In Ethiopia, the effect of El Nino on the climate has meant that, from last year, rural areas in Ethiopia have experienced unpredictable rains and failed harvests – 75% of harvests have been lost due to poor rainfall. The Ethiopian government has been commended for its ongoing assistance to people in drought-affected regions but there is still a critical need to address gaps in access to food and water and loss of livelihoods. Despite this, everyday life goes on and people cope in whichever way makes sense.
Rapid gender analysis
I was in Ethiopia recently to support staff carrying out a rapid gender analysis, which looks at how the drought has affected men, women, girls and boys in different ways, their needs, capacities and coping mechanisms. It is a unique kind of tool because it aims to do what a long-term gender analysis does, but in an emergency context – i.e. looking how emergencies affect women, men, boys and girls and being able to adapt humanitarian programmes quickly and accordingly.
It was the first time that emergency staff at CARE Ethiopia carried out the rapid gender analysis and they approached it with gusto. We had lively discussions around how it went and for most it was quite an eye-opener. We talked a lot about how we collected the data and analysed it (one staff member pointed out that it did not seem very rapid at the time!) But most importantly, the rapid gender analysis showed that there are distinct ‘development type’ opportunities in our humanitarian approach in a slow onset emergency – opportunities that can ultimately challenge gender preconceptions.
A clear example of this – because of the drought, more men and boys are migrating in certain regions to finds jobs and therefore more women are finding themselves as heads of households while their husbands are away. These women find themselves dealing with extra responsibilities on top of their regular household tasks, possible protection risks and lack of access to community resources. So while CARE Ethiopia continues with existing development activities like supporting VSLAs (Village Savings and Loan Associations) and Social Action and Analysis (which are types of community support networks), it is also important to address the specific challenges that female-headed households are facing because of the drought. In fact there can be opportunities, due to changing social norms brought on by the drought crisis, for women to play a more active role. In other words, the humanitarian task of addressing the impact of the drought needs to be embedded in more ‘development type’ work.
Addressing risks through long-term interventions
The same consideration also applies to protection risks that are increasing due to the drought, with women and girls walking longer distances to fetch water, and therefore are more vulnerable to attacks, along with specific risks for female-headed households – for example, the practice in Afar (in north-eastern Ethiopia) where it is considered culturally acceptable for men to come into women’s homes when their husbands are away and to engage in consensual or non-consensual sexual intercourse with the woman. Such practices are increasing due to the drought and need to be mitigated through engaging communities in dialogue. This is not easy and can only be tackled through long-term interventions.
Blurred lines in protracted crises
The blurred lines also apply to protracted crises such as the Syria crisis where humanitarian actors are moving more towards resilience and livelihoods activities in the sad likelihood that the crisis will continue for years to come, and people’s priorities are moving towards sustainable income rather than distributions (although distributions still have their important and life-saving place).
I am the first person to shun the jargon of the humanitarian sector but what is coined as ‘transformative change’ to me just means having a long-sighted view of humanitarian activities – and when working on gender in emergencies, this simply cannot be avoided. Amidst all the tragedy and disruptions in life that people face in these situations, there can also be opportunities further down the line for men and women to accept more active and participatory roles for women in households and communities, to ensure self-protection and reduce the likelihood of gender-based violence.