Interested in women’s reproductive and sexual rights in the indigenous Maasai culture? Or their economic development and gender roles based in Tanzania? Here is a research paper and narrative based on my interviews with Tanzanian women and those involved in the Tanzanian organization, TEMBO.
Gender inequality has been around for as long as we know. But in every community, it is presented in a different light – one that is unique to its people, interwoven cultural practices, and developmental influences. This project seeks to define these very dynamics of gender inequality within the Longido community of Tanzania. The Longido District is home to around 100,000 people – the majority of which are from the Maasai ethnic group – and an organization aiding in women’s development called Tanzania Education and Micro-Business Opportunity (TEMBO).
THE WOMEN OF LONGIDO AND TEMBO
You’re walking down one of the busy unpaved roads of Longido lined with small shops and wooden stands either for packaged goods or for fresh fruits and vegetables. There are people on either side of the street and a car passes leaving a cloud of dust to envelop you. The sun is glaring down even though it’s still morning and the dry wind is blowing. You’re almost less than a half an hour drive away from the Tanzania-Kenya border and on the edge of what they call “Maasailand”. Many of the people you see are in traditional Maasai clothing; mostly black, red, and blue robes, maybe plainly-colored or in flannel and other patterns. The women and some men wear beaded jewelry all along their arms, ankles, necks and ears. For some, the holes in both top and bottom of their ears are gaping and their ear lobes have stretched long by the weight of the jewelry. As you pass, a few people greet you and say “Supai” and together they laugh at the way you say “Epa”. You look to the shops and women are taking records, helping customers or organizing. At the vegetable stands you see women in between customers cutting vegetables or breastfeeding their babies or maybe both at the same time.
You’re staying at the Tanzania Education and Micro-Business Opportunity (TEMBO) guesthouse. It’s a circular, lightly pink-colored building with trees and bundles of deep pink flowers surrounding it. Within the gated area, there’s an educational seminar being held in the small building to the left and a hostel currently being built to the right. You find that
the organization, TEMBO, seems to be the very heart of the community providing the foundation to women development here, one meeting at a time. In light of the local organization, women’s education, sexual and reproductive health and economic development has improved for the betterment of the community. Still, witnessing the subtleties in interactions between men and women and the way the community functions you note that this community has very clear gender dynamics. So you go to ask the women of the community involved in TEMBO what they think the gender equality and future of the community looks like in order to have a better understanding of the progressing women development here in Longido, Tanzania.
Gender Dynamics in Longido (As Described by the Women)
If a call from TEMBO rings out among the community regarding a new meeting to be held, the women of Longido will know. The news is shared from TEMBO itself and extends on from woman to woman. Almost every woman in Longido knows the positive impact TEMBO has made on the community whether it be from education, loans, sponsorships or other programs. Focusing on women development, you could even say the work from the organization has shaped the community into how it functions today. Many women in the community have come to TEMBO looking for some way to better the well-being of themselves and their families; to take charge of their families’ monetary situation, to put food on the table, to educate their children. The women are looking to provide the basic needs for their families that their current situation cannot.
But in any case, development does not mean perfection. Now the women are even busier than before, in between caring for their children, themselves and bringing an income to their homes. And many of the women I spoke with criticize the men in the community for not sharing responsibilities in the home. In my talks with the women who were involved in TEMBO, with the exception of a few, the women seemed to agree to women having more responsibilities than men in the community. But yet the simple answer to being asked if they were treated equally was often “hapana” or “no”. One woman when asked to describe the relationship between men and women in the community said:
“The men come to the house during night needing food, saying ‘give me food’, eat the food and go to sleep. They don’t know if their children are sick, they don’t know if they have access to books, they don’t know if their children have clothes, they don’t know about that. And in the morning, they wake up, go, leave from the house until evening” (Tabea, Nov. 7).
Women in my interviews frequently had similar claims to this; that the women faced the problems at home, often without any help from their husbands. But yet women frequently reported that women were still viewed as “weak” in the community and that men had the power.
