Rain-based economies are in a very difficult position.
To have a stable economy focused on livestock or agriculture, there must be weather stability, including reliable rainfall. As a result of global warming, there is persistent bad weather in many places, including the Maasai lands.
Within the Maasai communities, we are seeing remarkable adaptations to climate change.
The weakness of the cows under these conditions and their loss of value or even their death is not only a financial disaster. The impact reaches much farther, as our close relationship with the men and women of the community reveals to us.
Men control the resources
It is the men who control the resources, own the cows and are responsible for the finances of the families. Traditionally, financial decisions in Maasai communities are made by men. Many women do mount small, market-based businesses but most of the money for family maintenance comes from what the men pass along to their wives.
Women and men responding differently
Reliable rainfall allows men to own cows. Drought makes it hard or– in some areas– impossible to do so.
For these men, the difficulty in the livestock arena is practical and financial, of course. But it is also a profound existential issue. The situation undermines their self- conception, their sense of their identity and their resilience.
However, for the women, the particular mix of financial and environmental challenge creates problems that are basically practical and concrete, but without the accompanying identity crisis.
The women have to find the money to take care of themselves and their families, since the men are having trouble providing. The women will struggle practically to find more money, to find ways to take care of their kids.
But for the men, their cows are the very basis for their wealth and prestige. These are undermined by the effects of climate change. For the men, it is not just a problem to overcome. It is an identity, a meaning of life that is at stake. Their turmoil can and does trouble the entire family around them.
A source of optimism
Where can optimism for positive change get its footing here?
The great hope for the positive evolution of any society is in the diversity of the people. Listening to the voices of men and women, we hear those able to see and consider other ways, new ways. These people understand the value and even pleasure of trying new ideas.
Thanks to this diversity, there will be those men who come up for breath, and join the women in the hard work needed for social survival.
The problems faced by the pastoralist men cannot be fixed by their copying the practical things women are doing to get through each day. The women can’t just be copied. That is not the point. What the women provide is a psychological model,
And those of us trying to help organize people to improve life, no matter what difficulties might come, must nurture diversity within our own ranks as well.
This can unleash organizing power that is not inhibited by habitual attitudes or previously embraced approaches.
With your support, you help us to access new approaches and allow them to come to life–on the ground. Thank you!
Groups are reaching out to us
We first organized nineteen women’s groups in collaboration with the Global Fund for Widows. We are continuing organizing and have established five more groups so far using our general funds. Because we want all these groups to bring real wealth to their villages, we help the women establish collective businesses that sell outside the village and bring money in from the outside.
There are dozens of groups of women here in Maasai land that are reaching out to us. They phone our Project Manager and Women’s Organizer daily. They seek capital to help start their groups’ collective businesses and request our training and guidance for managing their money together. There is no hesitation, and women everywhere here have the desire to adopt these practices.
Women striving in this way are seen by those men who have the flexibility and freedom and creativity and respect to benefit and learn from them. These men come alongside to advise and celebrate the women’s growing contributions.
Ultimately, the people with spirit and willingness to adapt and change will be important in survival of the society in the face of climate change.
Those people are here!