The changing role of women in pastoral communities in East Africa
22 year old Agnes Ouleko has lost four of her goats and one cow in three lion attacks this year. Agnes is a member of the pastoral Masai community, and as an owner of several goats and cows, she is responsible for their care. When men are away, it is women like Agnes who fight the predators by themselves to protect the lives of their livestock.
For centuries, only men had been the owners of livestock in almost every pastoral community in East Africa. From buying, selling, to managing the livestock; it was men who were given every right to make decisions for their livestock. Despite the right of ownership to men for years, women belonging to pastoral communities in East Africa were always expected to take care of the livestock.
As time has passed, the role of women in pastoral communities in East Africa has evolved, as more and more women are becoming independently responsible for their livestock. But, with distressing drought conditions in East African regions on the rise, women have to now walk further than before to fetch water and food for their livestock. Despite this change of role, even today women belonging to the pastoral communities of East Africa are not as involved in the selling and buying of livestock as men.
Women who are widowed have to take up the role of men and take care of their livestock along with doing their household duties. This is not always a burden, because many women successfully use even their small livestock to make a decent livelihood for their families. The cattle give them milk, food, is used for dowry, along with helping them with cultivation. Women have been traditionally taking care of livestock in East African pastoral communities, eventually making their livestock much more valuable to them than any other in the community.
For East African people, especially women and the ones that belong to the poor section of the society, livestock is literally life. It is an indispensable part of their lives, as this is what gives them all the resources to fulfil their needs. The current scene of pastoral communities in East Africa under drought-ridden circumstances calls for policies and training programs that can benefit and educate the community members, especially women, for better management of livestock. Ultimately, good livestock development calls for a comprehensive approach where the concern is equally about the very people who are responsible for the care of livestock.