My interactions with Maasai women clearly demonstrated the severity of the gender inequality within the Maasai culture. As many of the interviewees were with Maasai women, their answers to the gender dynamics were often more based on what is culturally binding for them.
Even more so heartbreaking was a different woman’s story when I asked if men and women had different responsibilities in the community:
“There are different responsibilities because the father has more than one wife and when we sit together we don’t have any food for the children. The women fight, fight, fight to get food for their children. But when the husband sees the house has no food, ah, no lunch, no tea, he goes to another wife, he eats, and he enjoy, so it’s up to us. When the children are at school they call to the mom, ‘oh mom I do not have basic needs for school I do not have soap’. They do not call the father because the father does nothing so the mother go to find basic needs when the father goes to sleep under the tree. When there is no food, the father says, ‘why does this house not cook food?’” (Nooseuri, Nov. 22)
The mother was telling this story more as a general statement rather than specifically her own experience. But it became clear from the Maasai women I spoke with that possibly the men are not aware of the women’s responsibilities or therefore, their struggle.
Of course, the gender dynamics discussed are the majority, not the entirety, so several women did report more positive experiences. Every family is different with individuals of different mindsets and backgrounds. Some women stated that the responsibilities are shared, that men and women work together to support their families. A couple of Maasai women explained that their household duties were shared with the women taking care of the things at home while their husbands takes care of the cattle when grazing and finding food to bring back to the family. The last Maasai woman I spent a day with also claimed to be working with her husband to support their family. This mother, Helena, had been having issues with her eyes and said that her husband took her to the clinic every week. The day that I spent with her the husband also came home after selling meat at the butcher shop and played with their young children.
A woman named Florah also had a happy story to tell. This woman works with TEMBO as a cook during the English Camp and had received a sponsorship from TEMBO for her daughter to go to school. Florah spoke of a good relationship between her husband and her, saying:
“I sell soap and mandazi (donuts) at the shops and my husband is a driver but does not have a car so goes to find a car and also goes to find stones and sell as concrete for their family. We fight to help our kids, we don’t have employment but fight to help our children.”
Whether Maasai or not, the relationship between men and women is different for everyone in Longido, according to their individual experience. In the town the gender dynamics may be influenced by the increased women development or societal structures. In the nearby villages the gender dynamics are more so influenced by the cultural expectations and customs. Either in the town or villages, the majority still express some form of conflict. But conflict will always remain for one reason or another and that is not to say rapid, positive changes are not being made to the community for gender equality.
From what I understand of Tanzania’s school system, primary school is the duration of seven years going from Standard 1 to Standard 7. Then secondary school is four years long going from Form 1 to Form 4. After secondary school is an “advanced” form of secondary school for Form 5 and 6 before the university level. Although there are no school fees up to Form 4, the girls go to stay at the school which requires many supplies. Then, having completed Form 4 and receiving a certificate, Form 5 and 6 issue school fees on top of the girls staying at the schools.
The organization TEMBO gives sponsorships to many girls going into secondary school each year and provides a transitional three-month program for the girls before they enter secondary school. During the three-month program the girls are hosted at the TEMBO guesthouse and given school uniforms, mattresses, toiletries and school supplies. My translator, Christina, also stays with the girls at TEMBO during this program and teaches some of their classes. When the girls enter Form 5 and 6, TEMBO pays the school fees but ask the parents to pay for the toiletries. In addition, they have programs for mentoring and life skill training throughout secondary school to support the girls’ educational experience. As for the adults, there are teacher training and vocational training for women in the community. But TEMBO offers a variety of educational programs for women in the area of different levels and all around Northern Tanzania – not just Longido. There are classes on “life skills” taught in the primary school of Kimokouwa village which include information on gender inequality. For the both of the traditional Maasai villages nearby, TEMBO also hosts weekly classes based on literacy and “life skills” for mamas and bibis that want to join. From all of these programs, it is clear that education is a foundational aspect to project TEMBO which encourages women of any age to benefit from.
