MARALAL IS A SLEEPY TOWN, several hours north of Nairobi in northern Kenya. It borders the Kirisia Forest, a vast, dense, and mountainous ecosystem that spans 780 square kilometers and generates water for more than 150,000 people living in the parched lowlands below. The forest is home to the Samburu people, a predominantly seminomadic group closely related to the Maasai in language and traditions.

As regional drought pushes communities toward a humanitarian crisis and climate change disrupts pastoralists’ traditional way of life, traditional gender roles are also shifting. The drought has driven Samburu men to leave for months in search of pasture, and in their absence, it is becoming more acceptable for Samburu women to work for money and participate in decision making. Many have teamed up with the Kirisia Community Forest Association (CFA), a collaborative initiative that focuses on addressing deforestation while protecting the livelihood of communities that depend on the forest. The project invites Samburu women to help preserve this critical ecosystem. Until recently, these women were cutting firewood to make charcoal, their only source of income. Now they are directly involved in protecting the trees they once felled, managing the forest, and using its resources sustainably.