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Christina Kilimbey Selemany

Empowering Women in Africa through education

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Christina with her mother and brother and her secondary school graduation.

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Christina with her brother and a friend during her graduation from her secondary boarding school.

EDUCATION

Education is the Key to break the vicious cycle of poverty.

- UNICEF

Finished no 1 in 230 in her boarding school

Christina is a Maasai woman born in the bush near the area of Makuyuni. She is -- old and is the middle of a family of -- made out of brothers and -- sisters. She is the only girl from her family that finished school. Her family took her out of secondary school to keep working but her older brother was able to find a school for her and took her there after -- years. 

The educational problem Maasai women face

Like most poor women in African nations, the majority of Maasai women in Tanzania are destined to live a life of poverty and cultural oppression. Just one generation ago, less than 20 percent of Maasai women in Tanzania enrolled in school. Today, only 41 percent of Maasai girls enroll in school, and only 10 percent of girls make it to secondary school.

Typically, Maasai girls are married to a man chosen by her father in exchange for cattle, money and other goods. A Maasai woman will never be allowed to divorce, except in the most egregious cases of physical abuse, and will never be allowed to marry again, even if the husband her father chooses is an old man who dies when she is still in her teens. Instead, she becomes the property of one of her husband’s brothers. She will be one of multiple wives, and will have many children, regardless of her health or ability to provide for them. She will rise early every day to milk cows, and spend her days walking miles to water holes to launder clothes and get water, and to gather heavy loads of firewood to carry back home. If she is lucky, she will have a donkey to share her burden. She will live a life of few physical comforts, dependent on a husband and a family she did not choose. Her life expectancy is 45 years.

Empowering Maasai women through education

An educated woman will know her rights and have the confidence and independence to stand up for them. She will choose whom to marry and when to marry. She will have fewer children, and they will be healthier and better educated than the previous generation. She will have economic security. She will spend 90 percent of her income on her family,. She will help support her parents. She will not forget where she came from.

Cultural Pressures against women's education

The cultural pressures against women’s education are nothing short of overwhelming.

The Maasai are one of the most impoverished tribes in East Africa. A noble and dignified people, they have proudly maintained their traditional lifestyle and cultural identity despite pressures of the modern world. They live a nomadic lifestyle raising cattle and goats, wearing traditional clothes, and living in small villages called manyattas, which are circular arrangements of mud huts. But increasing land acquisition throughout Maasailand is threatening their nomadic culture, and pressure to accept change is growing. With this pressure comes a more urgent need to educate the current generation of boys and girls. In the process of preserving their culture, however, the Maasai have embraced a system that denies women basic human rights: the right to an education; the right to control her body, the right to choose whom and when to marry, the right to express an opinion.


ey can produce for their husbands, not by how educated or economically successful they might become.

Barriers to education

Maasai girls must face many obstacles to get an education, and most of those are related to the high level of poverty among the Maasai. The cost of education is prohibitive for most families, and the promise of a dowry is a powerful incentive for arranging a daughter’s marriage as soon as she “crosses the childhood bridge.” But cultural factors also contribute to preventing girls from getting and education.

(1) Family and peer pressure for early marriage

Early marriage is the most often cited reason that Maasai girls drop out of school. Maasai girls are taught that circumcision is a rite of passage into womanhood that accompanies puberty and an immediate precursor to marriage. Once circumcised, they are ridiculed by their peers if they continue their education, since school is for children. Further escalating the pressure for early marriage is the reality that in the Maasai culture women are traditionally valued on the basis of how many children th

(2) Cost of education

Maasai girls who do enroll in primary school attend public day schools which are free. But all students in Tanzania are required to wear uniforms, and many families cannot afford even the uniform needed for their child to go to school. Public primary boarding schools, which offer many advantages, are prohibitively expensive for most Maasai families. The quality of education in these rural day schools is rarely adequate to prepare students for the national tests, which are required to go on to secondary school, because these schools are underfunded and woefully overcrowded, with a student-teacher ratio as high as 100 to 1.

For the exceptional girl who does pass the national test to graduate from primary school, all secondary schools in Tanzania are boarding schools, and the annual cost is prohibitive for most Maasai but, if economically feasible, sons are always given priority.

(3) Economic barriers unrelated to the cost of education

Economic incentives for early marriage. A daughter’s marriage increases the wealth of Maasai girl’s family through combined cattle and cash dowries and, since a girl joins her husband’s family upon marriage, her father is relieved of the economic burden of supporting her. The practice of early marriage is also worsened by the increasing poverty of the Maasai people, which leads Maasai fathers to marry their daughters off at increasingly young ages.

Return on investment. For those few families that are able to pay education costs, there is a widespread cultural preference for educating sons first. This stems from the tradition that Maasai girls leave their parents’ village and become a member of the husband’s family upon marriage. Maasai fathers tend, therefore, to believe that their family will not benefit from investing in their daughter’s education.

(4) Fear of early pregnancy

Pregnancy is the second most frequent reason that girls drop out of school. In the Maasai culture, children as young as nine years old are not allowed to stay in the same house with their father, and instead sleep in a separate house without supervision. In addition, girls are not told how a woman becomes pregnant. This combined lack of supervision and ignorance make girls highly vulnerable to becoming pregnant, and pregnancy before marriage brings disgrace and a reduced bride price. Fear of premarital pregnancy is a common reason for parents to insist that their daughters leave school and marry early.

 

(5) Physical Barriers

Walking distance to school. Since the pastoral Maasai require significant land resources to graze their cattle, their villages are constructed far apart from each other. As a result, one school must serve several villages typically within a 15- to 20-kilometer radius. There are no cars, buses, horses, or even bicycles available to Maasai children, so they must walk this great distance. Many girls are denied an education solely because of parental concerns for their safety during these long walks.

Even for those who make it to school, the long walks undermine education. Not surprisingly, teachers report that children who have spent two to five hours walking to school in the morning, often without having had anything to eat, are tired, and their ability to concentrate is impaired. Also, it is often late when children arrive home after such long walks, and they are still required to do chores. Even if they still have the desire and energy to study after they are finished with their responsibilities at home, it is dark and there is no electricity or artificial light.

The nomadic Maasai lifestyle. The Maasai are a pastoral, nomadic society, and circumstances sometimes require that families move in order to find water and grass for their cattle. In drought conditions, a child’s education is often interrupted or halted until the rains come, causing them to fall behind in their school work, or to stop attending school altogether.

Christina was able to overcome all these obstacles and has now been accepted to the Law School of the University of Dodoma. Our Foundation will stand next to her in the completion of her studies so she can be a beacon of hope for all the Maasai women out there who face the challenges mentioned above and all the women who require woman empowerement. 

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