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Maasai women's struggle against male-dominance now bears fruits in Tanzania

08 December 2014, 08:15

Arusha - Sara Mollel, 44, is one of the happiest Maasai women in northern Tanzania's region of Arusha.

Her happiness comes from what she described as "social and economic liberation" in the pastoralist community, which is characterized as strongly patriarchal, often polygamous, and semi- nomadic society trying to preserve their cultural traditions despite influence from globalization and the modern world.

In Maasai society, women are typically not represented in the decision-making process or any sort of politics, and have few rights, taking on the role of domestic chores, cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing

"In our community, a woman had nothing to own at family level, as a result we're marginalized and continue to live in abject poverty despite of being family caretakers," the mother of five says. "We are now free to do business and even taking part in decision making bodies."

She says a number of Maasai women are now in different political posts and some are now becoming ward councilors through either elected directly or under the Special Seats arrangements.

With regular public dialogues and empowerment seminars, Mollel says women in the pastoralist community changed on how they see themselves and even how the men relate with them.

"We are now able to stand up and talk in the community meeting and be listened to," she says.

"Indeed, this is a result of long time intervention from different players in the district including local and international NGOs, and faith-based organizations. These kinds of dialogues had inspired us as Maasai women to uphold gender equality," says Mollel, a resident of Longido District, located few kilometers from Tanzania-Kenya border of Namanga.

She says in the past a Maasai woman had no significant voice before a man, "but now we're happy with what that has happened, as we have been free to speak out in front of men."

Sioni Kereine from Ketumbeine ward in Longido says apart from the ongoing efforts of empowering Maasai women, more need to be done as girls are not regarded as boys do in the Maasai community while men give much attention to boy children.

"It is time for nomadic communities to change the mind-sets by giving equal opportunities to both girls and boys to get education. This will help in addressing the existing early marriages for girls in this community," she says, adding that despite the fact that women are the ones taking care of children and entire family affairs, they had been denied freedom to use the resources because of a patriarchal setting.

"We are like slaves because we are not benefiting from our labor," Kereine said, calling on the Maasai men to change their mind-set and treat women as their equal partners.

"It is high time for women wake up and convince men that they are equal and should equally engage in productive work and share resources," she says.

Ndinini Kinesera Sikar, Executive director of Maasai Women Development Organization (MWEDO), urges the government and other partners to come up with better strategies geared to address challenges facing women in nomadic communities.

The official says that the economic and cultural role of women in those communities were imperative, noting that a Maasai woman has no voice before men, a situation that denies them owning properties in their families due to male dominance.

Samuel Mollel, one of Maasai men in the drought-stricken area, says awareness campaigns played a big role in bridging the gap between men and women in such patriarchy community.

"Right now, there are Maasai women who are progressing in their business endeavors compared to the past. I support the changes because women have a big role to play in socioeconomic development, " he says.

Petro Akham, an Arusha-based human rights activist, describes the current cultural transformation as a result of long-time awareness campaign in the nomadic society in Tanzania and Africa at large.

"The room for women to air their views remained open and in turn this is what we call development," he says.

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- Xinhua


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