Plight of Maasai Women on the Land Question Unveiled

Photo: Odhiambo Orlale
Photo: Odhiambo Orlale

Almost everything has been discussed in public about the land question in Kenya, but the face and voice of Maasai women in the debate has been missing.

But thanks to a law lecturer and researcher the University of Nairobi, Dr Agnes Meroka, has shed light in a chapter in a new book launched last month, The Gallant Academic.

Dr Meroka, who is also an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, has penned a chapter on Gendered Land Questions and the Marginalised Maasai women.

The must read book is a 369-page collection of essays by the who-is-who in academia, especially at the University of Nairobi’s School of Law, about the don.

The publication was recently launched by Attorney General, Prof Githu Muigai, who said the book is a living testament to the enduring contribution to property jurisprudence by an iconic scholar who bestrode the African continent like a colossus as a former Dean of the School of Law and as former vice-chairman of the National Constitution of Kenya Review Conference of Kenya in 2003-4.

Prof Okoth-Ogendo was until his death on April 24, 2009, a Professor of Law at the School of Law. It is to his credit as an accomplished teacher and author that the Kenyan Constitution of 2010 contains a whole chapter devoted to by hitherto vexed issues of land tenure, land use, land administration and land conservation.

She researches and writes on gender and the law; law and development; and human rights law. In addition to that, the lecturer also trains communities on the need to protect the rights of women and girls and to promote gender equality.

Exclusion

Dr  Meroka sets the stage by using a pertinent quote from world renowned author, Prof Ngugi wa Thion’go saying: “This I give, O man and woman. It is yours to rule and till. You and your posterity.”

The chapter anaylises the way in which privatization and individualization of land among the Maasai of Kajiado County has impacted upon, creating a situation whereby women are disposed of land at the household level.

It also demonstrates the ways in which Maasai women are excluded from effectively participating in community strategies aimed at addressing the effect of formalization of land tenure. The writer argues that there is a need to remove barriers that prevent gender concerns from being taken seriously and addressed, because left unaddressed, gender concerns continue to impact negatively not just on women, but on the community as a whole.

The law lecturer uses Maasai women as a case study in order to highlight the gender dimensions of the following theses, which the late Prof Okoth Ogendo, developed.

Roadmap

Contrary to the popular opinion that formality is the roadmap for creating secure land tenure which in turn would lead to economic development, formality can create insecure land tenure. And there is therefore a need to allow for greater participation at the community level in the design of the land administration systems, otherwise such systems are likely to remain unresponsive to the needs of the communities.

Using the feminist theory of inter-sectionality to interrogate the framing of Maasai land loss, Dr Meroka, relies on empirical data to argue that Maasai women constitute a subaltern category to the extend that laws do not adequately address their concerns relating to land loss which occurred as a results of the State’s implementation of privatisation and individualisation of land.

She further notes that Maasai women have always been excluded from the community’s popularised struggles to redress land rights violations that occurred as a result of state policy on privatization and individualisation of land.

The chapter begins by discussing the concepts of subalternity and inter-sectionality highlighting how they help to better understand the forms of disadvantaged that women face, and discussing the need to understand the forms of disadvantage that women face, and also discussing the need to understand the forms of disadvantage that women experience not only through the lens of gender, but also other lenses, in this case, ethnicity.

Policy

The advocate then discusses the relationship between the Maasai community and the State as an aspect of citizenship and demonstrates the ways in which the Maasais have been marginalised as a community due to implementation of state policy of privatization and individualization of land.

This is followed by a discussion on the marginalization of Maasai women in law and also in community strategies aimed at addressing the negative effects of state policy on land.

Dr  Meroka concludes the chapter by discussing the need for taking an inter-sectional approach when coming up with strategies that are aimed at addressing gender inequality and ethnic marginalization.

Other major topics are: Citizenship and the creation of marginality among the Maasai; Land loss through colonial land alienation process; Land loss through sales; Creating second class citizens – the marginalization of Maasai women’s experiences of land loss; and Land sales erode the traditional role played by women in the process of succession.

Other interesting topics are: Land sales erode the economic and social security that women have traditionally enjoyed; Land sales lead to difficulties in accessing basic amenities; The inadequacy of legal mechanisms addressing challenges arising from land sales; and exclusion of women and gender concerns in community struggles for the protection of land rights.

In her conclusion, the researcher says: “By taking an inter-sectional approach, primarily in which problems are framed, women’s voices can be heard and their experiences of disadvantage addressed. Land rights in Kenya, as in most parts of Africa, are affected not only by gender, but also by such other spheres of identity as ethnicity and even religion.”

In her parting shot, Dr Meroka maintains that it is no longer sufficient to analyse questions for women’s land rights by looking specifically at how gender as an identity impacts land rights, this is because other forms of identity also affect land rights. But as the case of Maasai; there is a tendency to ignore gender specific issues in discussions of land and ethnicity.