•In 2023, Narok County Commissioner Isaac Masinde reported 741 cases of pregnant teen girls between ages 9-17 years, both in primary and secondary school.
•At least 332 girls were pregnant in primary schools, while another 409 students below the age of 18 years were pregnant in secondary school.
Storytelling and climate may at first seem like strange bedfellows, however, as a believer in the power of stories to change narratives, I believe that systemic stories help us comprehend complex issues and create accessible frameworks to make decisions and act.
My first story begins in Narok County, in a town called Noolpopong! My choice of town or county to start this important conversation on the intersectionality between climate change and gender is not dictated by the current political situation in Kenya - just a caveat - as I know how political the world gets - I digress.
Narok County is one of the 21 counties categorized as Arid and Semi-Arid in Kenya. It is also endowed with diverse natural resources and a rich Maasai culture.
The people of Noolpopong welcome me, because of my height. They tell me the bride price is measured by height, and because of that, I am worth probably 50 cows or more.
I do the math quickly in my head, and that translates to probably 5 million, not bad.
However, I cannot help but wonder, after tax, what amount does that come to? Also, wait, do they tax the bride price? Again I digress!
The county’s agroecological zones range from highlands, which experience sufficient and reliable rainfall, to lowlands, which experience little and unreliable rainfall.
A good fraction of Narok County’s surface water is sourced from the Mara and Ewaso Nyiro rivers which also influence the geopolitics of the region.
Climate change generally has adverse effects on household food security and on poverty alleviation among pastoralists.
In the last 20-30 years, climate change has greatly affected Narok County, with rainfall seasons becoming more unpredictable.
Prolonged dry spells and droughts negatively affect crops and livestock which are major sources of livelihood for the local communities.
To adapt to the effects of climate change, the farmers have adopted water harvesting and pasture development, planting early-maturing and drought-resistant crops, and using improved breeds of livestock.
According to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), Narok County had a false onset of October-November-December 2022 short rains in the first month of October.
The quality and quantity of pasture have worsened owing to low amounts of rain received and more dry days experienced across the county.
Moreover, pasture availability and access have been affected by overgrazing, competition with wildlife and land demarcation in the county.
Pasture condition in 2022 was worse than in the years 2020 and 2021, which is attributed to drier conditions with low amounts of rain and more dry days experienced.
Narok Governor Patrick Ntutu said a committee on drought mitigation was already in place and had moved around the county to mark locations that were mostly hit by the drought so as to prioritize the distribution of food.
Masinde said about 115, 000 families in the county and 130,000 school-going children were in dire need of food, reiterating that schools in areas affected by drought would also receive the relief food so as to keep children in school.
“Everyone should be involved in food distribution including politicians, religious leaders, civil society, and non-governmental organizations among others. Let food be distributed during the day in a transparent and fair manner so as to benefit everyone,” he said.
What’s Climate change got to do with it?
It’s a well-known fact that women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change.
In Noolpopong’s household (See what I did there), he has 8 children. 7 are girls and 1 is a boy.
Noolpopong is not only grateful that he has daughters, but he is also grateful that his female children have brought him some source of revenue.
When times get tough, as it did earlier in the year, with one of the most severe droughts the country has ever seen, he married off his daughters.
At this point you may ask, what’s the problem with that, and as a good journalist interviewing you, my response would be “That is a really good question!”
You see, before his three eldest daughters got married, they had to undergo the cut, a harmful practice that even though is outlawed, it continues to be practised. Do you see the common thread here?
Going deeper, as of December 2022, at least 83,020 children were out of school in Narok County.
The high rates were attributed to inadequate/lack of school meals, poor learning environment and lack of teachers, dilapidated infrastructure, resource-based conflicts, and climate-related emergencies.
Shortage of water in schools was also a major factor. Being majorly a pastoralist community, parents have been rendered unable to pay school fees having lost their sources of livelihood. Thus, communities are majorly focused on basic survival skills and school-going children have to stay at home and help their parents take care of the remaining livestock and carry out domestic duties.
In 2023, Narok County Commissioner Isaac Masinde reported 741 cases of pregnant teen girls between ages 9-17 years, both in primary and secondary school.
At least 332 girls were pregnant in primary schools, while another 409 students below the age of 18 years were pregnant in secondary school.
The report also revealed that Narok South was leading in pregnancies at 149, followed by Narok Central at 140 while Narok West sub-county had 124 pregnant learners.
Jane Njogu, the Narok County Director of Education, blamed the rise in teenage pregnancies on societal moral decadence that allows girls to engage in sex after undergoing Female Genital Mutilation.
My point - Climate change has repercussions, on the future and lives of young girls and women.
Also, did I mention that Noolpopong’s daughters were all underage?
So what next?
This is just one story, in just one county. If you are a reader like me, you have probably pored over journals upon journals on climate change - and come to the conclusion that the future of our young girls and women is at stake! So what can we do?
In 2021 the County Government of Narok, through the Department of Environment and natural resources, and stakeholders, enacted a climate change law and its regulations in February 2021.
The main purpose of this law was to create a fund that would be used to avail resources for climate community-led actions, develop a structure of utilization of the fund, as well as penalties for misuse.
Kenya remains a regional leader in developing comprehensive climate change policies and legislation.
The country’s constitution devolves significant authority to 47 county governments.
Vision 2030, the country’s principal development strategy, underscores adaptation to climate change effects for the nation to advance development and increase the quality of life.
Subsequently, a number of policies seek to mainstream climate change into planning and implementation.
They include the National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS, 2010), the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP, 2013-2017, 2018-2022), and the National Adaptation Plan (NAP, 2015-2030).
Adapting to climate change is a precondition to socio-economic development, especially in drought-prone regions largely dependent on small-scale agriculture and pastoralism.
The Climate Change Act (2016) mandates counties to implement and monitor ambitious sustainable development and climate change goals.
The County Climate Change Fund (CCCF) is an important instrument. It consists of climate legislation enacted by county governments and a county-controlled fund to finance climate projects that are identified and prioritized by local communities.
As I end my story, or maybe begin my story, would you join me in pushing for the rights of women and girls and for the urgent implementation of these policies, because our girls and young women’s lives are at stake!
Diana Odhiambo: Gender Equality Advocate and Communications Expert
Email: [email protected]