“Double Marginalized” The Story of Maanda Ngoitiko and the Pastoral Women’s Council

UniversalGiving wants to honor mothers this week. Maanda Ngoutiko was not a biological mother, but she was a mother figure to many Maasai women.

Global Partners for Development shared this news story by Amy Holter about a very strong Maassai woman.

*Disclaimer – this post contains some disturbing content.

Maanda Ngoitiko, the founder and executive director of the Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC) in Loliondo, Tanzania, is a Maasai woman. In her culture, she says that being born a girl means being treated like the property that you will never own. She says it means that you will become a bride to be used as a pawn to support your father’s local relationships. She says it means a life of being viewed as a child far into adulthood.

In the school that PWC built, Maanda’s colorful, plentiful Maasai beads clinked as she settled in. The weight of them would become more and more meaningful as she guided me through her story.

Maanda was born in Olorsiwa, a subvillage in the Loliondo District. There, she walked approximately eight kilometers to primary school every day with her best friend. When she was in Standard 6 (the equivalent of sixth grade in the U.S.), her best friend went through female genital mutilation and was told that her father had chosen a husband for her. When she refused to marry him, the men in her family took her to a public space, removed her clothes, and beat her. Maanda watched as her friend’s father held up her clothes as a warning that other girls should not resist marriage in the same shameful way.

“I was very lonely in my heart when she dropped out of school,” said Maanda. “I could not help her. I felt really desperate.”

Soon, it was Maanda’s turn to resist marriage. Her father found her a husband when she was still 12 years old. She refused to marry him as well as the second man her father found for her. After she finished primary school, she cared for cows with her father and uncles for three years.

Her actions were “discussed widely” in the district, and Maanda’s disobedience and disrespect to her family quickly became a subject of local news briefings held at political meetings. A Member of Parliament heard about Maanda and offered to send her to school. Though her father ignored the offer, her uncle told her that she should run away to the bush, and he would arrange for the Member of Parliament to find her.

“I waited for a long time in the bush. Then, I saw a light from a car coming towards me. A light to take me away.”

Maanda was admitted into the Training Center for Development in Arusha. On her first day, Maanda met Alais Morindat, another current partner of Global Partners and leader of Arkaria Village, who gave her tutorials in English and math for two years. One of her teachers linked her to the Irish Embassy, and she received a scholarship to study in Dublin where she earned her bachelor’s degree in development studies.

After returning to Loliondo and reuniting with her family, Maanda started meeting with other women in Loliondo Division by creating “a forum for women to discuss their own issues,” which eventually became PWC. The women met without any funding for four years with the goal of improving women’s solidarity and increasing interest in girls’ education. Many in the community opposed them from the beginning, claiming that women should not meet alone without men.

“[Maasai women] are double marginalized,” said Maanda. “We are marginalized by the larger society for being Maasai, and we are marginalized by the Maasai for being women.”

When asked why she came back to a culture that often treats women with disregard and sometimes violence, Maanda wasn’t sure where to start. “There are some Maasai girls, even those saved by PWC, that as soon as they get their way, they run away forever. They see this culture as a serious threat to their freedom.” But, she went on:

“I wanted to come back because I wanted to see a generational change. I wanted to see more Maasai girls enjoy their freedom. I wanted a new generation of Maasai women who are being treated with dignity and respect. I wanted to change the perception of men.”

She also said that the Maasai have many wonderful aspects of their culture. “If you are very poor in a Maasai community, you will never die of hunger when your neighbor has food – there is a culture of sharing what you have. The Maasai have also been the guardians of the environment for centuries, but they are not recognized by the government and are subjected to land alienation. I wanted to teach this community to be a bridge between the Maasai and the government. Without land, there is no Maasai.”

PWC has now established 260 active women’s groups across three districts and engages thousands of women. Though it’s work is still opposed by some, PWC is growing and is embraced by more and more members of the community, both male and female. Through PWC and other organizations, a locally driven women’s rights movement is underway in Maasai communities across Tanzania.

