From Being Property to Owning One: A Maasai Woman’s Struggle for Land | Characteristics
Kona Baridi, Kenya – Ipato “Peris” Kateki knows only one female Maasai landowner – herself. And the 57-year-old, with her small plot in Kajiado County, southern Kenya, is a rarity among her people. Until 17 years ago, she wasn’t even close to owning anything.
At the time, Peris had just given birth to her fifth child and had been very ill during the pregnancy. Doctors at Kenyatta National Hospital confirmed she had HIV/AIDS and health workers sent Peris back to Kona Baridi to Kajiado, her ancestral home – 20 years after she was cast out for the second times.
When her father found out she had the disease, he started shouting, “She brought taboo to our community.
Her journey from being considered property to owning property had begun when Peris was a 12-year-old child bride. Her father had married her off to a man who was 60 and remembered as “the one who could swallow me alive”, as she walked behind him in tears to their marital home.
A big Maasai ceremony was planned to celebrate their union. A week later, when the singing and dancing stopped, she said to her husband, “I’m going home.
“Why are you going home?” her husband asked, shocked. “I just married you.”
women as property
In the Maasai culture, daughters are considered the property of their father, their value being measured by their dowry, usually a cow or two. In Kajiado County, 28% of Maasai girls are married before they turn 18 and more than half of them have undergone female genital mutilation, according to UNICEF.
Researchers studying gender imbalance in Maasai schools have found that only one-fifth of students are female; in Kajiado County, 48% of the population is illiterate, according to the Ministry of Education. For girls there, owning skills to survive outside of marriage is considered useless, and owning land is extremely rare.
In Kenya, 60 percent of land is administered through customary land tenure, which governs inheritance and title ownership. These rules often discriminate against women, guaranteeing married women access to land but not ownership, says Margaret Rugadya, Africa region director for Landesa, a global nonprofit that helps people obtain land rights.
Across the country, women run three-quarters of its farms, but only 2% of land titles are held solely by women, according to the World Bank. And although Kenya has legislation in place allowing girls to own land, in reality, if women decide to leave their marriages, the results are grim, as cultural attitudes still view women as the property of their husbands. .
“When a marriage breaks down, if there is a separation or a divorce, women lose their rights to land,” Rugadya said. Most women are forced to leave the property unless they agree to marry another relative or their children grant them the right to do so. Women who choose to leave often lose their homes.
United Nations research has shown an increase not only in food yields for the community, but also in economic security and security for women when they own land. But limited access to land rights may be linked to an increase in gender-based violence, labor trafficking and sex and prostitution due to a lack of economic alternatives, Rugadya says.
Peris ran away from her marital home and walked for more than a day to her village in Kona Baridi.
When she arrived, she excitedly ran to her father who was sitting on their farm. Seeing his daughter, he said, “Why did you come back here? I had already given you. Go back to your husband’s land or somewhere else but you can’t stay here.
Again, Peris runs away. This time she walked 19 kilometers to Ngong, a small town in Kajiado County. With nowhere to go and unable to read or write, she followed a young boy who took her to his home.
“That’s how I survived,” she said, looking at her clasped hands as she spoke through an interpreter. “I slept at his house, but at least they accepted me.”
Sometimes she was available to be hired to wash clothes or cook.
Peris jumped from house to man, eventually becoming pregnant. In 20 years, she had five children – three girls and two boys – all on the streets with different fathers, until she was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
It was then that his father announced the news to the community.
Peris tried to get home, but one morning when she woke up to milk her goats, she was jumped by assailants who she said were her own brothers. “They kicked my wounds until I was covered in blood,” she said. “I lay there waiting to die but my children found me.”
Her youngest daughter, Loice Naishorua, who was just a child at the time, ran down the road and waved at a truck. “We put her in one of the passing vehicles and told the driver to take her to the hospital,” said Loice, now 24.
After her recovery, Peris took four of her children (one of whom remained) and went to live in the Ngong dump, once again on the streets. There, Peris heard about Living Positive, a relief center that helps women and children living with HIV/AIDS.
Mary Wanderi, a 55-year-old social worker who grew up in Nairobi’s Mathare slums as one of eight children raised by a single mother, founded the organization in 2006 to empower struggling mothers.
Participants follow an 18-month program during which they learn to accept that they are living with HIV/AIDS, then learn skills to support themselves and their families, and receive support to start a business. The program helps about 30 participants each year – a total of 550 women since its launch.
Wanderi said Peris was very motivated to build her life after years of illness and despair. “As a Maasai girl, Peris realized she was good at beadwork,” Wanderi explains. “She learned how to start her business and sell her products. »
Peris took an adult education course to learn how to save and spend her money. She continued to make beads and traveled to Nairobi where she sold her wares in the markets. After a few years, she was able to save 300,000 Kenyan shillings ($2,600).
‘A place to call home’
Still, she wanted to return to her ancestral home. Peris told his father, “I want land, I’ll buy it.” Her father was so surprised by her request that he asked, “Where are you going to get the money from?”
Peris took the money out of her bag and handed it to him, watching him count each shilling. Then he stood up, motioned for his daughter to follow him, walked down the hill and waved to a modest patch of land. “It’s what you can buy with your money,” he said.
After getting the title deed, she threw a big party and called on the religious leaders to pray for her land. “I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “The earth came from God and I wanted to thank the heavens.”
Life still has its challenges, even for a landowner. Peris’ father and brothers still do not acknowledge that she and her children have returned. He won’t let her connect to the main water source, so she has to fetch water from miles away.
But she has her own goats and cattle, and on her land are the mud-spattered walls of a traditional Maasai manyatta and the outline of a newly built concrete house. Inside her cool, gray interior are the sharp outlines of a future kitchen to be fitted with running water and a flush toilet for the bathroom, for the visit of her grandchildren.
Peris continues to sell her beadwork and tells other Maasai women living with HIV/AIDS that a good life is still possible. When she saves a little, she buys something; first the bay windows, then a sink that waits propped up against a wall in its future kitchen. She has patience with her purchases and installations, knowing she doesn’t have to leave and can take her time.
“My main joy is that my children have a place to call home,” she said. “No one can tell my children to leave. This is my land.