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Narrators describe the multiple difficulties women face as a result of desertification and the decline of pastoralism. Since they adopted farming, women have taken on a new burden, grinding grain for hours every day until their “palms are wounded”. Walking long distances to collect water and firewood in intense heat, and preparing and cooking food has left women “exhausted”, says Rufo.

Chuqulisa is unequivocal: “We women are the number one victims” of desertification. Iyya is similarly convinced of the negative impact on women. In the past, he says, “women had ample time… good looks and posture. Today you can see an enormous change… They work more than men…”

Several male narrators express real concern for the women, recognising that the adoption of farming has significantly added to their workload, while poor nutrition is undermining their strength.

Women exhibit great resourcefulness as they find different ways to make an income. Many make and sell charcoal; Chuqulisa hires a donkey and transports and sells firewood; Loko has beehives and sells honey. She also sells on items such as tobacco, tea and sugar, which she buys in bulk on her visits to town. “I have become familiar with business,” she says with some pride.

Chuqulisa, who sees the increasing pressure of population on their environment as a key factor in its deterioration, says that many people ignore family planning options, seeing its adoption as a “disgrace”. Huqa talks about his joy at the birth of not one but two baby boys. “Is there any pleasure as great as this?” he asks. “For a Boran man it is more than any other joy to have a baby boy.”

The community’s preference for male children, according to Loko, is explained by the fact that men are needed to defend their cattle and other property, but she says “…we do also feel happiness when we have a baby girl.”


Gender is a key theme of the Desert voices: Ethiopia oral testimony project.


Arima: punishment from God

Chuqulisa: love is lacking

Diramo: tied to our cattle

Duba: solutions to problems

Gurracha: conflict devastated it

Huqa: pleasure from family

Ibrahim: the crazy heat

Iyya: conserving the forest

Loko: farming from necessity

Rufo: goodbye to farmland

Key themes

Introduction to the project




Food security




Social institutions

Government assistance