We are driving down a dusty road lined with acacia trees on the way to Nakwetikia’s boma. She’s nearing 80 years old but you wouldn’t know it. She’s sharp and inquisitive, and has a phenomenal sense of humor. Earlier in the day she sent an entire group of reporters into hysterics, as she looked a traditional male leader from a nearby village in the eye and sternly warned him not to lie or he’d have another thing coming. While Nakwetikia says she has always had a quick wit and a sharp tongue, the Women’s Rights and Leadership Forum is what helped her find her voice in her community.
Ng’abolo Village is one of five villages that form the Makame Wildlife Management Area, an acacia filled woodland comprised of over 4,500km2. These five villages work together to sustainably manage this WMA for the use of humans, cattle and wildlife alike. UCRT has worked in this area for over 4 years supporting improved natural resource management, good governance training as well as mobilizing women to participate in decision making.
Nakwetikia is a member of the Women’s Rights and Leadership Forum of Ng’abolo and has been an outspoken advocate for women’s involvement in natural resource management in her village. Today, we are visiting Nkwatikia’s boma to gain a greater understanding of how the Women’s Right and Leadership Forums have helped women like herself adjust to and challenge the pressures from a rapidly growing community and its pressures of traditional pastoralist livelihoods.
Nakwetikia has seen a great deal in her eight decades in this village. It’s grown exponentially, from a few families to hundreds, primarily due to migration into the area. The large influx of people has brought with it many challenges including poaching, land grabbing, and illegal farming. It has also caused pastoralists in the area to become more vulnerable to land loss. But, nothing has surprised Nakwetikia as much as the change brought by the Women’s Rights and Leadership Forum.
Modeled after traditional Maasai leadership institutions, the WRLF is comprised of 24 female representatives from a village. These women represent the interests of all women in their village, making decisions, advocating on their behalf, and supporting each other. Before formalising their group with support from UCRT four years ago, women used to meet in secret often while they were out collecting water or firewood. Nakwetikia shared:
“As more people moved to the area, pressures on the land grew. Cattle were taken elsewhere to graze, water become more difficult to find and there was less land available for traditional uses. We women realised these pressures and would discuss them often but we had no way to stop it. With the WRLF, we can now openly discuss issues and help create solutions for the greater community.”
When the WRLF was formed, women received training on their rights to own land, property and the rights to their children in addition to trainings around leadership, communication and good governance. Beyond providing a formal space for women to meet and be part of the decision making progress in the village, the WRLF has had another important and somewhat initially unexpected role in the village: protecting the land and natural resources.
UCRT learned early on that women in Ng’abolo village possessed a wealth of knowledge when it came to particular grazing areas, migration routes and livestock water points as well as the resources in the area and their uses – more so then the men. UCRT realised the WRLF, in addition to empowering women, could be crucial in protecting and reinforcing Village Land Use Plans, Natural Resource Management Plans, and Wildlife Management Areas.
These days, the women of Ng’abolo are able to meet out in the open and have become a powerful force of positive change in their community. Paine Makko, who helped start UCRT’s Gender Programme remarked:
“As the WRLF in Ng’abolo has strengthened, they’ve started to demand accountable governance, and secure participatory decision making, especially in respect to land management. As the WRLF has gained momentum, we’ve witnessed a decrease in poaching, land encroachment, and charcoal burning in the area. In another five years, we can’t wait to see what the WRLF accomplish.”
As Ng’abolo village’s population increases and with it the pressures on resources and land grow; adaptive solutions are needed that are both peaceful and sustainable. While these are community-wide issues, their success very much depends on the involvement of pastoralist women. WRLF have been catalysis of change in their communities and are bringing real solutions to the table. Learn more about our gender programming here.