In each of my interviews in town I asked the women if they attended school and to what level. The majority of the women’s education consisted only of primary school, completing Standard 7. Two women had not finished primary school, two other women had completed Form 4 (secondary school) and seven women had not attended school. The women who attended school reported that their education benefited them by being able to read signs around town and taking records if they owned businesses. As for the women with whom I spoke to in the two surrounding Maasai villages, none of them had attended a formal school but were receiving literacy lessons by Mary, TEMBO’s community facilitator, in her weekly educational seminars. (It should be noted also that in many cases, the husbands of these Maasai women have had to give permission for their wives to attend these classes and the women are required to come home before the cows arrive.) But most of these Maasai women could sign their name on my consent form and told me that they would not have been able to do so before these classes. One of these Maasai women explains her experience from coming to the weekly classes by saying:
“When you are hearing about TEMBO, for the first time many women are graduating from TEMBO. So I go to the class and for the first time I know how to read, and I can write my name and when I go to church and they say, ‘open the Bible’ I can read. I do not know very well how to read Swahili but I hope one day I can. When I received education I know how to take care of basic needs for family, and I know the importance of education.” (Nalari, Nov. 14)
The women who take these classes with Mary also noted in the interviews how they now prioritize education because their parents did not take them to school and because of how they have benefitted from the education from TEMBO.
As for the girls’ sponsorships for secondary school, I spoke with some of the mothers whose daughters have received this sponsorship from TEMBO. Throughout the interviews the mothers expressed their appreciation for TEMBO many times and said how they could not have taken their girls to school otherwise. One mother named Upendo expressed that a major benefit of the sponsorship was that her daughter was learning how to speak English and therefore able to teach her mother. Upendo emphasized how the sponsorship for secondary school not only greatly benefited the daughter but also the family.
One woman’s story about her daughter receiving a sponsorship was especially inspiring. This woman is Sion and this is her story:
“In Maasai, few of them are aware about education. When the I needed to take my daughter to school the husband says, ‘you are not allowed to take my daughter to school’. But I do not be silent, I go to the village office and tell them I have children but my husband will not allow my children to go to school. I say, ‘help me to take my children to school’. They go to my husband and allow me to take them to school.
The husband does not know what you eat, what you wear. You have a baby but you have one clothes (outfit). The husband does not know you have one clothes and you go around to find help. This is too much, I suffer like this, so I go back home to go to live with my mother. The husband comes to follow me because in Maasai you are not allowed to leave the husband.
When I take my children to school he beat me, all over the body. ‘You beat me up to death but let me go to the village office’. Because when you go to the Maasai boma about education they say ‘yes, don’t put children to school, listen to your husband’ so you don’t have anywhere to go. And I go to the village chairman and he sees my body and he slaughters a goat and gives me the stew to help the body to recover because I was too sick. The chairman says, ‘children must go to school, help daughters go to school’. When you fear your husband the children do not go to school because the husband says ‘stop, no one goes to school’. So don’t fear, when you do like that the children receive education and it helps the next generation.
Now the children are allowed to go to school because I have gone to the chairman. But the husband does not give any help, no pen. Says ‘it’s up to you’. The first born is a boy and he is allowed to go to school. My husband let the boy go to school, but when you do not have money you give the daughter to a husband, so I say no you do not give my daughter to a husband, early marriage – no. I fight for my daughters to go to school and later come to choose a husband herself. My father forced me. For my children, I will not let that happen.”
Sion’s story is both melancholic and inspirational. But the fact that her story is not uncommon is the worst part of all. The work that TEMBO and so many other organizations do for women’s education is so necessary for equal opportunity. Mothers should not have to struggle like this to take their children to school.
However, I had the opportunity to visit the local primary school by the Kimokouwa village to see positive effects of all children attending school with my translator, Christina, Mary, and one of the women who hosts the educational seminars at TEMBO, Lea. We drove in a taxi to the primary school and were taken to the office so I could introduce myself to the principal and sign the visitor book. Mary told me she teaches “life skills” here similar to her classes with the adult women in the Maasai villages and Lea teaches English.
