Life of a Maasai Woman
Like most poor women in African nations, the majority of Maasai women in Tanzania are destined to live a life of poverty and cultural oppression. Today, even with free primary school education in Tanzania, only 37 percent of Maasai girls enroll in school, and only 10 percent of girls make it to secondary school.
Typically, Maasai girls are circumcised between the ages of 11 to 13 and soon afterwards married to a man chosen by her father in exchange for cattle and cash. A Maasai woman will never be allowed to divorce, except in the most egregious cases of physical abuse, and will never be allowed to marry again, even if the husband her father chooses is an old man who dies when she is still in her teens. Instead, she becomes the property of one of her husband’s brothers. She will be one of multiple wives, and will have many children, regardless of her health or ability to provide for them. She will rise early every day to milk cows, and spend her days walking miles to water holes to launder clothes and get water, and to gather heavy loads of firewood to carry back home. If she is lucky, she will have a donkey to share her burden. She will live a life of few physical comforts, dependent on a husband and a family she did not choose. Her life expectancy is 45 years.
If you educate a woman: She will know her rights and have the confidence and independence to stand up for them. She will choose whom to marry and when to marry. She will have fewer children, and they will be healthier and better educated than the previous generation. She will not circumcise her daughters. She will have economic security. She will spend 90 percent of her income on her family, compared to 35 percent that an educated man would spend. She will help support her parents. She will not forget where she came from.
But the cultural pressures against women’s education are nothing short of overwhelming.
The Maasai are one of the most impoverished tribes in East Africa. A noble and dignified people, they have proudly maintained their traditional lifestyle and cultural identity despite pressures of the modern world. They live a nomadic lifestyle raising cattle and goats, wearing traditional clothes, and living in small villages called manyattas, which are circular arrangements of mud huts. But increasing land acquisition throughout Tanzania’s Maasailand is threatening their nomadic culture, and pressure to accept change is growing. With this pressure comes a more urgent need to educate the current generation of boys and girls. In the process of preserving their culture, however, the Maasai have embraced a system that denies women basic human rights: the right to an education; the right to control her body, the right to choose whom and when to marry, and the right to express an opinion.