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Empowering Maasai women pastoralists

Posted by Alessandra Pani Thursday, July 4, 2013

When I first met the Maasai women back in December 2011, I was impressed by their shyness. Their eyes were trying to communicate to me but at the same time they preferred staying silent. Almost none of them talked. The project "Increasing HouseHold Income for Maasai Women Livestock Pastoralists in the Amboseli Area, Kenya" (funded by the Finnish supplementary funds and implemented by the NGO African Wildlife Foundation) was just at its very beginning and its impact on the Maasai women's livelihoods was not visible yet. The project aims at supporting income-generating activities which enhance pastoralist women's self-esteem and strengthen their socio-economic position both within the household and in the community. The project is part of the AWF's Kilimanjaro Livestock Initiative which aims at demonstrating that, with relatively modest investment in market integration, it is possible to yield positive results in terms of returns and incomes to livestock producers while at the same time manage the natural resource base in a sustainable way that is compatible with viable wildlife populations living in the landscape.

18 months later, I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya again to meet the same women's group and see if any progress had been made. I had a candid chat with the women pastoralist. Things are now positively different and not only at the economic level. This time I have found them confident and assertive. They are no longer afraid to raise their hands to express their needs; nor are they scared of the challenges ahead of them. Their body language talks clearly and their eyes have that particular sparkle that only highly-motivated people have. Some of the Maasai women even had the opportunity to travel to India and Tanzania for a learning trip. For a few of them, this was their first journey ever.

While talking to them, I realised that a sense of pride emerged from these women. Maseto and her fellows are now aware that their contributions to the household income is vital. All of them think big when it comes to their children's future. Although they all realise that the livestock activities have played and still play a big role in the improvement of their livelihoods and the lives of their families, the Maasai women hope that their children will leave the land to head to a better future. To them a better future is inextricably associated to access to education. For this reason, some of these women are already taking care of their children's college fees and their sense of pride is almost tangible.

But, how do the Maasai men see such a strenghtening of their women's role considering the male-dominated society? They candidly admitted that at the beginning, they did not appreciate having their wives taking on responsible roles. Back in the early days, the Maasai men did not allow their wives to join the group. The women decided to sit and bravely found the heart to face their husbands, who reluctantly allowed them to attend the group. Only at a later stage, the men realised that having a pro-active wife has a positive impact on the household.

While the project is now moving towards its exit phase, I can truly affirm that witnessing the Maasai women being empowered can surely be considered as a sustainable impact of the project. The sense of pride has emerged from us too.

                                                                Maasai women walking proudly