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“Hunger Made Me Switch From Pastoralism To Hawking”

Martha Lebasale, Photo: Noor Ali/IRIN

Marsabit, 15 September 2011 (IRIN) – A severe drought and high food prices have forced many pastoralist families in northern Kenya to re-examine traditional roles.

Women are now not only engaging in commercial activities, such as hawking and basket-weaving, but are also working nights to put food on the table.

Martha Lebasale, a mother of three living in Dubsahey village in Marsabit district, spoke to IRIN about her switch to hawking:

“I got married six years ago; I became a hawker a year ago when hunger started to bite. I start hawking brooms and toothbrushes [made from leaves and roots of a local tree] from about 5pm; my business is most lucrative at night because lorries carrying passengers travel at night.

“It pains me that I have to leave my children, the eldest of whom is six years old, alone at night as I go about my business.

“I hawk for almost 10 hours every day. For many years, the Rendille – my community – feared poverty caused by loss of livestock during droughts. Now hunger is our main concern after we experienced frequent droughts in recent years. Almost the entire community is struggling with hunger.

“Many married Rendille women and young girls have disregarded some of our strict traditions which forbade us to move around at night. I no longer have to seek permission to leave home because we are all trying to avoid hunger. Now we have been forced to remain awake at night like wild animals on a hunting mission.

“I used to rely on my husband to bring food home but this changed in 2009 when we lost all our goats due to the drought.

“At the beginning of the year, I used to go home early after selling a bunch of either brooms or toothbrushes at 200 shillings [US$2.10]; it was enough to buy food, but this is no longer possible. One must stay awake the whole night to make more money that would barely be enough to buy food for the whole family.

“My fear is that we [Rendille women] shall very soon start hawking during the day and the night and completely stop sleeping. Prices of food continue to rise; 1kg of low-quality rice has tripled from 50 to 160 shillings [$0.52-1.68] since January; we get very little relief food. The last distribution was in July.

“Hawking can be risky, especially for women and girls out at night alone. I know of two women who quit this year after they were bitten by poisonous snakes. Some women have been divorced by their husbands; some men prefer to starve than allow their wives to move around at night hawking.

“I believe that we, the Rendille community, in particular, elders who make decisions, must accept and support women to help their families. Indeed, many women are now heading homes; men are no longer the only providers. My community should accept and acknowledge that we no longer have the cattle and goats; it should adopt new ways of surviving.

“I plan to enrol in adult education classes to learn English so I can sell my merchandise to foreign tourists. So far, I have learnt Borana, Somali and I have improved my Kiswahili. This has helped me get more customers and raise my income to almost 400 shillings [$4] on a good day.”


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