Welcome to Part 1 of our May 2023 Inspirational Interview with Maanda Ngoitiko, co-founder and Executive Director of the Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC) in Tanzania.

As a Maasai woman and grassroots leader, Ms. Ngoitiko has been instrumental in increasing the agency of tens of thousands of indigenous pastoralist and agro-pastoralist women and girls to know and exercise their rights. She is recipient of the Paul K. Feyerabend Prize, a nominee for The Guardian International Development Achievement Award, an African Visionary Fellow and a Grassroots Champion of Segal Family Foundation.

Part two of Ms. Ngoitiko’s interview will be published 8 May 2023.

All photos are courtesy of the Pastoral Women’s Council.

1. How and why did you join the movement to end violence against women (VAW)? 

I grew up in a very patriarchal society where women were treated as second class citizens with every aspect of their lives dictated by their male counterparts. In this environment women were dominated by men and had limited access to opportunities to reach their life goals. When my own sister was forced out of school to get married, I took her place. I went to school with 28 male students and only 1 other girl. Sadly, she was also beaten and forced into early marriage. I realised that this was totally my life prospects and decided–even at such a young age–that, as a community, we needed to change. This is what inspired me to dedicate my life to defend our rights as women, and subsequently to co-found Pastoral Women’s Council where women and our male allies, as an informed collective, can be change agents in the movement to end violence against women and girls, and advance gender equity and social justice.


2. The Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC) is a proximate, non-profit member organisation and was founded by yourself and 9 other Maasai women in 1997. What inspired all of you to start PWC? 

Most of the women founders were Maasai widows who had survived excruciating gender-based violence from within their families. In our rural setting there was no platform or any kind of support for women like us and no Maasai women’s representation in any institution. Maasai women had no voice and no meaningful role in family or civic decision-making spaces. 

At inception in 1997, we were a small informal collective but we decided to be bold and stop 10 early marriages. We knew this would be life-changing for those girls and it would make a bold statement about women’s rights within our community, so we took those 10 young girls to school. 

Soon after, we started PWC as a place for all women to embrace women’s rights and support each other. In this proximate membership-based non-profit, we could come together to discuss personal frustrations in life and actively support each other in our struggles for equity and justice.


3. Can you tell us about how PWC’s approach to achieving gender equality and equity – including combatting VAW such as domestic violence and child marriages – across the Maasai community has developed since 1997?

Traditionally, it was taboo for girls to go to school. Now, many girls attend primary and secondary school and we focus on their retention and helping them continue on to tertiary studies. 

It was also taboo for women to attend community meetings. Now, for example, 12 of the 38 community leaders in Ngorongoro district are women, 7 Maasai women recently contested in National Assembly elections and 112 women paralegals work to resolve disputes impacting Maasai women.

Historically, a woman was not expected to voice her views and participate in decision making at any level. Now, many women in polygamous marriages know their rights, have built their self-reliance, and can stand up against oppression by their husbands. Families also benefit from training on collaboration, equality, and equity.

From a very low level, there has been significant improvement in women having their voices heard and their rights respected. Even so, many challenges remain, particularly for the most vulnerable in our communities. 


4. Could you give us an overview of the work that PWC does to stop VAW in the Maasai community in Tanzania?

Women’s rights and leadership forums and girls’ rights clubs in schools are major PWC innovations. Skills, knowledge and confidence building empowers women and girls to advocate for themselves and others. 

We collaborate across many stakeholders (such as district gender offices, community development offices, police gender offices, district magistrates, district counsellors, village leaders, traditional leaders and paralegals) to prevent, report, respond to and follow up on cases of gender-based violence within our Maasai community.

We promote the UN’s 16-days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence through community meetings and radio broadcasts. We are also members of the Girls Not Brides network and Tanzania Gender Networking Programme, and have been recognised by the Tanzanian government as key actors in upholding the rights of women and girls in our communities.

PWC also has 2 lawyers, one female, who support survivors of gender-based violence and, in collaboration with other NGOs, help bring perpetrators to justice. 


5. PWC believes that “when girls are educated they are better able to diminish negative and harmful practices towards women within Maasai society – such as female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage and gender-based violence – and seek to retain and promote the positive aspects of their culture”. What sort of impact has PWC’s work in this area had on efforts to stop VAW in the Maasai community?

One of our greatest achievements has been to significantly change the perception and attitudes of traditional male Maasai leaders towards Maasai women. They now work together as empowered partners and allies, reporting VAW to authorities and holding duty bearers to account. Even uneducated young women know their rights. Women are also now accepted as traditional leaders.  This inclusive collaboration is the foundation of long-term generational change in Maasai society.

Through formal education, vocational training, improvements in literacy and numeracy, entrepreneurship development and access to affordable microcredit, women can now provide for their families and help decide on family spending priorities. These same women stand strong in meetings, speak eloquently about issues affecting them and contest leadership positions.

Mechanisms such as Women’s Rights and Leadership Forums, Legal Aid Clinics held in remote villages and training of Court User Committees further demonstrate PWC’s commitment to solidarity and equity across our community.