Addressing gender issues using Participatory Rural Appraisal processes among the Maasai community in Kenya

[Individual articles from the Spring 2019 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

In 2015, MCC Kenya conducted a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) in ten communities in Kajiado, Kenya, where its partner, Maasai Integrated Development Initiative (MIDI), works. Kajiado is predominantly inhabited by the Maasai community. It is a water-stressed county, where community members must travel up to ten kilometers in search of water. The area is also food insecure and suffers frequent droughts. MCC carried out this PRA in order to gain a better understanding of the food security situation in Kajiado through participatory engagement with community members. Results from the PRA helped to inform collaborative work between MCC and MIDI to plan new food security initiatives.

The PRA approach, widely used by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other agencies to incorporate the knowledge and opinions of rural people in the planning and management of development initiatives, can also help organizations understand how gender dynamics shape community development. MCC and MIDI used PRA gender analysis tools to identify specific needs for men and women and to gain a better understanding of their different roles and socio-economic positions.

MCC first trained MIDI staff in PRA skills and mentored them in how to facilitate the process. To ensure that the appraisal process would identify relevant gender dynamics at play within the Maasai community where MIDI planned to work, facilitators organized separate focus groups for men and women. In these focus groups, participants analyzed their daily workloads using a method called Daily Activity Clocks. Dividing men and women into separate groups gave the younger women an opportunity to interact and speak freely about issues that would otherwise be difficult for them to discuss with men present, since the Maasai community is male dominant. In the Daily Activity Clocks exercise, group members name what they usually do during the day at a specific time of the year, starting from the time they usually get up. The exercise elicits information about who works the longest hours, who concentrates on a few activities, who does several tasks in a day, who has the most leisure time and sleep and how much time is spent on different activities by men and women.

The Daily Activity Clocks exercise revealed different patterns for how women and men in the community typically spend their days. Participants found that women’s chores usually begin early, around 5:30 am. Women wake up to milk the cows and goats and to monitor and report to their husbands about any sick or pregnant animals. After milking, women proceed to prepare breakfast for the entire family and then embark on other important chores. Fetching water and firewood may take the whole day, with women in this Maasai community having to travel long distances (up to six kilometers) in order to carry out these vital tasks. Other work carried out by women includes cleaning the home, making food for their children and engaging in beadwork for their husbands and children and for commercial purposes. In the evening, women make the fire before everyone comes home, bring calves and goat kids into their enclosures and then milk the cows again before preparing more food for the entire family, including any visitors.

Participants also noted that men usually wake up between six and eight o’clock in the morning. They monitor the village to check for any theft or loss of livestock during the night. Their work also includes protecting the village. After breakfast, they take the cattle to graze. Most grazing work, however, is done by young boys (ages nine to 14). Adult men search for better pastures and watering holes for their cattle and protect them from predators, like lions. Those who remain at home mend fences around the village while tending calves. These responsibilities last until the evening. Some men spend the evening drinking traditional beer and playing games.

After reflective sessions in which women and men considered their respective Daily Activity Clocks, men realized that women work more hours than men. On average, women work for 14 hours a day, rest for four hours and sleep for six hours. Men spend four hours working, 12 hours resting and eight hours sleeping. They also realized that women do much of the physical work, and their chores are rather repetitive, while men’s work is managerial in nature and often involves decision-making. Men’s managerial roles and women’s reproductive roles take a great deal of time, but generate little income.

Given the changing gender situations among the Maasai, the groups felt they needed to identify alternative activities that would not only ease women’s workload but also improve their communities’ household food security and incomes. Men resolved to support initiatives that could help solve gender-related challenges identified by the community, including constructing sand dams, building water tanks to harvest rain water, planting trees for firewood and fodder and installing solar lamps in their homes for energy needs. They also agreed to set up kitchen gardens in their homes and fence grazing spaces for livestock.

The PRA succeeded in creating awareness about the important role women play in the day-to-day affairs of their homes and the wider community as well in bringing forward women’s voices about their own situation. The PRA exercise also highlighted that even though women are marginalized, they make immense contributions to the wellbeing of their families and communities and to solving their communities’ food security problems. The PRA even helped the community identify development initiatives that would improve women’s lives. These types of steps towards greater gender equality, however, are limited: women in Maasai society still lack equitable access to resources and decision-making power. Men continue to dominate some sectors and the most powerful positions in society. Longer-term movement towards equality for Kenya’s rural women will require improved access for women to education and material assets and the formation of strong women’s movements.

William Kiptoo is MCC Kenya peacebuilding coordinator.

Learn More

FAO. The Group Promoter’s Resource Book. A Practical Guide to Building Rural Self-Help Groups. Rome, Italy: FAO, 1995, 1997. Available at: T1965E00.htm.

Freudenberger, Karen Schoonmaker. “Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) and Participatory
Rural Appraisal (PRA): A Manual for CRS Field Workers and Partners.” Catholic Relief Services. Available online:

Institute of Development Studies. “Participatory Methods.” Available at

Sontheimer, Sally, Karel Callens, and Bernd Seiffert. “PRA Tool Box.” Conducting a PRA Training and Modifying PRA Tools to Your Needs. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: FAO, 1999. Available at: .

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