Life of a Maasai Girl. The Maasai tribe face starvation and desperation on a daily basis, this extreme poverty has led to an oppressive cultural norm for females – of all ages – in the tribe. These young girls are married off to much older men, who have multiple wives, in exchange for a one time payment. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) make the girls more “valuable” while education does not. These child brides are forced to birth as many children as possible, regardless of their ability to care for them.
Maasai women traditionally have no rights at all. They have been treated as working chattel, not unique human beings with preferences and inherent rights.
Traditionally, Maasai men are allowed as many wives as they can afford. The wives are paid for with livestock, the measure of wealth in pastoral cultures. Older men, generally have more animals, and can pay for girls as young as 8 years old. The fate of a “child bride" is not easy: she will be a virtual serf, with no choice but to bear as many babies as her owner-husband can produce.
Educated women are respected assets to the community instead of being treated as property, students gain value as educated persons. According to the United Nations, the birth rate typically drops by 50 % in just one generation, when girls and women have a basic education..
FGM: Brief description of the situation and the problem
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is the traditional practice of initiating girls into womanhood. FGM among the Maasai of Tanzania is as high as 99%. FGM is one of the most strongly held tribal customs revered by both men and women among the Maasai people. Traditionally a man is not allowed to get married to an uncircumcised woman. In the old Maasai tradition, all women must be circumcised in order to get married. FGM is part and parcel of the existence of the Maasai people from this perspective.
FGM subjects women and girls to the violent process of cutting and removing all or part of their genitals especially the clitoris. Often local circumcisers, who have no medical training or capacity to deal with complications, use crude un-sterilized cutting metal instruments. FGM has very serious and irreversible physical and psychological effects on its victims such as extreme pain and shock, extensive bleeding, Sexually Transmitted Diseases including HIV transmission, problems during childbirth that can result in the mothers death, and continence.
Contrary to other tribes who practice FGM at a specific age, the Maasai people have no specific period of the year for FGM activities. Among Maasai, FGM is typically done throughout the year when the girl is 12 to 16 years of age. However, with the introduction of law by the Government of Tanzania to ban all violence against women and anti FGM campaigns going on in the country, the Maasai elders have agreed to stop FGM among their people but due to strongly held customs, FGM now is done secretly as early as 6 years old, without celebrations to avoid consequences of the law. At the ages of 13 to 16 only initiation ceremony are done. The process of cutting genitals has already been done long before.
The highest institution in the Maasai tradition is the Laibon, Laibon is a monarchy, and this institution links the Maasai with their God. In essence the Laibon is mostly the spiritual leader. Laibon can set cleansing and punishment criteria if the Maasai go contrary to their God’s wish. There are two Laibon for Maasai in both Kenya and Tanzania, their area of operations are such that in Tanzania the Loliondo area in Ngorongoro district belongs to the Laibon in Kenya whereas in Kenya Loitokitok area in Kajiado district belongs to the Laibon in Tanzania. This set up has been there even before the coming of colonialist.
Second to the Laibon, is the Council of Traditional Leaders (CTL), the CTL have 27 members each is responsible for a certain location. So there are two CTL for all Maasai people in Kenya and Tanzania, in each country the CTL are advised by two elected elders. The CTL among other things is responsible for all administrative issues among the Maasai, the CTL are custodian of the Maasai traditional laws and practices including FGM in consultation with the Laibon. To institute any changes to the existing traditions and norms the CTL confers with the Laibon so as to clear out doubt for reprisal from their God. As administrators CTL members solve any traditional conflict and give punishment to traditional law offenders. The CTL are also responsible for advising the Laibon on the time for passing out from one age group to elderly group. Below the CTL are the elderly followed by different age groups. A woman in Maasai traditional bears the age groups of their respective husbands.
The Value of Education
Maasai women are especially disadvantaged in Tanzania. For financial and cultural reasons, they have little access to secondary education. As a result, they are often bartered for a dowry of cattle in an arranged marriage as young as age 8.
When Maasai girls are able to attend secondary and post-secondary schools, they become agents of change for their family and community.
“Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world."
– Larry Summers
Chief Economist, World Bank
UN research has shown that one of the most effective ways to improve the economic well being of a community is to educate its women.
– Jared Akama Ondieki Center For Partnership And Civic Engagemen
”Study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition and promote health, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS.”