Dar es Salaam. Nuongipa Sungare sprays some fresh milk around the cattle pen. It’s a Maasai tradition of thanking the universe for providing water and pasture for their livestock and for keeping them safe. For the Maasai, a semi-nomadic ethnic group, livestock is not only about their livelihood, but also integral to their culture and customs.
Five years ago, Ms Sungare couldn’t imagine that she would go from struggling to make a living by selling milk from two goats owned by her family, to becoming an owner of a herd of 15 sheep. Sungare lives in the Leparkashi Village in northern Tanzania with her nine children. Among her tribe, women do not own livestock. She is one of the women who volunteered her services to look after 24 cattle and 46 sheep acquired through the Women Solidarity Boma Project—an initiative implemented by the Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC) through the United Nations (UN) Women Fund for Gender Equality (FGE). In return for her contribution to the project, she will receive a payment in sheep at the end of three years, which is next year.
The project is an economic model challenging social norms and customs that dictate that women cannot own and manage livestock. It also provides a safe space for women to interact and discuss various issues.
In a recent interview, Ms Sungare was ecstatic at the prospect of becoming the owner of 15 sheep, which she never thought could ever happen when she was married twenty yearss ago.
“I still cannot believe it! Over the years, I have never dared to dream that I could achieve this because in my tribe, livestock-ownership has been a ‘men-only’ affair,” Ms Sungare said.
For centuries, Maasai men were the only ones who could own livestock or land, and hence wielding power within their communities. After four years of lobbying with local traditional leaders and men in the community to concede land and livestock ownership rights to women, the Pastoral Women’s Council, with support from UN Women Tanzania, established two livestock homesteads (Bomas) and revamped two others in the remote Ngorongoro District of northern Tanzania, where the Maasai communities live. The women running the four livestock homesteads collectively own 210 sheep, 85 cows and 45 goats.
Globally, since 2009, the Fund for Gender Equality has strengthened the capacities of 131 organizations and delivered $65 million in grants to 121 projects in 80 countries. The lives of 570,000 people were directly improved through this initiative, while millions have benefitted through lasting changes to public policy and national programmes.
The Fund supports female-led civil society organizations in achieving women’s economic and political empowerment; leadership; and the SDGs.
In Engaresero Village, the women have constructed 16 traditional houses overlooking the volcanic Oldonyo Lengai Mountain (Mountain of God), about two miles from the salty Lake Natron. This achievement came after four years of hard work by the PWC, which lobbied the local traditional leader and men in the community to provide land to enable the women to start their livestock project.
Most men in the village, according to the PWC Executive Director, Maanda Ngoitiko, had thought allowing women to own livestock “was an insult to their intelligence and a joke of the century”, believing that in a matter of two months, all the cattle would be dead due to women’s supposed negligence.
They were proven wrong! As the months went by, the women proved they too can manage a successful livestock enterprise.
Today, more than 1,500 women have joined the project and mobilized support from other women in surrounding communities. More and more Masaii men and women are beginning to see that women can equally contribute towards their communities’ income, livelihood and customs. Together, they can do more and be more.
Nearly 8,000 kilometers northwest, women from Bordj Bou Arreridj in rural Algeria are striving for similar goals as the Maasai women of northern Tanzania. Also supported by the Fund for Gender Equality, and in partnership with El Ghaith Association, the women in Bordj Bou Arreridj are determined to grow their businesses, making cheese and honey from their livestock and beehives. Traditionally, in Algeria men are seen as the natural heir to business and property, and women have limited access to productive resources and credit.
Recently the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality (FGE) organized a learning visit between these partners to share strategies, insights and experiences to scale up women’s economic empowerment initiatives. In the world of international development, such exchanges are called “South-South Cooperation”.
In an interview, the UN Women Country Representative, Hodan Addou, emphasised the importance of fostering partnerships among women across the globe, explaining this has become more critical ahead of the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action in September 2020.
“Today, the exchange of knowledge, expertise and strategies between civil society organizations and other development partners is critical to achieving the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals. As the world prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of the visionary agenda for gender equality endorsed by the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995, take stock of the progress and renew efforts to fulfil the agenda, South-South Cooperation is the gateway to ensuring inclusive development. This initiative enabled rural women in Tanzania and Algeria to learn and share experiences, and to explore new opportunities for the improvement of livelihoods in their respective communities,” Ms Addou said.
She explained how the collaborative effort also managed to discuss commonalities in areas such as capacity building in livestock production, business competitiveness, micro-credit schemes, women’s leadership and cooperation with local government authorities.
The Fund for Gender Equality Portfolio Manager for the Arab States, Rana El-Houjeiri said the initiative was a success as it presented insightful exchange of knowledge.
“It enabled both organizations to monitor and analyse the impact of their projects on the quality of lives of women in Tanzania and Algeria. Participants learned about the importance of collaboration and working around their unique contexts for profitable and sustainable livelihood systems for rural women and their communities. These exchanges have proven to be highly beneficial in building the aptitude of both grantees beyond conventional classroom settings to real field experiences,” Ms El-Houjeiri said.
Participants from Algeria shared their experience in acquiring and using a milk-processing plant to produce goat cheese, while the women from Tanzania explained how to raise hardy, drought-resistant sheep. The group compared their honey production: in Algeria, women export, while in Tanzania they sell to tourists visiting the region. Both organizations (in Algeria and Tanzania) are using the livestock revolving system to give the offspring of their livestock to new women beneficiaries so that more women learn to raise and manage livestock. This practice, also termed ‘Receive-Give’ in Algeria, has distributed more than 300 livestock to single and vulnerable mothers in Bordj.
El-Ghaith Association also spoke on how their beneficiaries process wool to produce modern, lighter and more attractive carpets for the local markets. These exchanges opened conduits for the two organizations to consult alternatives and discuss means to progress in their value-chains.
Maanda Ngoitiko from Tanzania’s Pastoral Women’s Council emphasized the need for both organizations to scale up income diversification.
“There are a lot of lessons we shared, particularly on how we are going to further improve the quality of the projects to make them sustainable and bring better returns for the women,” she said. “We would like to ensure that women in a remote area such as Ngorongoro have a say in the management and utilization of land, in addition to benefiting from other abundant natural resources.”