One of the goals of PWC is to rescue girls who are escaping forced marriage and other forms of violence. Last year, PWC rescued 17 girls, many through police intervention, and all of them lived at Maanda’s home.

I met one of the girls who was rescued by PWC in 2014. She was in school and went home to visit her parents. When she arrived home, they locked her in a room and told her that her future husband would soon come to get her. A woman who did not realize she was there unlocked the room to retrieve something. When she saw the girl, she called Maanda, and the police came to take the girl away.

“She cried the whole night,” recalls Maanda. “This is just one case, but we have a lot of cases like that.”

This girl is now continuing her studies through a scholarship from Global Partners. With funding from Global Partners and mentorship from women in PWC, she will finish her studies and hopefully reunite with her family to help them understand her unconventional path.

In March 2016, Global Partners supported PWC in purchasing a large house near the PWC office that will serve as a rescue center for Maasai girls. Maanda anticipates that at least 100 girls will be supported through this center each year while they transition into dormitories at secondary schools. The gated home has a 24-hour security guard and matron. With bunk beds, blankets, pillows, computers, and solar electricity, the girls will be welcomed into a space where they can work through their emotional trauma with girls who had similar experiences and alongside women who embody the strength and perseverance they will need to pursue their individual and collective ambitions.

Through local initiatives and international partnerships like this, Maanda and women like her are helping to shape the future of human rights among the Maasai. As I stood in what I will call the “rescue home,” I could feel the possibility. I could almost hear the tears and laughter of the girls that would fill it in the coming months. I ached to tell them that help was on the way.

“Oh, we really have to keep moving,” said Maanda as she looked at the time – we were late to a Maasai fundraiser for women’s businesses and girls’ scholarships.

Yes, Maanda, yes we do.

This article is from Global Partners for Development. Read the full news article here!

Exemplary Nations for Women: Cabo Verde & Palau

It is important to support countries that are socially responsible. Our CEO Pamela Hawley tells us about Palau and Cabo Verde!

Adobe Spark (8)Cabo Verde, previously known as Cape Verde, is a drought-prone nation made up of ten islands located about 500 km off the west coast of Africa. Although the country lacks natural resources, they have a strong reputation for their efforts to create political unity (BBC 2016).

Cabo Verde is also taking a strong stance for women’s equality, as nine of seventeen cabinet positions and three members of the supreme court are women.

Palau is another island nation that has developed a social structure where women are highly respected. Palau is made up of 200 islands located in the western Pacific Ocean (Palou 2014). Palau is a great model for many nations, specifically because their inheritance regulations have supported women for hundreds of years. They believAdobe Spark (13)e in a matrilineal system, meaning that descent is determined by the mother. The emphasis on female kinship ensures that descendants inherit property based on a natural female lineal link. This long-held belief helps Palau sustain strong woman’s rights, such as ensuring that women receive equal pay to their male counterparts.

It’s nice to see these countries providing greater opportunities for women as a natural part of their culture.

It is important for us to support women and these small socially responsible countries. Next time you are planning a trip, consider traveling to socially responsible nations. Our tourism can benefit Cabo Verde and Palau which are two of the Top Ten Best Ethical Travel Destinations of 2017.    

Additionally, we can support women who do not have the benefits of living in a matrilineal nation like Palau by helping them gain access to family planning. 

“Palau.” Countries. Infoplease, 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

“Cabo Verde Country Profile.” BBC News. BBC, 16 Oct. 2016. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

The Stories That Change Our Lives – Inspiration from Tamora Pierce

“Girls are 50% of the population. We deserve to represent 50% of the heroes.”

– Tamora Pierce

Sometimes the people who inspire us never existed.  And sometimes it’s the people who created those fictional characters who furnish the inspiration.

Tamora Pierce is an author of young adult fantasy novels, and at the risk of sounding like I’m exaggerating, I can tell you that she changed my life.  Tamora Pierce writes books about strong women, or “sheroes.”

