When I say we did some truly unbelievable work in Tanzania, I mean that I really cannot believe what I had the chance to do. Working and speaking with Maasai women about their lives, struggles, and how to make changes to benefit themselves and their families was mind-blowing.
For Maasai girls, becoming a woman means being circumcised. Although the government has outlawed this behavior, villages like Mundarara have continued to carry out female circumcisions in secret. We asked the women if they were circumcised and they said no, but Loti and Herry informed us that they were lying. The women are circumcised but it’s not something they will talk about. I found out that Maasai girls take advantage of the time before their circumcision by being very promiscuous. I have to admit that I think it’s understandable behavior considering they know their fate, but it is not good for sexual health. Obviously, female circumcision is an issue for many reasons. It is accepted as a violation of human rights in most places by now.
It was crazy to talk to these women knowing what they’ve been through and continue to deal with. There are countless issues I would have liked to talk about with these women, but I knew some would have to wait. Female circumcision is one of these issues since I knew they weren’t ready to speak about something so private with a stranger. Still, we were able to talk about important issues like HIV/AIDS, and nutrition with the women. We targeted general health, especially for babies and children.
We decided to have more of a discussion than training with the women since GSC has been in Mundarara before. Katlyn and I lead the discussion. The women who showed up had questions and concerns in mind so we didn’t want to waste time going over the whole curriculum. Answering their questions and speaking to them was so worthwhile and gratifying. One discussion stood out – and it still gives me chills. This discussion was about how to avoid getting HIV.
After reviewing how HIV is transmitted and prevented we discussed their options. Since they do not have a choice about their sex lives these options are extremely limited. They can’t abstain from sex, because their husbands would beat and rape them if they said no. They can’t make sure they’re in a faithful relationship, because their husbands have many wives and nobody is truly limited in partners through marriage. They can’t use condoms, because the men don’t want to, and the purpose is for them to get pregnant.
We realized that there is not much they can do, and there is not much we can tell them since we are not there to criticize their culture. After discussing the options among themselves, and many prompts from us, the women reached a goal. They decided that they will each talk to their entire group of sister wives about the issue of HIV and explain the facts. Next, together they will sit their husbands down and explain it to them. They will explain the transmission and prevention of HIV and even show them the handbooks containing our entire HA curriculum if they will listen. They will ask their husbands if they can all be tested so they know who is spreading HIV and who needs to be treated. From there, they will agree to be faithful to each other, negative husband and negative wives, in order to keep it that way.
I’m aware that the chances for success are slim, but it’s progress. It’s a step in the right direction and their promise to try is better than anything we could have wanted.
– Naomi M., Tanzania Integrated Program
Photos and content courtesy of Naomi M. and Nora V.