I walked into Mary’s classroom where the kids were in Standard 6 and were welcomed to sit down after they had greeted Mary in a uniformed speech in English. I introduced myself and Mary had the kids repeat my name, where I am from and that I am a student. The short period in the classroom was a sort of review session for what Mary had already taught. This was so I could understand the subjects before the kids had to take an exam in the next class. In Mary’s class “Life Skills” she teaches a range of topics including adolescent growth, hygiene, female genital mutilation (FGM), early marriages and early pregnancies, and child rights. The students were asked throughout the time to volunteer information from what they had learned from these subjects. When asked about child rights the students replied with answers such as “education”, “the right to be receive treatment when sick”, and “the right to be loved.”
As one woman put it “changes will come to community through education” (Nayeloaanga, Nov. 22). And the changes have definitely already started taking effect. No matter the circumstance, TEMBO gives the girls an opportunity to attend school, the Maasai women to learn a variety of subjects given that they have not attended formal schooling and are working with the mothers to protect against early marriage in order for girls to continue in school.
Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health
The women’s education on sexual and reproductive rights and healthcare are intertwined with the formal education given to the community of Longido and education from TEMBO’s seminars. Most of the information I received revolves around the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) but it also touches on the women’s relation to child adoption and birth control. The Maasai people that live in the Longido area generally still practice FGM and early marriages for their daughters. However, the town and influence of TEMBO has brought development and awareness to many people.
In particular, the community facilitator of TEMBO, Mary, has started the first “alternative ceremony” in the community where a celebration was held with an announcement that her daughter will never participate in the practice of FGM. When I asked her if other people had also followed her with the alternative ceremony Mary replied, “only a few, not enough.” But when I talked to the women in the Kimokouwa and Odorko villages many women expressed strong belief in not having their daughters participate in FGM after receiving the education from TEMBO. It is clear from what women told me how TEMBO makes such positive changes for their community and the Maasai culture simply by education.
But before any of my interviews with the Maasai women in the nearby villages, Mary told me a variety of myths surrounding the practice of FGM in Maasai culture. According to these myths, many people believed it was practiced because if the women were not cut: the clitoris would extend so long it would reach the ground, it would smell very badly, the women would bring drought and there would be no rain to keep the cattle alive. Some of the less abstract myths are: it is a transition from childhood to adulthood, the women will not receive the “nicer robes” with beads on them signifying her as woman, they will not be married and the birth attendant will not come to help with child birth. These myths are acknowledged in all of their classes at both the local primary school and classes with the local Maasai women so that the true picture of FGM can be understood.
When talking to the women, the majority of women stated they believed in some of these myths before coming to the classes. Many women reiterated the beliefs that the clitoris would extend so long it become “shameful” and that the practice is a “bridge” to adulthood. In addition to these beliefs, the women expressed further that the men “do not like” when the girl is not cut and that the women can feel proud after practicing FGM because she is one with her aunts, grandmothers and mother. Some other women also reported their prior beliefs in which if you are not cut: you would not be a “real mother”, you would “remain a child until you die”, and you would be physically unable to have children – that as soon as the child was born, the child would die. It was also acknowledged simply as the tradition, something that was part of their culture in order to identify themselves as Maasai. Some women explained it as a sort of heritage in which their grandmother practiced, the mother practiced, them themselves practiced and their daughters would have practiced.
Another woman who is a bibi explains the astonishing story of a practice during her parents’ time. When asked what she believed of FGM before receiving education Ngakenya said:
“When the girl is grown up – you see from the breasts so you do FGM. The daughter is grown up now, too big and starts to look at boys, and they say, ‘my dear you cannot become pregnant before FGM it is bad for your family’. So, you do that [FGM] to prevent that. Because if you do that [become pregnant] before FGM its very bad. It’s the law in Maasai if you get pregnant before FGM you are nothing, nothing, it’s better to die. Better to disappear. Because if you are pregnant, they take you and they take a cow and go deep into the forest and tie you and the cow to a tree. If the hyenas come and take the cow and leave you that is the sacrifice. If the hyenas kill you, you are nothing in this family. So who wants to take their baby to the forest so they do FGM earlier.”
