Women as Forces in Resilience Building

Yayu Coffee Forest Biosphere Reserve Area Cooperatives Receive Rainforest Alliance Certification

40 year old Maryan lives with her husband and six children and supports her grandparents in Somali region, in Eastern Ethiopia. This region, as well as the Afar and Oromia regions, is often hit by severe droughts. These successive droughts over the past decades have had a strong effect on poverty, food security, and livelihoods of the pastoral communities residing in the area. Unemployment, undernourishment, population pressure, land degradation and low-productivity agriculture resulting from the droughts have further worsened the situation for many pastoralists.

It is mainly Maryan’s responsibility to support her family financially. Her husband is unemployed and she is the only breadwinner in the family. Maryan owns a small tea shop where she prepares tea and sells it to make money. A couple of times a week, she goes down to the local vegetable market and becomes a wadato, a vegetable vendor, to earn extra income. Despite all her hard efforts, Maryan finds it is difficult to make a steady income and provide for her entire family.

Women and men are often affected differently by droughts and other climate change induced hazards as a result of their roles and responsibilities at the household and community levels. Women are frequently more exposed and vulnerable because they are poorer, less educated, and not involved in the decision-making processes affecting their lives. Recovery processes can offer opportunities to transform social structures, promote greater gender equality, and increase resilience at the household and community levels.


For Maryan, things started changing when the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) started its intervention in her village in 2012. The programme requires that at least 40% of the participants of the activities and beneficiaries of project are women and girls. 

Maryan participated in soil and water conservation activities and helped to construct terraces and rehabilitating gulleys. As compensation of the work done and the restocking activity implemented by the project, she received 32 female goats (worth 25 000 birr). Critical veterinary and vaccination services were also provided by the programme to ensure Maryan that her goats will stay healthy. Today, Maryan and her family benefit from the milk the goats provide. Some of her goats have also born offspring and increased the size of her livestock herd. This has given her an opportunity to benefit from selling the offspring.

The UNDP programme supporting Disaster Risk Reduction and Livelihoods Recovery (DRR/LR) in Ethiopia aims to strengthen the application of DRR practices all through the country. UNDP seeks to support the government in its efforts to systematically reduce disaster risks and impacts of disasters and to improve food security by developing capacity of national, regional and district level institutions as well as communities.

Ethiopia is exposed to a wide range of hazards. Droughts and floods represent major challenges, but a number of other hazards – such as crop pests, and livestock and human diseases– also affect communities and livelihoods. Climate change is predicted to increase further exposure to weather-related risks.

The Ethiopian Government recognises this and has set building resilience and increasing disaster risk preparedness as a clear priority for the country. UNDP supports the government’s efforts through its Disaster Risk Management and Livelihoods Recovery (DRM/LR) programme. At the policy level, the programme facilitates the creation of the building blocks for the national DRM architecture. At the grassroots level, it provides support to communities to enhance resilience building. This is done by building community assets and addressing the underlying causes of disasters. The learnings and best practices from the communities are regularly fed into the high-level policy work.

The programme mobilizes women like Maryan, encourages them to exercise their rights, and prioritizes activities that ease their workload. The design, identification, and implementation of the programme emphasize the inclusion of women and girls as beneficiaries. Maryan is happy now and looks positively into the future. She is empowered to take care of herself and her family, and has a voice in the community.

Through participation, women like Maryan, have an important part to play in organizing and mobilizing communities, ensuring food security, managing construction of safe shelters, and improving community access to basic services. Women when empowered can develop innovative solutions that address practical problems they are confronted with, and lie at the intersection of resilience and development. 


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