Due to strong cultural traditions and beliefs as well as lack of education, Maasai women around East Africa have very limited control of their health and hygiene. At the Maasai Women Relief, we target our efforts to three problem areas: menstruation hygiene, safe childbirth and reducing female genital mutilation. To give the followers an idea of the situation at hand, we have collected basic information of each of the three problem areas below.
As it is almost impossible to get a hold of a sanitary towel in rural Maasai areas, women often feel ashamed and very uncomfortable during their periods. As the villages are widely controlled by the men, and women don't have much power when it comes to community issues, topics about female hygiene remain a taboo in the public discussion. While most men have a hands-off attitude toward these issues, women are expected to perform their daily tasks every day of the month, regardless of not having sufficient knowledge and means to deal with menstruation in a hygienic way. This creates anxiety and tension in the families and in the whole community. Men are generally ignorant about women' menstruation and don't consider the lack of hygiene as a serious issue.
Under these circumstances Maasai women are often scared to interact with their husbands and families during their periods. They tend to stay away form their daily home and village chores to hide the menstruation. Many women use pieces of cloth to collect the blood, and those hand made "pads" are often reused several times without proper cleaning. In some rare cases if sanitary towels are available, they are used for extensive periods of time (up to several days at once) because they are expensive and hard to find. After use, they are either buried to the ground or burned, both of which being not-so-sustainable options. All of these aspects including lack of clean water for washing, add up to poor hygiene and expose the women for infections and sickness.
Risks of losing the life of the child or the mother are very high in rural Maasai areas, with no trained nurses and midwives available. Most women give birth at home and have no nor limited access to clean water for their post natal care and hygiene. Village women depend on traditional midwives to administer the childbirth and many times those methods can't address unforeseen and lethal circumstances during the childbirth. Medication, hygienic environment and options for surgery are simply not available. At the post natal state, knowledge and education about adequate infant care is widely absent.
Female Genital Mutilation
FGM remains a strong part of the Maasai culture, as part of becoming a woman and a full member of the society. The milestone is celebrated with great enthusiasm in a big ceremony, as the young women begin the the new phase of their lives. Because of this strong connection to personal status, fighting FGM is not an easy task. Governments in East Africa have prohibited female circumcision and are arresting people who perform it, but these strong tools don't seem to be working. The people in Maasai villages are protecting their tradition and finding ways to perform it anyway, which in many cases makes it even more dangerous and unhygienic. It is believed that without getting circumcised, the girl is still a baby and can not get married or give birth. Due to this strong belief, most girls want to go through the operation to begin the new chapter of their lives as women. As village leaders and elders are highly respected and have strong opinions in favour of this tradition, young girls and their families don't question the correctness of the action. As an organisation we want to raise awareness of the dangers and suffering caused by FGM. We believe that the best results can be achieved through working together with the Maasai people, and offering them an alternative option, instead of using force and strong tools.