When Pierce was starting out in writing, there was (and to some extent, still is) a belief that books about boys were more marketable.  The theory goes that young adult girls will read stories about male heroes, but young adult boys won’t read about female leads—write about a boy and you have twice the market, meaning there weren’t as many stories about heroic girls, and not as many role-models for girls to read about.

Song of the Lioness Quartet

But almost thirty years ago, Pierce wrote Song of the Lioness.  It’s a fantasy quartet about Alanna, a girl who desperately wants to become a knight, even though it’s a profession not open to women.  So Alanna disguises herself as a boy, and sets about to do it anyway.  She’s brave and strong, knows who she is and what she wants, keeps up with the boys and earns their respect.  It’s a wonderful story.  I read the books at a young age, and they made a huge impression on me.  Since then, I’ve read many other books about strong girls, and Pierce certainly isn’t the only author writing those characters.  But she was at the beginning of a changing trend, and she was one of the first to make a big impact with me.

I’m a firm believer that a girl can do anything a boy can do, that women should have the same rights as men, and that we all ought to be equal, whether in pay rates or in who cleans the house.  I’m sure a lot of that belief comes from my parents, especially my mom, but I think reading about Alanna at a young age helped.

I also know I’m not unique in this—off the top of my head I can think of three friends who were deeply influenced by Tamora Pierce’s writing.  Two of them I became friends with because we bonded over our shared love for her books (another way she changed my life!)

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Alanna when I grew up.  Now, I think I want to “grow up” to be Tamora Pierce, at least as a writer.

The world needs stories like Alanna’s, and Pierce’s other books.  We need stories that tell girls they’re as good as boys, that they can be strong and make a difference, that they don’t have to stay with their pushy boyfriend, that they can be themselves, whoever that is, and that they can achieve their dreams and do great things.  Boys need to hear some of that too, and Tamora Pierce’s books provide excellent role models of both genders.

My Tamora Pierce Collection

To quote Pierce again: “It’s not just children who need heroes.”

We all need heroes who will inspire us to become heroes.  That may be the ultimate magic of Pierce’s books—she didn’t just tell me about a heroic girl.  She told me I could be one too.

We all can be—and we can help other girls achieve their goals too.  In one of her later adventures, Alanna joined a desert tribe, took two girls under her wing and helped them gain acceptance and respect—and learned from them too.  We can all help someone, a relative, a friend, or a stranger thousands of miles away.  Thanks to our increasingly global world, we can find opportunities to help all over the world.  We can send a girl to college, help a woman start a business, or volunteer with women in the developing world.

Or we can find a way to inspire someone else.  Has there been an Alanna or a Tamora Pierce in your life?  Have you gone on to help someone else?  I’d love to hear your story!

Cheryl Mahoney is a writer for Tales of the Marvelous, sharing book reviews and reflections on writing.  She has reviewed more than fifteen books by Tamora Pierce, and many others about strong and inspiring girls. She is the Senior Marketing Associate at UniversalGiving and a managing writer for PhilanthroPost.

The Fight for Right

By: Andrea Xu

Despite the monumental obstacles the world has overcome in recent decades in pushing for universal human rights, there are still some rights yet to be practiced by certain populations in the world, some which may be seen as a rudimentary and fundamental right. For the women in Saudi Arabia, the right to choose her spouse is exactly one right they have yet to exercise.

In Saudi Arabia, choosing a spouse is not solely up to the woman, but rather is dictated by her father and brothers, with them usually pressuring her to marry a cousin. This inability to choose a spouse not only demonstrates how patriarchal Saudi Arabia’s society may be, but also the lack of control women have over their lives against their sometimes abusive guardians. Under Islam rule, a woman is able to choose her partner as long as he is considered a moral and upstanding individual. Yet, under the guardianship system, which stems from tribal traditions and deeply entrenched Saudi Arabian culture, women must still get permission from their guardians to marry.

