- Einotti considered dropping out of school biggest regret in life
IT all began when the 17 year-old was impregnated by a man, twice her age. Not only had she became the village’s laughing stock, but had to now fend off her dad’s determination of getting married first and later returning to school.
“My father wanted me to get married as an excuse for not returning to school, this was impossible. I was too young for that ,” she recalls.
Einotti felt that she was too immature for matrimonial life, and her dreams of becoming a pilot would be shattered once she became a wife, but her father, a conservative Maasai man was determined to marry off Einotti to an unknown suitor.
Her resistance to get married earned her friends and enemies in equal measure. “It’s a pity that even in my situation, I was still estranged and ostracized by my clan,” says the tearful girl.
She had to occasionally hide in the bushes just to avoid her father’s wrath. “I was getting more overwhelmed by the pregnancy and the stress every day.”
Upon realizing that she was now treading on thin ice, Einotti sought the help of Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC), a non-profit membership organization that works in northern Tanzania.
PWC works to achieve gender equality and community development through the empowerment of pastoralist women and girls.
The NGO took Einotti to a rescue center in Loliondo Ward, Ngorongoro District, just to shield her from her father’s determined goal to become married against her desire.
The officials at PWC found Einotti a friendly environment to stay as they endlessly continued to engage her father to change his mind, but to no avail.
“My father was a firm believer and devoted to conservative cultural traditions, he wouldn’t easily give in to your request at the expense of what he believes in,” she said.
Einotti is clear representation of many Maasai girls who contend with the retrogressive culture of early marriage, and forced to drop out of school and follow their suitors.
The young women have had to, more often than not, sacrifice their dreams and become married to men against their wills. Such is the common practice among the men from the pastoralist communities living in northern Tanzania.
Young Maasai girls like Einotti have been forced to grapple with the pressure for early marriage, where women are traditionally valued on the basis of how many children they can produce for their husbands, not their education or economic success.
Such pressures also come with economic incentives, where it is widely believed that a daughter’s marriage increases the wealth of the girl’s family, through combined cattle and cash dowries and her father is relieved off the economic burden of supporting her.
The practice of early marriage is worsened by the increasing poverty of the Maasai people, which leads Maasai fathers to marry their daughters off at increasingly younger ages. Ms Maanda Ngoitiko, the Executive Director of PWC views this plight of young Maasai women in the region as the proverbial elephant in the room.
“This subject is mostly spoken about in hushed tones among our communities in the good name of protecting and conserving our culture,” she says.
Ms Ngoitiko, who like Einotti, had to flee her community for fear of being married off at a young age, observes that women’s rights in the community are under serious threat, perhaps more than any other place in East Africa.
At the age of 15 Maanda ran away in order to gain a secondary school education. She was helped by the first pastoralist organisation in Tanzania, KIPOC.
Established in 1997, her organisation has worked tirelessly to empower women from pastoral communities to control their economic livelihoods and meet their daily needs, and ensure their access to a quality education and create a society, where women are independent and equal partners just like men.
The organisation also creates solidarity among women to claim their rights and facilitate access to essential social services including reproductive health services.
“Maasai women lack land and property ownership rights and the access to basic healthcare and education, we can no longer work alone, it is very important to build sisterhood in our endeavors,” she says.
To date, the NGO has successfully pursued 159 Gender Based Violence (GBV), related offences at different courts in the country. It also works closely with the Law School of Tanzania in training community paralegals working in pastoralist communities.
“Unfortunately the vice (GBV), is deeply rooted among the Maasai communities that is why we are striving to ensure that the girl child is treated equally in the society,” she says.
As she cuddles her nine months baby named Erasto outside PWC premises in Arusha, Einotti beams with a smile knowing that her journey of becoming a pilot has just begun.
She is now a day old scholar at Olasiti Secondary School. “I leave my son at PWC office and go to school every day.” “Thanks to the organisation, the future pilot will be joining another boarding school early next year.
I’m no longer in contact with my father, I only gathered that he has married four wives again,” she says. Another protégée of PWC, *Namunyak will be accompanied by a lawyer to a local court to learn about her fate.
The 43 year-old had filed a case at the district court to demand the share of part of the wealth she acquired with her husband. “I was subjected to thorough beatings and insults from my husband after he married his second and third spouse,” she recounts.
This was an experience she could no longer put up with, particularly when he threatened to kill her.
The soft-spoken woman recalls recording a statement at a police station on her husband’s alleged attempt to have her killed, only to be charged with the offence.
“My husband connived with the officers at the station and eventually chased me from his house,” she offers.
She had to seek refuge at a friend’s house in Sakala village in Loliondo Ward, where she learnt about PWC.
Before being chased away by the husband, Ms Namunyak says they used to own a house, a two-acre farm, a car, 45 goats, 210 sheep and 72 cows, properties she feels entitled to also have ownership.
“We brought and acquired the properties together before he divorced me.” PWC’s efforts at empowering women and educating them on their rights haven’t gone unnoticed at the regional level.
The African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), a grant making organisation that supports the promotion of African women’s rights, awarded the Arusha-based organisation a grant in 2017 to support their work.
Based in Accra, Ghana, AWDF has awarded grants of over US$41 million since inception, to over 1,300 women’s organisations in 46 countries in Africa and the Middle East.