Many people in the Maasai community consider the particular challenges faced by women and girls to be their top priority, and MERC is committed to supporting these efforts. Maasai women are especially disadvantaged in their access to formal education and other opportunities to develop leadership in the world outside of Maasailand.
Because such a miniscule percentage of Maasai women have received formal education, and therefore they do not speak English, Swahili and other more widely used languages, Maasai women are as a group even more excluded from participating in decisions that impact their lives—made by the Kenyan government and education policy makers, for example—than are Maasai men.
Maasai women face other challenges. Maasai people typically do not have access to clean water, and women spend the majority of many of their days carrying water home from distant rivers and boreholes. The community faces hunger during drought times, and women go without to feed their children. Their main avenue to earning money is by selling beads but women are often cheated out of profits by middlemen because, as they are not educated, they cannot protect their own interests.
But Maasai women have vision about what needs to be done. They want education for their children, boys and girls. They want beading cooperatives to fairly sell and distribute their work. They want affordable clinics. And they want water, above all, to improve the health of their communities and free up their time to earn money for school fees and other needs. Maasai women are committed to the survival of their communities and right to determine their ways of life, and we support their efforts. MERC collaborates with a variety of outside organizations to fund water projects that are overseen by local boards composed of Maasai men and women. Read more about community water projects here. We support the improvement of schools in Maasailand and find scholarships for children in the greatest need with a focus on girls. Read more about education here. And we support beading cooperatives and other small businesses designed by women.
In 2007, Prescott College researchers investigated Tasaru, a large “safe” house located in Narok, funded by U.S. based NGOs. Following interviews with Maasai girls who had fled Tasaru, they found broad evidence of corruption in this program, and of abuse of the Maasai girls living there. This tragedy significantly increased the mistrust of the Maasai community in regard to girls’ education. The report was made available to the community leadership and efforts made to make the donors aware. This type of research seeks to hold international NGO's accountable for their work in Maasailand. Find the report on our Publications page.
In response to the findings about Tasaru, and in support of more positive efforts, MERC worked to facilitate a partnership between Nabolu in Narok with Women’s Empowerment Breakthrough (WEB), a feminist student initiated Prescott College organization that works to educate and empower teenage girls in Prescott. Nabolu takes in run-away Maasai girls, finds them scholarships and provides safety, while helping them re-establish ties with their communities. Girls from Prescott have travelled to Kenya in support of Nabolu. This program is completely Maasai initiated and led. Nabolu is seeking funds to build a new safe-house and looking for future partnerships.
Read more about Women's Empowerment issues on our Publications Page.