Oxfam in Dadaab: Giving women a voice in emergencies

Two-dozen women are gathered under a tree sheltering from the harsh sun and constant hot wind that blows here in Dadaab Refugee Camp, in eastern Kenya.

Oxfam has organized to meet exclusively with groups of women here in the outskirts of Ifo camp, offering them a unique opportunity to talk openly about what they need to make their lives here a little more comfortable.

Oxfam’s Esther Kabahuma tells me when the communities and families are asked for feedback and comment here on how their needs are being met, it is generally the men who answer the questions.

It is rare to hear a women’s voice, and so we are giving them a chance to have a say.

As the men attempt to listen in, loitering on the edges, they are soon shooed away and reluctantly move off, but not without one man warning the women he’ll find out later. The women all look at each other and laugh.

Oxfam is interested in understanding which items the women would like most to help them manage their households, keep their children clean and healthy, and find out about which method of sanitation is appropriate and practical for them.

Their wish list is simple: they need more jerry cans for collecting water, soap, mattresses, mosquito nets, steel basins, cooking pots, tents and sanitary pads.

It’s vital to recognize that women have specific needs and this is essential for women living in these conditions to maintain health and dignity.

Dabaab Refugee camp, originally designed to accommodate 90,000, is now home to an estimated 400,000. Desperate men, women and children continue to arrive here from Somalia, in urgent need of food, water and shelter.

With a steady flow of up to 1500 refugees arriving per day here in Dadaab, aid agencies face an enormous task of meeting everyone’s basic needs.

For these women, they at least now have access to clean, safe water and sanitation to prevent the spread of disease, keeping their children healthier and to make life a little more bearable.


More than 12 million people in East Africa are facing desperate food shortages following the worst drought in 60 years. Oxfam is working directly, and with partners, in the region aiming to reach 3 million people with life-saving water, basic sanitation and food. Please donate to help.


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