Take the case of Samia, a surgeon who is responsible for her patients’ lives; yet, ironically she is unable to control her own life. For years her father withheld her salary, giving her only a small monthly allowance, a motive as stated by Hussein Nasser al-Sharif, manager of the Jeddah branch of the National Society for Human Rights, common in abusive guardians. When her father and her brothers forced her to marry her cousin, Samia’s refusal resulted in a beating and an imprisonment in her room that lasted for weeks. Her living situation for the past five years? A government-funded sheltered for battered women. Samia has taken her case to two courts, both of which have ruled against her, and is now taking her case to the country’s Supreme Court.

While Samia’s story tragically illustrates how prevalent and serious gender inequality is in certain countries, the fact that Samia is challenging this traditional system serves as an inspiration for all. As more and more women are now challenging their abusive guardians, there can be nothing but hope for women all over the world, to fight for the right to control their own lives.

To learn more about Samia’s story, see the full story from The Christian Science Monitor.

If you would like to help promote women empowerment:

A Lesson on Water from The Jungle Book – Blog Action Day 2010

By Cheryl Mahoney

This year’s topic for Change.org’s Blog Action Day is water.  How often do we think about water?  And yet, how often does it touch our lives?  Maybe we don’t think about it because it’s so ubiquitous.  And because, for most of us who are likely to be online reading this, it seems so easily accessible.

But that isn’t true for a lot of the world.

I had a brief experience of my own recently that brought home how dependent we are on those ready-to-hand faucets.  The water in my apartment building had to be shut off unexpectedly for an hour or two one evening.  And I found myself confronted by all the things I needed water for.

It was time to cook dinner–but I didn’t have any water.  Pasta was out.  So was rice.  Vegetables–oh wait, can’t rinse them.  Can’t clean a pot if I do find something to cook, or rinse off my plate after I eat.  I could put the plate in the dishwasher, but I can’t run it.

It was a hot night–but a shower was out.  So was using the bathroom for any other purpose!

I couldn’t pour a glass of water to drink.  And if this had gone on long enough, I would have eventually encountered other problems–I couldn’t water my plant, couldn’t clean a counter, couldn’t do laundry or wash my hands.

Of course, I managed.  I have a freezer, so I could heat up frozen food that didn’t need any water.  I have a fridge, so I could drink a glass of juice.  And I have air conditioning, so my apartment was cool.  And because the water came on again after only an hour or two, no problem became all that big.

But a lot of the world doesn’t have those solutions.  And they don’t have easily accessible, clean water.

One billion people lack access to clean water.

From what I’ve read, the problem isn’t exactly that people don’t have water.  Everyone seems to find SOME way to get water.  But the problem is the diseases that result from lack of clean water, and the difficulties and hardships that have to be endured to fetch water.

Not to ruin any childhood memories, but do you remember that scene near the end of the Jungle Book cartoon?  (Disclaimer: I’m a big Disney fan, so don’t take this observation to be a sign of hostility against the Mouse!)  Mowgli sees the native girl for the first time, and what is she doing?  She’s fetching water.  And she’s singing about how she “must go to fetch the water, until the day that I am grown.”  A few lines later, she sings that someday she’ll have a daughter “and I’ll send her to fetch the water.”

That’s it in a nutshell, glossed over by Disney positivity.  To put a real world perspective on it…because the native girl is fetching water, she’s not going to school.  She’s not working, either in her home or in some position to earn money.  She’s spending her time fetching water.  She’s going out into the jungle, probably carrying a container that is too heavy to be healthy, and if Mowgli is the most dangerous thing she encounters, she’ll be doing better than many girls.  If nothing changes, her daughter will go on to repeat the cycle.

Here are some ways to take action, and share clean water with people who need it–so maybe Mowgli’s daughter can spend her time doing something better than fetching water.

Give $120 to give a family a water handpump

Give $25 to give one person clean water

Support community water committees in Central America

Give $140 to provide 300 families in Pakistan with water

Give $20 to give a classroom water