Thursday, 30 May 2013 14:09

Rise of gender based violence cases in Narok

Written by Antony Taipukel

Maasai women are crying out for help to the Government and non-governmental organisations to intervene.

These women are victims of rising cases of gender based violence (GBV) and are calling on the authorities and civil society to come to their rescue.

They fear that like most poor women in Africa, a majority of them are destined to live a life of poverty and cultural oppression and accuse their community of embracing a system that denies women their basic human rights.

These include the right to education; right to control her body, right to choose whom and when to marry, and right to express an opinion.

Cultural practices such as female genital mutilation, early and forced marriages, rape and polygamy that have made them subordinate to their men have frustrated their social economic development over the years.

According to Lucy Sadera, chairlady Maendeleo ya Wanawake Narok County, oppression of women is embedded in Maasai culture that places them in the same category as children. Sadera says that despite the significant social and economic roles that they play within the community, they do not approve of the retrogressive cultural practices but it is the men to say when the elder girl should be circumcised and married; when land or any family property should be sold; when to have sex with her whether she is ready for it or not among other issues.

Decisions

“Our husbands just make decisions and challenging them is not an option. We just give in to everything, even perennial beating is part of our lives,” explains Sadera.

The women were speaking during a Media Encounter between grassroots women and journalists organised by the African Woman and Child Feature Service through the Peace Initiative Kenya (PIK) project in Narok County.

Peace Initiative Kenya engages with deeper structural issues around violent practices, especially against women and girls and supports women to address the violence they experience both within their homes and communities.

The media encounter was an informal session between media practitioners and women from the grassroots and focused on issues around gender based violence as is experienced first hand by women.

The media encounter gave the journalists an opportunity to listen to the women and get a better understanding of their problems and how they could highlight them from an informed position.

“Let us hold on to our culture that will help us and do away with bad cultures. Involve men in the process because if they are left out nothing will happen.” — Evalyn Aruasa, Narok County Deputy Governor{jb_quoteleft}“Let us hold on to our culture that will help us and do away with bad cultures. Involve men in the process because if  they are left out nothing will happen.” — Evalyn Aruasa, Narok  County Deputy Governor {/jb_quoteleft}

According to Hon Soipan Tuya, the Women’s Representative Narok County, violence against women among the Maasai is normal. However, she notes that gender based violence is broader  than wife beating.

“Gender based violence needs to be humanized. It is important to encourage people to talk about how it affects them,” says Tuya. She spoke a day earlier when she addressed a Media Roundtable organized by African Woman and Child Features also under the Peace Initiative Kenya project.

“Gender based violence is a socialization problem and there is need to put equal measure and bring it to an end,” Tuya notes. She adds: “It is important to involve everybody, including men, to deal with the problem holistically.”

Tuya reiterated that legal option was not the solution: “It is important to talk to those affected and the men involved so that gender based violence can be brought to an end.”

Even as Tuya spoke, women in Narok note that while the role of a woman in society is to complement her husband, this is not the same for the Maasai woman because she does much more physical work than the man; her chores are rather repetitive while those of the man are managerial in nature and often require decisionmaking.

Expectations

In the Maasai culture, women are expected to do many chores which include constructing their huts, fetching water, feeding the animals, gathering firewood, milking cattle, cooking, bringing up of children and keeping the household functioning.

Although she does not own any property, since everything belongs to the man, her husband apportions a number of cows, sheep and goats to her for which she takes charge of the products such as milk, butter, meat and skin among others but the animals still belong to the man.

The most challenging thing for the women in Narok is that they are never able to tell when the man will beat them. The early warning signs are not there because in the relationships there are no endearments.

These sentiments were also echoed by Narok County Deputy Governor, Evalyn Aruasa, who noted that most women were oppressed including those in leadership.

She notes that cultural practices that were retrogressive should be done away with so that change can come to Narok County.

“Let us hold on to our culture that  will help us and do away with bad cultures,” Aruasa notes. She adds: “Involve men in the process because if they are left out nothing will happen.”

According to Aruasa, unless women are economically independent, no change will come to them. “It is important that the Maasai woman becomes financially independent and this will reduce gender based violence,” she says.

Aruasa challenged to women in the county to join hands and be one because gender based violence does not know political parties but cuts across.

According to Pauline Kinyarkuoo, a women leader in Narok town, a Maasai woman is there only to receive instructions and orders from the husband. “The closest she comes to her husband is during sexual intercourse and this is only when the man has decided that he needs to have to have sex with her,” she explains.

According to the deputy governor, the County government has set aside funds to build the capacity of women so that when they are given loans, they will utilise them from an informed position.

“We want to build the capacity of women so that they can understand what income generating activities they can do that are specific to the County,” she explains.

Sexual rights are not a topic of discussion, says Kinyarkuoo, adding that sex is only for procreation purposes, and it’s not the right of a woman to enjoy, and that is why she is circumcised to cut down the libido.

Demand

“Whenever he comes home he hardly talks but just grunts and yet I have to entertain him as demanded by custom. I am not supposed to express any feelings or opinion since I am part of his property and he can use me whenever he wants, even if I am not ready emotionally it’s my own problem,” says Kinyarkuoo.

Since most Maasai men are polygamists, sexually transmitted diseases end up being rampant among the wives. Most of the women in a polygamous relationship when infected they only use traditional herbs to try and cure these infections. They will only seek conventional medical attention when the problem persists but it will never be discussed with the husband since this could invite a beating.

Kinyarkuoo notes that Maasai women suffer in the hands of men and have been turned into slaves since they have to fetch water and feed the cows, build their houses, cook and maintain the home and look after the children.

Looking after the animals is integral to the local economy although women face serious threats to their lives and security in doing this.

“When we go to fetch water, we can be attacked by wild animals and men. Men follow us and rape us when we go and get water. We fear wild animals and we fear men,” says Lucy Meshuko, a grassroots women leader.

She notes that the authoritarian position of men and the power dynamics within the family are emphasised through domestic abuse.

“In the Maasai culture, according to them, women own nothing, they inherit nothing and live their lives clamped under the authority of men,” reiterates Meshuko.

Additional information by Jane Godia

 


This article was originally published in the Reject Online Issue 83

 

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