Sidi Sarro and Francis Odhiambo ask a group of Maasai women in Kenya about the challenges they encounter in a community slow to change.
What difficulties have Maasai women experienced in the past and how are you tackling them?
The lives of Maasai women were not very good before because we just sat idly: we waited for the men to find food and to tend to the cattle. If they returned without the food they were searching for, there was nothing we could do. And then kirangazi [the hot and dry season, between October and December] came and killed our cows. Our women decided to unite and form a group. The first reason for this was that if one of us got really sick, we would be ready to help with her duties.
Would you say Maasai women have a voice in your society?
We don’t have a say in front of the men. But now we are starting to understand each other a bit more because of the group we have formed – the men see that we have developed. So now if I go to my husband and tell him that there is a project I want to do, he tries to listen to me.
So, you think that with proper training your voices can be heard?
Yes…I think, with enough training, changes will take place. Even now, some bad customs are slowly ceasing. For example, in the past, if a daughter was supposed to get married, her mother would have no say in the matter. If she tried to speak out, both mother and daughter would be thrown out of the house. But now women secretly tell the other women in our group so that they can come to rescue the daughter. If men were given the knowledge through teaching, then they would understand that even women have a voice. But currently, not all men have that knowledge.
What would your group like to teach other Maasai women?
We would like them to learn beekeeping, flowering, planting trees and looking after the environment. We also want more teaching from other women because we have attended several seminars on the abolition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); we want people from outside to get this knowledge so that it can help them learn more about FGM and early marriages.
Some women have been demonstrating by blocking roads because they want their girls to be circumcised. What do you have to say to them?
I advise these women to educate their girls instead. We don’t have to circumcise them to prove that they are women – schools can make girls into women. These women are actually losing their children.
We have seen people who were circumcised by our community a long time ago who are all adults now and it’s nothing but torture for them. When a girl gets circumcised it means she will be married off to a man, while at school girls are still seen as young.
Are there any opportunities for women to work?
There isn’t much. All you can see are small businesses here and there. Mostly, we just get food from the crops that we grow from our farms – and only a few of us farm. We rent most of our farms out. Although now, since we introduced livestock enclosures, we have learned a lot. Our group members are trying to farm small things.
We also make bead ornaments, but most of the beads just stay inside the house because there is no market for them. This is because there are plenty of Maasai people selling them. If there was a market for them, it would be easier for us to get income. A team visited us from Europe, they gave us money and we united and bought this maize grinding machine.
The women live in Kajaido County, Kenya and are part of Osurwa Enduor Women’s Group.
Sidi Sarro is a citizen journalist for Radar, a communications rights organization. Francis Odhiambo works with Maasai communities.
This article is timed to coincide with our feminism issue.