distribution centre, there is a visible notice that says how much food every family will get. A clerk, who is a woman, signs forms from the delivery truck while other committee members organize the crowd based on villages where they come from.

File 37671Transparency notice showing how much each person is entittled
 

The bags of food are opened up and the beneficiaries are given their share. There are no long lines. There are no raucous young men to bully them.  The food hauled into donkey carts, some hire motorcycles while most carry it on their heads and leave the venue.

Traditionally, Samburu and Turkana women are not treated equally to men. They are excluded from most decision-making on all levels but this process, where women are fully in charge of the situation during times of crisis could be the beginning of changing their situation and enhancing their leadership role in their communities.