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Maasai women take leadership in Ngorongoro

February 15 2017
In the Ngorongoro district of Tanzania, indigenous women are getting organised. They don’t want to be kept out of decision-making processes - they want to be heard and respected.

With almost 40 percent of the land designated as protected areas, Tanzania is one of the countries with major tourism revenues in Africa. In the northeast, the Ngorongoro district is the home of the well-known tourist attraction the Ngorongoro Crater and the bordering Serengeti National Park.

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area receives alone around 30 million US dollars a year from tourism. Still, one-third of the population, including indigenous communities, live in poverty.

The indigenous Maasai community struggles with poverty, hunger and lack of basic human rights. As a consequence, Maasai men are increasingly leaving the area for paid jobs in the cities.   

At the end of the day, Maasai women are left alone facing the challenges of securing food and water for their families.

To ensure that their particular demands are heard, the community-based organisation Pastoralist Women Council has assisted the Maasai women in Ngorongoro to get organised and have their own organisation established.

The self-organistion of the Maasai women is supported by IWGIA. It offers legal assistance and runs two committees for women from within the conservation area.

Representing the demands of indigenous women

“Usually, the management at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area fails to provide medicine and food for the communities,” says project officer and legal advisor Melau Alais.

To tackle this, in 2016 the new women based organisation established a Health and Education Committee to secure basic services for Maasai women living in the area.

“In 2016 we achieved to create a Health and Education Committee that represents the demands of indigenous women from within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area,” says Melau Alais. For him, the establishment of the women based organisation is a huge step for fostering women-led participation.

With the support and guidance of a group of legal advisors, the organisation empowers the participation of indigenous women in decision-making processes affecting their lives.

Moving women’s rights closer to decision makers  

“The Maasai women use the organisation to enforce the demands of the community,” says Melau Alais. The organisation of the indigenous women give them easier access to decision makers and relevant processes.

The Ngorongoro has historically been a site of conflict between the indigenous Maasai population and the wildlife conservation authorities.

After being forced to leave the Serengeti National Park in 1959, the pastoralists Maasai were promised occupation rights in a multiple-land use agreement on the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, now a protected area and a World Heritage Site. The agreement states that the authorities are responsible for balancing the interests of wildlife conservation and the demands of the indigenous residents.

However, the indigenous population of Ngorongoro suffers from hunger and extreme poverty.

The empowerment of women with the establishment of the Women Based Organisation has given them a way to take active part in the development of the area.

For Olepose, a traditional leader from the village of Oleorobi in Ngorongoro and an active member of the Women Health Committee, the organisation has given her more confidence in raising demands:   

“I am more able to negotiate on health services than before,” says Olepose.

According to the group of legal advisors, the construction of a physical space within the territory brings a huge impact for the Maasai women:

“Women-led participation can bring the changes needed to manage the conflicts in Ngorongoro,” concludes Melau Alais.