National Gender and Equality Commission Logo

Report-Gender concerns in the conflicts in North Rift Valley of Kenya

Between May and June 2016, The National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) joined the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) in a public inquiry on insecurity in the North Rift Valley.  The inquiry focused on security and Human Rights Violations. Gender Equality is as much a Human Right as it is a Social-Economic concern.  The following report is based on observations and interviews conducted during the inquiry by Comm. Florence Wachira.


‘War violates every right of a child – the right to life, the right to be with family and community, the right to health, the right to development of the personality and the right to be nurtured and protected’– Graca Machel, 1996

The Counties in the North Rift Valley mainly Pokot, Baringo, Turkana and Elgeyo Marakwet have experienced an upsurge of violent conflicts between different communities. 

These conflicts have involved pastoralist communities as well as agro-pastoralist communities over livestock and have existed over many years.  Pastoral communities in arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) of Kenya depend on livestock for their livelihood.  However, these ASALs are characterized by temporal and spatial climatic variation, making availability of resources uneven.  Traditionally, cattle rustling often involved small-scale violence and theft of the best livestock or replacement of animals lost through drought or disease.  Loss of human lives was rare, and when this occurred, compensation in the form of cattle was paid by the killers’ families to the victims or their families in case of death.  However, in recent years, due to proliferation of small arms and commercialization of cattle rustling, there is an emergence of large-scale violence during cattle raiding between neighbouring pastoral communities in Kenya. 

Gender Roles and Responsibilities

Pastoral Communities are mainly patrilineal and men are the Heads of Families.  Women are regarded as lower than men in social hierarchy.  They are considered to be children and part of a man’s property.  Traditionally among the Pastoral Communities, men were responsible for looking after livestock and protecting their families from external aggressors.  Women took care of children or worked in the farm and also performed domestic duties like cooking and fetching water.  Children usually looked after goats and sheep but in the modern lifestyle, most attend school to attain formal education.  The conflicts have caused a breakdown of this social order.  They have affected traditional roles and responsibilities of men and women within the affected communities.  The society is no longer stable since the gender roles and responsibilities have changed and keep changing.

Gender Concerns as a Result of the Conflict

Cattle rustling and banditry have led to the loss of many human lives and the displacement of various population groups.  Women and children seem to have borne the brunt of these new forms of violence.  Families have been scattered and displaced from what they called ‘home’ and lifestyles have been disrupted.  Many families so destabilized and are now accommodated as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).  The results has been a lot of psychological trauma meted on couples that are affected, pain, bitterness and suspicion.

Majority of those killed or maimed in conflicts are men.  This has left many families without a breadwinner and in abject poverty.  Livestock in these communities is not only a source of wealth but is also a status symbol.  A man who loses this livestock in conflicts suffers indignity as they put it due to the “shame of begging when you used to be rich”.   A man without cattle is poor and since this is the currency for paying bride-wealth, it means he cannot marry.  For married men, loss of cattle means “Death” especially if they now have to be fed by the wife(s).  In some polygamous homes, wife(s) have ran away because the man lost his wealth in conflicts.  Many men have turned to alcoholism and now idle about all day since they have nothing to do.The consequences have been increased domestic violence and break-up of marriages.

The increased conflicts have robbed many women of spouses and a source of livelihood.  Displacement has disrupted lifestyles as women are moved to settlement centers with their children for security purpose.  From these centers, women try to support their families through doing small businesses, hawking or burning and selling charcoal.  As they engage in these businesses, many have been exposed to the risk of contracting HIV, some have turned to alcoholism.  In some areas, it was reported that some women have been sent back to their parents if they were of a different ethnic group.  Incidences of rape and abduction of women were also reported.

Many children have been left orphans and there are reported cases of increase in child-headed homes.  Conflicts have separated children from their parents when they are accommodated by other families.  This exposes them to hunger and malnutrition.  Many babies have also died due to exposure to cold and from pneumonia as mothers sleep and hide in the bush and also because children miss out on vaccinations when mothers are displaced.

Many children are not going to school.  According to the Mr. Josphat Nanok, governor of Turkana county, 60% of school going children are out of school.  This is either due to lack of school fees due to poverty when the family wealth is stolen or because their schools have been closed, or vandalized or burnt.  At times it is because children have been displaced from their home and cannot get an alternative school nearby. Many children are forced to repeat classes when they relocate.  Many children are exposed to abuse, child marriages, and trauma. Child marriages have increased.  Inter-ethnic conflicts has exposed children to hatred, suspicion, mistrust and bitterness.  These are bound to affect their healthy development. The education of children has also been affected by lack of teachers when non-indigenous teachers leave as a result of conflicts. 

The youth are heavily involved in the conflict usually as warriors/Morans. Many have lost their lives and majority have been maimed for life.  Many have been disabled physically and emotionally and are now a bitter, suspicious lot.  Many never went to school. They have nothing to do except taking part in the conflicts.  A small proportion are employed as police reservists albeit with no training and therefore end up being the first casualties of the conflicts.  Their being idle is forcing some to engage in anti-social activities like thuggery, drug peddling, etc.  They are slowly being de-alienated from their communities because elders no longer have control over them.  Many are married to teenage girls and have large families (6 -7 children) to take care of with no sustainable income.

Compiled by Dr. Florence Wachira, Commissioner, NGEC




Get the latest updates from NGEC on our USAWA Newsletter.