Eunice Obala – Kenya

Resolving Conflicts and Empowering Women in Pastoral Communities

Eunice Obala (41) has a Bachelor's degree in Leadership and Development Studies, a diploma in Community Development and a certificate in Social Work. She has coauthored numerous papers on risk and disaster reduction and humanitarian issues.

 Eunice is Program Manager for a development and resource sharing project among pastoralists in Ileret, a remote area in northern Kenya's Marsabit District near the border with Ethiopia. The project is under the auspices of VSF Germany, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that works with people whose livelihoods depend heavily on livestock.

Eunice is notable not only for her skills and education, but also for her sensitivity to the particular challenges and needs of the communities with whom she works. Pastoralism in northern Kenya's borderlands is marked by recurrent conflicts for control over limited resources and by the exclusion of women in decision-making, ownership, and access to assets. Recognizing that acceptance and respect from the men was a vital part of shaping the project and carrying it forward, Eunice engaged them impartially, aiming to understand their views on conflict dynamics and traditional cultural practices. This led to willingness on their part to tolerate and support women's involvement in the project.

Each step of the way, Eunice engaged with the communities in participatory conflict resolution using culturally informed approaches to inter-community dialogue meetings and gender inclusion. Her efforts resulted in signed reciprocal agreements, endorsed by the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments, specifying resource sharing. Women took part in negotiations and peace committees.

Increased security created a sense of safety. Less worried about themselves, their children, and husbands, women got more involved in efforts to prepare for droughts and mitigate the crippling impact of droughts. Moreover, they formed groups for savings and loan schemes such as VICOBA (Village Community Banking Schemes) and income generating activities. They promoted livestock marketing, constructed accommodation facilities, set up grinding mills, a butchery and slaughterhouse. Women have also been trained in community health services to reduce malnutrition and the mortality rate.

In so many ways, the efforts fostered by Eunice and supported by the government have positively impacted women and improved gender relations.