The work of ECLAT to empower women in the Maasai community is of fundamental importance to the culture of this ethnic group. The head of the women’s work of ECLAT is herself a Maasai. She initiates, coordinates and supervises the women’s groups in the district. Such groups of women are unusual for the traditional Maasai society. Therefore, it was necessary that ECLAT initially went from house to house and asked the husbands for permission to allow their wives to take part in the women’s groups. In the meantime, 75 groups of up to 30 women have been formed (more than 2,000 women in all). In a society where women do not have their own property and need to ask their husbands for permission to meet with other women, it’s not taken for granted. The high number of women’s groups today shows the importance that women attach to these groups – and their high expectations. Each group is officially registered by the state. A chairwoman and a secretary are elected. ECLAT visits and supervises the groups in their villages. In the process, the women talk about the use of the financial support granted to them (see above), but if time and circumstances permit it, they also talk about everyday life. This includes, for example, questions of health, hygiene, domestic violence, family planning and the importance of school education. The latter illustrates the close connection to the school projects of ECLAT. Development needs education. Therefore, it is important to increase public acceptance of the value and benefits of education.
For a second reason, the women’s groups are important: As a rule, the Maasai women hardly have any property. They have to build their own house to marry, for which they have to care and in which they later live with their children. The livestock of the spouse covers their daily needs and that of their children. They barely have their own money, even to buy small things for everyday use, such as soap. So another goal of women’s groups is that women become financially more independent from their husbands.
It involves the provision of small sums of money that they can use for themselves and their children. Approximately 45 groups have already been provided with start-up capital by ECALT. The women decide together how the money is invested, e. g. they buy several calves. The women’s group jointly takes care of the calves until the outgrown cattle can be sold. One third of the proceeds will be distributed to the members of the women’s group and two thirds will be reinvested in a new project. Women earn a certain amount of money, which they can then dispose of themselves. Each year another 10 to 12 groups receive such a starting capital of 2,000,000,000 TZS (approximately €870) per group, so that in a few years all groups will have received such support.
However, the changes in the self-confidence of women and their social position also affect the men. ECLAT is careful not to exclude the men from their meetings with the women’s groups.
The only way they don’t feel deceived is for them to notice what is discussed in the women’s groups, what kind of experience women have with their money and to hear that the women also always exchange views on the subject of children and education.
Of course, there have also been cases in which ECLAT has had to resolve conflicts with men with the help of tribal elders: a task that is not difficult for the leader of ECLAT, an educated Maasai who stands up for his ethnic group and has experience in the political leadership of a district.
Overview of the individual project steps:
- Support for 10 other women’s groups, each with 2,000,000 TZS in 2014
- Support for 10 other women’s groups, each with 2,000,000 TZS in 2015
- Support for 11 other women’s groups, each with 2,000,000 TZS in 2016
- Regular meetings with the women’s groups in the villages by the ECLAT Women’s Work Director