Maasai Women’s Involvement in an Income-Generating Ecotourism Venture: En Route towards Empowerment and Changing Gender Roles and Relations
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This study investigated Maasai women’s involvement in an income-generating ecotourism venture, which is conducted by a foreign eco-tour operator. The venture is located in Talek, on the northern boundary of Kenya’s famous Masai Mara National Reserve. Specifically, the study sheds light on the mode of operation of the handicraft producing ecotourism venture ‘The Maasai Brand’, aiming at empowering disadvantaged local Maasai women. It also brings out Maasai women’s assessment of the venture with respect to livelihood changes. Finally, the study examines the effects of Maasai women’s employment in the ecotourism venture on gender roles and relations. The study applied ideas obtained mainly from empowerment and sustainable livelihoods approaches, as well as ideas from the concepts of ecotourism and gender. Qualitative methodology, comprising interviews, observations and focus group discussions have been employed to generate the data. The study revealed that the venture adheres to socio-economic and socio-cultural ecotourism principles aiming at empowering local Maasai women and preserving traditional knowledge and skills. As a result, Maasai women feel empowered through earning an income, increasing their social capability and gaining outside recognition. The venture has also raised women’s consciousness about the importance of education. In addition, it was found that changes take place in the understanding and practice of gender since Maasai women got employed. Based on these findings, the study concludes that the tourism industry can offer meaningful entry-points for employment of disadvantaged women, which bring about positive social and gender related change.