By Clarissa Hughes – Group Positive Impact Co-ordinator
Population growth is putting increasing strain on wildlife in East Africa. Asilia, in partnership with The Maa Trust, is working towards reversing this trend through the empowerment of women. Here’s how.
In the Maasai Mara, where the population growth rate is a staggering 10.5%, many people are poor and have no access to water, electricity or sustainable cooking fuels. 92% of women have received no formal education. Men, however, are able to earn an income from land lease payments, the sale of livestock and formal employment in tourism, women remain financially dependent on the men in the household.
Without any direct benefits from conservation, women feel marginalised and see no reason to protect wildlife, which they often come into conflict with when collecting water and firewood. As children imitate the attitudes of their mothers, they also develop negative perceptions of wildlife.
Firewood collecting is a significant cause of human-wildlife conflict for women, which frequently results in retaliatory killings. Further enmity is created when conservancy rangers fine women collecting firewood inside protected areas. With a deforestation rate of 32% between 1973 and 2000, the Mara River, which is the lifeblood of the ecosystem, is now threatened.
A recent survey shows that the expenditure priorities for the money earned by the women are:
21% gas cylinder for cooking
25% rainwater harvesting tank
16% solar power system
37% savings for school fees
Three years ago, when the projects started, 87% of households in the Maasai Mara used firewood, 10.5% used charcoal and 2.5% used a gas cylinder for cooking. By 2017, 70% were using firewood, 18% were using charcoal, and 12% were using gas.
In 2015, 16% beadwork members collected water from a borehole, 12% used rainwater, 10% collected water from a protected spring and 62% collected water from an open water source which is shared with livestock and wildlife.
In 2017, we found that 6% collect water from a borehole, 4% are using a protected spring, now only 26% collect water from an open water source shared with livestock and wildlife and 64% are using rainwater.
34% of the women have changed their roofs from mud and dung to iron sheeting which enables rainwater harvesting.
Rainwater harvesting frees up time for women to be more economically productive. Water sources shared with wildlife and livestock are also key contamination points for spreading diseases between species (e.g. Rift Valley fever and brucellosis). Rainwater harvesting means reduces depletion of ground water supplies, which are essential for ecosystem sustainability.
Sanitation has also improved over the last two years, with the percentage of homesteads with toilets increasing from 17% to 33%. Reducing open defecation reduces disease transmission as well as the risk of human-wildlife conflict.
90% of women surveyed say that since becoming a member of the social enterprises, they now contribute towards school fees, especially for their daughters. The effect of empowering women is widely felt. For this reason Asilia is committed to advancing this agenda where it can.