Rise to Leadership: An Evaluation of African Maasai Women's Leadership

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Women leaders in Africa have been largely invisible in scholarly research (Nkomo & Ngambi, 2009). There is a developing body of literature on how women in Africa rise from poverty to leadership roles. "There is relative consensus across the publications in terms of factors impeding African women's access and ascent to leadership and management. Those factors are early socialization, limited educational attainment, multiple roles, gender stereotyping, subtle discrimination, and organizational policies and procedures" (Nkomo & Ngamo, 2009, p. 55). Pressing African women's issues like mentoring, work, family, and sexual harassment are systemically underrepresented in literature. (Nkomo and Ngamo, 2009).

The Maasai of Tanzania are a marginalized pastoral semi-nomadic group (www.Loocip.com) with a median income less than $1,000 per year (World Bank, 2006). Maasai women are identified as marginalized as a community that lives below the level of interest and concern of Tanzanian society; they are hidden from the discursive articulations (Fraser, Brown, Wright, & Kiruswa, 2012). Maasai women are mostly illiterate, without access to formal education unless approved by men (who often do not value education); male elders decide if women will be funded or allowed to attend formal schooling (Fraser, et al., 2012). Yet in spite of hindrances, some Maasai women succeed to roles of political, corporate and nonprofit leadership. Of the women who rise from poverty; how do they describe the factors enabling leadership, and how do education, mentors, and structural variables hinder or empower them? Theories from other cultures of Africa are applied to determine if they explain how Maasai women overcome hindrances to their rise to leadership.

The conditions that hinder women from becoming leaders include cultural beliefs, structural, gender, and resource issues, traditional marriage and lack of education (Kambi, 2008; Tripp, 2003). These women have little opportunity for leadership, although a small percentage of the women do rise to be leaders. Women's hindrances literature is divided into three main areas of why these women remain hindered from leadership: (a) governmental and structural hindrances (Tripp, 2003, 1989; Shayo, 2005); (b) education and marriage opportunity (Sadie, 2005; Kritz & Makinwa-Adebusoye, 1999), and (c) cultural, gender discrimination and tribal practice (Nikomo & Ngambi, 2009).

African governments have recently started to address women's empowerment issues on a systemic level. A number of regulatory, legal and government enforcement issues remain that hinder women's progress (Kiamba, 2008; Shayo, 2005; Tripp, 2003). All sub-Saharan governments signed onto the 1997 Declaration on Gender and Development, to designate 30% of political leadership positions for women to create women's opportunity for involvement in governance by 2005 (Sadie, 2005). In this study leadership as influence is considered in the women's rise to leadership positions. Women in Tanzanian parliament stood at 28%; Maasai women are less than 1% (www.parliament.go.tz). The majority of those studies report governmental regulations requiring female representation all levels of leadership and governance, but women remain underrepresented in positions of power and leadership (de la Rey, 2005; Kiamba 2008).

Tanzania as one of the poorest nations on earth (World Bank, 2006) has structural problems that prevent it from funding gender related issues. In the poorest countries the richest fifth receive 60% of national income while the poorest fifth receives less than 5% and the majority of those poorest fifth are women (Scott, 1984). But international and United Nations reports have only recently begun to specifically reference hindrances to women (Wedgwood, 2005). A historical look at hindering and enabling factors provides only limited information. In sub Saharan Africa woman are provided jobs mainly in subsistence farming, not afforded legal land ownership; while men receive jobs on cash plantations and inherit land (Scott, 1984). …

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