In Ethiopia, millions of people have been forced into debt and are on the brink of starvation as their land is ravaged by an El Niño-fuelled drought, the worst in recent history. As families react, issues surrounding gender roles are exacerbated – paving a longer, harder road to recovery.

A summer without rain has left people with limited access to food, water or income and with a deep fear of an uncertain future. Men are leaving their families to find work, while their wives and children are forced support the household. Women and children have to walk long distances to find water which leaves them vulnerable to hunger, exhaustion and even abuse.

Mirte’s long walk for water

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Mirte and the girls in her neighbourhood travel in a group. They use whistling codes to wake each other in the morning. The journey down the mountain is three kilometers, and Mirte often makes multiple trips. She and her neighbours often have to wait for the wells to recharge, the worsening drought means the water level is dropping.

“It is tough living in the mountains,” says Mirte. “I wake up at 4 in the morning just so I can go and collect water. It is very dark and frightening.” 

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Mirte is missing two days of school each week to fetch water and she has no time to do her homework. With no access to water at their school girls are forced to skip school during their menstrual periods, missing an additional week of education each month. Many girls like Mirte fall behind or drop out.

The role of men and boys

The drought is stripping men and boys of their traditional roles as providers for their family. Boys are being pulled from school. Families are selling their assets leaving them more vulnerable as the situation worsens. Men are losing their incomes. Families are separating as men try to find work and land for their herds.  As stress and anxiety increase so too do instances of gender-based and domestic violence.

The long haul

As families wait for the rains to return, the impacts of this drought have the potential to carry on to the next generation.

Children are being pulled from school, and their lives put at risk due to inadequate food and nutrition, leaving them vulnerable to disease. Women are often fed last and least, and malnutrition in pregnant and breastfeeding women can lead to reduced cognitive and physical development in their children.

This drought is affecting women, girls, boys and men differently. The struggle for survival is intensifying stereotypical gender roles to the detriment of both males and females.

Can anything be done?

Yes. The situation is serious, but there is hope. With your support we’re working fast to address urgent issues of nutrition, water and hygiene, food security and livelihoods. We’re also working to keep girls and boys in school – we’re ensuring their families have access to food and water, so they’re not relying on their children. We’re providing schools with food and stationery as well as menstrual hygiene management materials.

Through urgent action we can ensure that people in Ethiopia can survive and overcome long-term challenges, regardless of gender. You can help – please donate today.

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