Interview: “Pastoralist women have the capacity to lead”

19 December 2016

“After my university education I felt I had to work for change in my community.” Paine Eulalia Mako is a Masaai and a pastoralist in Tanzania. She works to connect grass roots and national level campaigns for pastoralists’ land rights. Much of her work is about empowering women to take the lead and claim what is rightfully theirs. Paine explains why women have been most active in their communities’ recent struggles for land.

Photo: Ujamaa Community Resource Team

How has Tanzanian pastoralists’ access to land changed recently?

There has been a lot of restriction of pastoralists to certain areas of land. There are several factors contributing to this increased restriction. But generally in Tanzania, large scale investment is increasing and this has a huge impact on pastoralists’ access to land. Most of the areas that investors are interested in (for conservation, wildlife management and hunting) happen to be pastoral areas.

When investors come in, most of them go through the government and there is rarely appropriate communication with pastoral communities to let them know what is happening. There is a lot of friction between the investors and pastoralist communities because by the time the government and an investor have come to an agreement, pastoralists have not had any opportunity to participate in the decisions that affect them.

What are the consequences of increased land rights restrictions for pastoralists?

Paine: “We empower and consult at the grassroots level so pastoralists are able to […] claim what is rightfully theirs.” Photo: Ujamaa Community Resource Team
Increased restrictions cause increased livestock death and ultimately hunger amongst pastoralist communities. Land is a very important resource for pastoralists. As you know pastoralists are nomadic in nature. They move from one place to another in search of pasture to sustain their livestock. When you restrict them from moving, the sustainability of the livestock is also strained. They will not be able to survive for long in a restricted area once the dry season arrives. The land dries up and we have to move out and look for greener pastures and water for our animals. So, especially in the dry season, if there is no pasture or water, there will be no milk to take care of our children and our families.

In Loliondo, my home and where I work, we have several investors. Some have direct links with our communities and we find agreements together. But we also have problems with investors who come in through the government. For example we have had several struggles with a hunting company that has been in the area since 1992. In 2009 during a major drought, the company blocked access to a vital area for grazing and watering our livestock in the dry season. The company had backing from the government and the communities were left on their own. There was mass death of livestock as a result. We have had several of these type of problems across Tanzania.

Can you explain why women pastoralists have been most active in the recent struggles for land rights?

Women have to react because they are most impacted by each case of land grabbing. It is relatively easy for men to move to other areas to look for alternative forms of livelihood. But for women, who have five or six children to look after, how will they move and where will they go? Women have a strong attachment to their land. They ask: “where will our children live if we don’t speak out? If we don’t act, the men will not act on our behalf. They do not feel the same about the future of our children.”

We see that women come together, contribute the little they have and are prepared to go all the way to the national level. In Loliondo, the government wanted to create a 1500 km2 conservation reserve that would restrict pastoralists’ access to their village land. In 2013, it was the women who came out strongly to fight. They went all the way to speak to the Prime Minister and the national press.

In the villages, women also struggle to influence change in the traditional, all male, leadership structure. Women are taking steps to participate in decisions and hold local leaders accountable for their actions. For example, there are cases where male leaders of the village council accept bribes to give outsiders access to village land. In one such case in Simanjiro District, Manyara Region, a group of women occupied the village council office in order to have their land rights recognised. They slept for five nights on the ground until their claims were heard by the village council.

The women went all the way to speak to the Prime Minister and the national press

How do you support women to uphold their rights?

I am the gender coordinator for the Ujamaa Community Resource Team and I lead the women’s rights and leadership programme. In this programme we organise women’s leadership forums. The forums include training on empowerment, womens’ rights, land rights and traditional management practices. For example, we simplify laws such as the village land act so that women know their rights and can defend them.

A forum usually has 24 women participants with each woman representing a sub-village (administrative unit within a village). The women are elected by other women in their communities as they are responsible for sharing their lessons from the forum. Traditional leaders from the village council are also included in the forums. This is a way to show the broader community that pastoralist women have the capacity to lead and to promote acceptance of these type of changes.

As well as empowering women to have access and control over land, the challenge we face now is about economic empowerment. I hear a lot of women saying, “we have the knowledge, I know my rights and how to acquire a piece of land. But without the resources to support myself – I still have a challenge.” This is why, as an organisation, the Ujamma Community Resource Team also addresses economic empowerment. For example, in one community women have set up a cattle dip business which ensures they have their own income.

Why is it so important to support grassroots actions as well as advocate for land rights at the national level?

Paine leads a women’s rights and leadership progamme. Photo: Ujamaa Community Resource Team

These two levels need to be connected because things happen at the top which affect people on the ground. We empower and consult at the grassroots level so that pastoralists are able to reach higher levels to claim what is rightfully theirs. The women’s rights and leadership forums is a good example. We also play a role when pastoralists are not aware or able to participate in decisions and discussions at the regional or national level.

For example, recently there was a land policy review conducted by the government. It took place in a very short space of time. We worked to ensure that if people at the village level could not attend the regional meetings arranged by the government, we could at least represent their issues at that platform.

Another example is the constitutional review due to be finalised in 2020. The government review team visits villages but they don’t take the responsibility of ensuring that all people are able to participate and they do not visit all the villages. Again, we work to make sure that people are aware that this is happening and that there is an opportunity to participate and have their voices heard.

If pastoralists have their land rights and economic independence, how different would Tanzania be?

It will be different when pastoralists have access to and control over their resources. Pastoralism in Tanzania will be seen as an official mode of livelihood. The government will give more weight to pastoralists. They will be recognised for their role in supporting the national economy and Tanzania’s daily food and basic needs.

Although we have a lot of struggles, there is a lot happening on the ground. And, it is the women who are coming out strongly and are fully prepared to forge the change we need.

Has your work inspired other communities and women under similar circumstances?

I don’t want to take credit for things that don’t link directly back to mine and colleagues’ work at the Ujamaa Community Resource Team. Generally though, our successful approach of working with traditional leaders to influence change is being used more widely now. In the Maasai pastoral system, and generally in pastoral systems in Tanzania, male traditional leaders make rules and regulations in the community. These same traditional leaders are very influential in the community and are able to bring about change. We work together with them, especially for acceptance of women as equal beings capable of engaging in community development. More and more communities and particularly women are engaging with the traditional leadership system to influence the changes they want to see in their communities.

Interview: Madeleine Florin (