Pastoralist Women and Water – Understanding the ways in which women’s disempowerment contributes to water security risks

Year : 2016 – 2017, 2017 - 2019
Countries : Kenya

Kenya, March 2016

In March 2016, the Centre for Humanitarian Change (CHC) conducted the ‘Pastoralist Women and Water’ study as part of the REACH program – a global research program aiming to improve water security for the world’s poor. This study attempted to understand the ways in which women’s disempowerment contributes to water security risks.

It had been noted that women, despite being largely responsible for the burden of water collection, were often excluded from the decision-making process in regards to water supplies. The assumption, therefore, was that if women had a stronger voice in this process than the household’s water security would ultimately improve.

CHC conducted qualitative interviews in two target conservancies across several gender, age, and status specific focus groups. After examining the gender dynamics of these pastoralist communities (and its relationship with water security) it was decided to focus on measuring empowerment as the level to which you are able to make decisions that impact your life and the lives of those around you.

CHC has been able to draw some conclusions from their initial findings. Firstly, it is true that women in pastoralist communities are disempowered – in so much as they have no influence on the decision-making process over water supply development and management of water supplies. However, once the water has been collected, women are primarily responsible for its allocation and usage – granting them a modicum of influence within the household.

Secondly, levels of women’s empowerment did not impact community water security. The only positive correlation found was within individual households – when more empowered (usually more economically empowered) women were able to negotiate better household water security through purchasing storage tanks, transport etc.

And finally, even in situations where the water burden was decreased, it did not necessarily lead to increased empowerment for women. Instead, it often allowed them more time to complete more household chores – there was a noticeable increase in time devoted to caregiving and resting. This last point reinforces the importance of household water security for the welfare and health of women and children.

CHC are continuing to be involved in the conservancies surveyed as part of a four-year project with the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT)


A qualitative research study funded by REACH; The aim of the project was to explore the constraints women face and how this affects water security in relation to resource sustainability, inclusive services, and sustainable growth. The research aimed to enrich the water management model, by informing inclusive water services and sources, ultimately increasing water security for the most vulnerable poor. A follow on study to explore the determinants of water security in peri-urban and rural communities in Samburu was to be undertaken. The project was intended to influence and improve water security practice by providing valuable insight into how poverty, gender, and resource access interest. Through the direct implementation of the research into a water model, the project will provide the potential to increase water security for all members of pastoral households on a large scale.

For more information on ‘Pastoralist Women and Water’ study, click on the link below:

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