Advancing the land rights of pastoralist women in northern Tanzania

The campaign supports women’s land rights in the Ngorongoro district, through the formation of Women’s Rights and Leadership Forums (WRLF).

Courageous women, supported by PWC, are forming WRLFs to collectively address threats to women’s and communities’ land rights, demand accountable governance, and ensure participatory decision making, including with respect to land.

WRLFs have helped pastoralist women move from being mostly observers in public decision-making, to being leaders in what appears to be an emerging grassroots social movement for land rights. Their influence has been greater and farther-reaching than expected. WRLFs have succeeded in drawing attention to women’s rights to participate and engage in public dialogue and public processes, and the right to own property and land.

They have also promoted women’s rights to economic empowerment, protection from violence, and the rights to education. Women now ensure that their rights to property and inheritance are protected.


The campaign aims to increase women’s opportunities to influence what happens to themselves, their families, and their communities.

There are four key objectives:
1. To mobilise women in pastoralist communities to collectively organize at the community, district, and regional scale.
2. To increase the participation and decision-making influence of pastoralist women on land rights and other matters in village governments and other local decision-making bodies.
3. To increase support for women’s land and property rights from customary leadership institutions in pastoralist communities.
4. To reduce threats and insecurity resulting from large-scale conflicts around land tenure, access and use that impact women in Ngorongoro district.


Involving male customary leaders ensures that men also receive training on women’s rights, and has also given WRLFs legitimacy, enabling them to create clear support within a community. This is remarkable as there was no customary women’s leadership prior to the establishment of the WRLFs.

As a customary leadership institution, the WRLFs provide an opportunity to review and revise ‘cultural’ norms and practice, driven by women’s transformed awareness and desire for equality.

Another WRLF strategy to increase women’s presence in their communities is to ensure that women are represented on local government bodies. Through their increased presence, women are influencing decisions made at the local government level.

Also, they are holding local government to account, and challenging decisions, including the way inheritance is handled; the rights of girls to go to school; and the obligations of leaders to protect girls from early forced marriage and women from abuse.


There are important innovations and strategies that are contributing to the achievements of WRLFs.

WRLFs are working with both customary and statutory leadership and governance institutions. Through this engagement, they are supporting locally appropriate harmonization of customary and statutory rights, and universal human rights, in ways that strengthen women’s rights and the collective rights of the pastoralist system.

Competent and courageous leadership by women has been demonstrated in creating unity between the different elements of Maasai society (section, age-set, clan and family) and in mobilizing people to take action to protect and enhance their land rights.


In the areas where the campaign is active women are speaking in public and strategically increasing their influence in their communities by obtaining seats in local government and by collaborating with the customary leadership.
Women are using their influence in both these spheres, strengthening the capacity of these institutions to protect women’s rights. Across the district, women state that they are significantly more confident to engage in strengthening rights for women.

• Nurturing women leaders within the community;
• Increasing women’s presence in public decision making, including with regard to livestock management;
• Enhancing recognition and acceptance of women’s rights among local leaders;
• Mobilizing and taking action to defend both women’s property rights and community land rights;
• Facilitating substantial expansion of women’s ownership of land plots;
• Supporting women’s economic empowerment;
• Promoting solidarity across communities around land issues


Internally, women are subject to discrimination and marginalization due to the patriarchal nature of Maasai society and customary practices that deny women rights to property and participation in decision-making. Externally, women share in the vulnerability of pastoralist communities throughout northern Tanzania to the growing range of pressures and threats linked to land grabbing, encroachment, and appropriation of communities’ assets.

WRLFs face a number of challenges. They are spread over a wide geographical area and there is rapidly growing demand to support new forums and to strengthen existing ones. This creates challenges in terms of resourcing and for effectively monitoring WRLFs’ impacts.
Realising widespread change takes time. Despite WRLFs’ relatively wide acceptance, some continue to question and resist the expansion of women’s rights and power. Lack of confidence, exacerbated by high levels of illiteracy, also continues to make women reluctant to take political positions


An important factor in the emergence of WRLFs is the increased marginalization of communities. Customary institutions have demonstrated their support to the WRLF, and women are increasingly represented in the formal systems of government at village level.

A social movement is developing, born from the extreme urgency of threats, pressure and oppression that women and their communities face, especially in Loliondo and Ngorongoro, challenging current practice in gender relations and land governance.

Lessons learnt on how to enhance the emergence of a social movement for strengthened pastoralist land tenure and changed gender relations are to:
1. Nurture women’s leadership in customary institutions
2. Enhance women leadership to support adaptive management of rangelands
3. Improve women's economic empowerment