After Ngakenya says this I asked in surprise if this has really happened. And she said “yes, in my parents’ time, yes. Nowadays no one does that.”
Regardless of this old practice, FGM still holds an array of consequences today. The experience for the girls is traumatic both physically and psychologically. During one of my visits to the Kimokouwa village I was speaking with a woman about FGM in the community. The woman was explaining the process and asked if I knew of the blade used. I did not know exactly what blade they were speaking of so they called a young boy so that he could go across the street and buy the blade. He came back and they showed me the small rectangular blade wrapped in a small thick paper covering. The woman and my translator Christina explained that they used a different side each time for the sharpness. And when all sides were used the corners worked the best. This woman then proceeded to tell me that they do not clean the blade! At least in this general area, the cleaning of the blade was not practiced so there were many diseases transferred among the girls.
Aside from the physical issues of FGM, the practice is a major determinant of early marriage. The ceremony for FGM is generally a large gathering and celebration for the daughters to become women. One woman says “when the father has many girls in the boma he makes a big ceremony for all girls to get FGM. The father goes around to say ‘come, come, my girls are ready to get married!’ So now you pay cow and you take” (Merikinoi, Nov. 14). The ceremony of FGM becomes a sort of “engagement” party for any man or the designated man chosen by the father to come for the daughter, pay the bride price (which is often a cow) and take the girl away. The practice also was said to result in discontinuation of school because of the “frustration psychologically and the pain” (Naatna, Nov. 15). This woman then told me as a result, when the men want the girls to be cut the women take the girls and “pretend” they have performed the practice.
The education surrounding FGM today has already altered the practice in the community. The women involved in the TEMBO classes passionately expressed to me their decision to longer participate in the practice and educate others in the community to not cut their girls. A woman named Ngakenya said “just educate. Give education to the children. I’m aware about that so I teach. I tell my son no FGM for my granddaughter. Because the effect. When the children go to school they learn more so they continue to receive education”. The attendance of TEMBO at the local schools and villages has allowed the spread of knowledge in order to stop this practice.
The right to education on sexual and reproductive health is highly unappreciated in the developed world. Especially when traditional customs related to women’s well-being are extremely harmful, the simple education needs to openly shared. The education that is given from TEMBO is so important and has enabled, especially the women, to make decisions regarding the health of their own body and the health of their children. The Maasai women I spoke to did not worry about the impact these changes had on their culture but merely wanted to create a better next generation. These women were also continuously praising TEMBO for providing this information and saying how happy they were to attain this knowledge. This motivation to learn about the truth of their different customs and receive this education for the betterment of their people and families is truly inspiring.
“Life is too tough.”
This was the common answer from the women who own businesses to my question of why they started the business. Many of the women have started their own businesses in town to provide basic needs for their family. The women have done so because they did not want to “wait for the men to bring food” and that “you must work hard to start a business and get a profit to get the basic needs for the family”. Women own businesses selling a variety of things; clothing, chickens and goats, packaged goods, yogurt, or beaded jewelry. In between taking care of their children, these women are finding time to provide a commodity to customers and an income for their family. In order to help their businesses the women have received a five-year loan from TEMBO. The women I talked to explained how they attended a seminar at TEMBO before receiving the loan that gave education on how to use the loan and improve their businesses.
The seminar the women have before receiving the loan provides essential information. Women said that without the seminar “it’s hard to know how to profit” and “I don’t know how to spend” the money received. When the women receive the loans, they are put into groups (usually anywhere from 10-30 people) and have a certain date of each month to collect the money due from the group. The women I’ve talked to also said the loan was advantageous because of its small interest but big benefit.
