How climate change is putting women at risk of violence | ActionAid UK

Every day, climate change is threatening the lives of women and girls around the world. Erratic rainfall, rising sea levels and devastating droughts are destroying crops and livelihoods, and leaving women and girls vulnerable. Women already bear an unequal burden which is made worse in climate crises as they are forced to travel longer distances to collect water and supplies. On these journeys, they are often exposed to the threat of violence. Women and girls in Somaliland told us of their fears now that drought has gripped their country.

Girls like Amina are at risk of violence during their long walks to fetch water.
Girls like Amina are at risk of violence during their long walks to fetch water.

“I worry, I wish I didn’t have to go”

11-year-old Amina remembers the days when feeding her cattle meant taking a short stroll to grazing land near her home. Today, she has to trek for four hours to take her flock of sheep to pasture. The reason? Her village in western Somaliland is suffering from drought, made worse by El Nino, which has caused harvests to fail and grazing land to disappear.

Every other day, Amina takes her remaining livestock to pasture. It's hot, tiring work. “When I walk to far places to take the sheep to get water, I feel hungry. My stomach hurts," she said.

Amina fetches water for her remaining livestock.

As precious resources such as water and fodder dwindle, a new danger has emerged on these journeys.

"One person died while taking his sheep to pasture. There was a farm and the guy wanted his sheep to graze at that farm, but the farm did not belong to him. So the other people, who owned the farm, shot him. I have seen some of these fights and I’ve heard about others," she said.

In Amina's mind, this outbreak of violence can only mean one thing.

When I saw the first fight I thought: there is a drought coming. I worry when taking sheep to graze. I am worried about fighting between us and the people that have the farms. I felt scared when I saw the fight and I ran away. 

No girl should face the threat of violence as she attempts to cope with the devastating effects of a drought.

Mariyama feared for her daughter's safety as she walked to fetch water.

“What if something bad happens to her?”

Mother of ten Mariyama used to have to travel many long, hot miles to fetch water for the family. She found the journey exhausting and it took a toll on her health.

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“​Sometimes I used to feel like collapsing, she remembers. But without water, she couldn’t care for the animals she depends on to feed the family. 

In the end, Mariyama’s children took over. “It’s too far,” her 15-year-old daughter Ferdousa insisted. “I can’t let you go and fetch water. I’m here to do that. You just rest.”

But Mariyama couldn’t rest easy. Sometimes her children had to travel for three hours to fetch water and three hours back. They were exhausted and dehydrated by the time they returned. “Their legs were swollen. Their bodies were so tired, so weak. They didn’t have the energy to do anything”, Mariyama recalls.

Mariyama was particularly anxious about Ferdousa’s safety on the long journey to find water, and worried about her the whole time she was gone.

As she was setting off I used to feel scared. All the time she was away, I used to think: what if something bad happens to her? And when she came back safely I used to praise Allah. I used to be scared of her getting raped. I felt like crying when she returned. 

She knew her daughter was vulnerable and wanted to protect her.

When you’re a mother and you want to help your child but you can’t, you feel terrible. I used to worry about my daughter especially and that worry was always there. A girl is more vulnerable than a boy. If you send your daughter to collect water from a far place, you will always have that fear.

Mariyama sits next to her water tank.

Building water tanks in Somaliland

When ActionAid built a ground-level cement water tank or “berkhad”​ in Mariyama’s village, her fears for her daughter ended. They can go safely to the nearby tank, and now she never worries they’ll run out of water. “Our neighbour also drinks with us and there’s enough. Everyone who drinks from it says they appreciate it.”

The berkhad is a lifesaver for Mariyma’s cows and sheep too. The livestock she keeps are her sole source of income – the family’s survival depends on the food she gets from them and the money she raises selling them. Thanks to their water tank, today, Mariyma’s life is very different.

I am now in a very good state compared with before. A lot of people drink from the berkhad with us. We have an easier life because we don’t have to walk far to fetch water.

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As this crisis continues, women and girls will continue to face the threat of violence. Please help us continue to provide our life saving work to communities like Mariyma’s so that women and girls aren’t forced to continue long and dangerous journeys to fetch food and water.

We cannot standby idly while more women fear for their safety.

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Photo credits: Jennifer Huxta/ActionAid