The life of a Maasai girl is riddled with responsibilities from a very young age. This coupled with ownership by male figures all their lives and a rampant rate of illiteracy makes for women who are not empowered to become problem solvers or providers in the families that they carry most of the burden for. Other issues that a maasai girl faces are Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Early forced marriages, Illiteracy and Gender based violence among others.
Female Genital Mutilation
FGM is not only a painful physical experience, but also a health risk to young girls. There has been occurrences of a young girl becoming seriously ill after she has undergone the cut and even death due to excessive bleeding. The culture of FGM has been made illegal, however, a lot of young girls are still coerced into it or even forced. The assumption that one is not a lady or ready for marriage before they get the cut, makes young girls, most who are illiterate participate in the mutilation practice.
Traditionally, a Maasai girl is “spoken for” from a very young age, in some instances, even before birth. This leads to a cycle in which women are perceived as cash cows for their father. The more daughters a man had, the wealthier he was in the view of the community. Girls as young as 12 are often forced into marriage because an education is not prioritised. These marriages most times are to men significantly older than they are. Once married, these girls begin child bearing at a very young age. The burden of daily chores that range from house chores, seeking pastures for animals, drawing water from KMs away, and still taking care of the family, lead to a burdened unhealthy lifestyle for these young girls and women.
Education is not a priority for many of the parents in the Maa community. This has led to girls not having the resources needed to empower themselves. Lack of empowerment has made them not participate in the decision making in their homes and community, putting them significantly back economically and socially.
Gender Based Violence
A Maasai woman is held responsible for a lot of things that happen to her family. If one’s daughter got pregnant before marriage, the mother bore the brunt of that and in most cases was a violent punishment. Despite domestic violence, a woman would rarely be granted divorce, and in the rare cases where one was granted, the woman could never remarry.
Lack of self-ownership, financial capability and knowledge has made Maasai women lag behind in their development. This has a domino effect on the next generations and therefore urgently needs to be dealt with.
As Patinaai Osim, in collaboration with various NGOs and government organizations and Kajiado County government we have worked towards ensuring women rights and inequality violations are being addressed and women are provided for the information and safe space to express themselves and become change makers in the community.