Several women who owned shops mentioned how the loan helped to buy new stock from the whole seller or food for livestock to bring back to the shop or house and make profit. The woman I spoke of earlier, Anthoneta, who owns the chickens and goats which are now not shared with her husband has benefited greatly from the loan. Christina and I sat in her home while asking questions but after the mother takes me out to see the various chicken pens and the food stored for them. And not only has the production been very high, but with her profit she has been able to take her daughters to school. She told me without the help of TEMBO she could not have taken her daughters up to the university level. Anthoneta has also been able to continue to build her house which she is rightfully very proud of. When I asked for a story of when she first received a profit Anthoneta said:
“I’m happy when I get a profit, because I started building the house over there (points over to the side) without an iron sheet and the first time I see a profit I go, and take an iron sheet for the house. I’m so happy.” (Anthoneta, Nov. 7)
Anthoneta is not the only one to see the profit from the loan in her day to day life. After receiving the loan, women expressed how the profit helped “pay rent for the household”, “school fees for the children” and basic needs of the family. Some said without the loan from TEMBO the business would have collapsed. And that the business may have been small before the loan and now the “business is big”. For some women the profit was a matter of not having to “go around asking for help” because now it was possible to “give food to children”, “have the daughter go to school” and “buy cement to continue building the house”. (Upendo, Nov. 13).
But owning a business, even with the loan, is not all profit. These women face a variety of challenges as well. Prices are always rising and sometimes it is difficult to make profit off of the items. Businesses are always competing as well and trying to give their customers a cheaper price while still making profit. And some days those women get home after a day at the market buying vegetables for their businesses only to find all the tomatoes mashed and splattered in their bags. Or they are sitting in their shops and find that the bananas have stayed too long on the shelf resulting in them turning black and mushy so the customers go to another store.
The type of business may also be seasonal. For those that own livestock, the drought may cause the animals to die before making any profit. For tailors, the substantial profit may only come when children are going back to school in January and June, needing their school uniforms altered or made. For those with shops for home goods and gifts, the profit may depend on occasions such as weddings or other celebrations. And for those with vegetable stands, it may depend on the fruits and vegetables in season and the price from the whole seller.
The Goat Program from TEMBO is another way for specifically Maasai women to enhance the well-being of their family and increase their capital. The Goat Program gives two female goats to each Maasai woman and one male goat for each coordinated group to share. Once the female goats have babies, the first two females go to another woman and the first male goes back to TEMBO for another group so the program can expand. The rest of the babies from their goats are for the women to sell or keep how they want.
Several women told me they had not received any profit from their goats because they were too young and did not have babies yet. Once the goats have babies, the families will benefit from the goat milk. These women have learned how to take proper care of the goats from TEMBO and some are starting to see the results.
However, one woman was hopeful for the benefit of her goats saying:
“I have two goats now and if I have four goats I continue to reproduce and when I have six I go to buy clothes, I can buy shoes. It relieves problems in my house for food, if my children don’t have food or pen, I get the basic needs.” (Nalari, Nov. 14)
Despite the current benefit, all of the women felt empowered to have their own goats and would say people come by, see the woman has goats and say, “Wow, you own a goat like a man!” The women were happy to own goats and benefit from them, giving them a sense of power in their family.
Aside from the Goat Program the women in the nearby villages who attend the classes also learn about the ability to start their own businesses in order to provide more basic needs for the family. One woman speaking of the education from the classes said “I don’t have capital so how can I do business but they say (women from TEMBO) ‘oh you have hands so you go to find stone and you sell for concrete. Start with something you have’” (Narikundawa, Nov. 20). Now the women are inspired to use their resources in order to provide more basic needs for the family. Women would also say the “fathers don’t have any idea of business” so they would close the fence of their boma when the women are trying to sell. But then the women would say “no it’s open for business!” (Nooseuri, Nov. 22).
The women in the town and villages are fighting to bring development and basic needs for their family. TEMBO is an undeniable foundation for these women to start their own businesses and continue to increase capital for betterment of the family. With this economic development the women feel empowered in the community and are able to take control of their current situation.
Women Empowerment and Hopes for the Future
“I stand like a woman. I have ability to take my daughters to school up to college, be a part of the community. When you ask a question I have something to tell you – I do this, I take my daughters to school, primary, secondary, up to college. I did not have enough money [before the loan] to take daughters to college.”
“I am proud because women are fighting to bring development.”
“I am proud like a woman because now I own my business, I take my son to school, I leave the house and help myself to get basic needs. I do not depend on anyone else so I am proud like a woman. Previously it is not easy for women to run a business but now we own businesses.”
“I do the different activities, I’m not lazy.”
“I am proud because God gives me knowledge so I am aware. I am a woman and I am aware.”
“I am a woman who has my own goats. If I have a problem I can sell the goat and solve the problem for my family. In Maasai, the husband has a goat and a woman cannot say ‘I’m going to the market to sell the goat and buy food’ – no, not allowed. But I am a woman and I have a goat, if for today I needed to sell, I sell and I have my money.”
“I am proud, I stand like a woman. I have one student in Form 4, one student in primary, and I don’t have a husband but I build my house myself. My children eat a balanced diet and the business is good, the business continues. I’m proud to be a woman in the community.”
These are some of the responses from the women when asked what is something they do that makes them feel empowered as a woman in their community. Each statement was said with passion and confidence and I could not help but feel so inspired by each woman. All of the empowerment was a result of the education received, the economic development or all they do for their family.
And at the base of this foundation is often the TEMBO organization. The praise and gratitude was endless for all of TEMBO’s work. The women are working hard for their community but this only seems to be increasing the weight of “unequal” responsibilities between men and women in the community.
The education received set an example for new generations. More people are aware now of the importance of taking the girls to school. Of not cutting the girls (no FGM). Of not “abusing women”. And now the children are taught these things at an early age in formal schooling and are coming back to teach their elders, starting from the dynamics within their family. Like one woman I talked to said “take all children to school, because then the whole world changes”.
Rightfully so, all of the women I spoke with are empowered by the actions they take today. Whether it is recognized in the community or not, or specifically recognized by men, the women know their strength and power. Times are definitely changing even if the changes seem small. One women explains her view of the women empowerment today:
“Now when a person is building a house the women will go there and say, ‘yes I can I’ll show you I can’. Also when they’re building the house and moving bricks the women come and the men say, ‘no you can’t do that’ and the women say, ‘yes I can I’ll show you’. The women are fighting for their rights.” (Florah, Nov. 22)
A woman who lived with her husband for three years in oppression and with no development is now living with her kids and providing basic needs by herself. A woman who went door to door asking for things like salt or sugar for her family now runs her own business and provides these resources herself. Women who began to build houses themselves are now finished and sleeping in their comfortable beds. Women who thought they could not take their daughters to school have now learned some English from their daughter graduating Form 6. Women who were told goats are for the men to own now own goats. Women who were forced into early marriage and participated in FGM are fighting for their daughters to have the choice and enjoy being with their husbands. These women have power in the community; from their children, from their businesses, from their voices fighting for women development. They are confident. They are strong and hard-working. They are proud of themselves. But most importantly, they are taking control of their own situations and making positive changes in order to set the stage for the next generation of gender equality.
The women in Longido, as in much of the world, already have their hands full from making sure their children go to school, preparing food, and providing basic needs all while trying to take care of themselves and their own basic needs. On top of this is often the responsibility to provide an income for their family so they can continue to provide the basic needs. The topic of my study left me in awe of the strength of women in the community and allowed me to learn so many new things every day about the gender inequality in the town and especially within the Maasai community. My stay in Longido was easily the most educational and inspirational period of my life thus far. I learned just how important education is for both men and women in order to make real changes happen. And despite the issues set by societal structures and cultural beliefs I learned how strong of the women of the Longido District are and how deeply they want improvement for their children’s and grandchildren’s generation so that they do not have to endure the same.
These women are not sitting back watching life happen and they are not afraid.