The water sector in Pan Africa faces various challenges, particularly in overcoming gender-related issues. However, through stakeholder engagement and the implementation of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), positive changes can be achieved. This success story highlights the transformation of the Maasai Women Environment Conservation Champions (MWECC) in Narok, Kenya, who shifted from being charcoal burners to becoming advocates for water conservation and environmental sustainability.
In 2018, CESPAD conducted a training session for the Enkare Water Resource Users Association (WRUA) in Narok on Integrated Water Resources Management and governance. One participant, Hon Rahab Kenana, the secretary of Enkare WRUA, took the knowledge back to her community. She mobilized a group of women who were previously charcoal burners and educated them on the importance of IWRM and the need to cease tree cutting for charcoal production. This initiative led to a significant behavioral change among the women, who transformed into the Maasai Women Environment Conservation Champions (MWECC).
MWECC, now comprising over 2000 women, had previously relied on charcoal burning and tree cutting for their livelihoods. However, they were unaware of the adverse impact these practices had on water catchments. As they depleted the trees, water sources diminished, and the region started to face water scarcity. With support from CESPAD under the Water Governance Support Program (WGSP 2), MWECC underwent capacity-building initiatives focused on alternative livelihoods, such as beadwork, crocheting, and engaging in conservation work, including tree planting. CESPAD also facilitated partnerships between MWECC and other development organizations for funding water resource management activities.
As MWECC attended CESPAD’s trainings and received technical support, remarkable progress was observed. The women successfully abandoned their previous means of trade and fully embraced environmental conservation. They initiated reforestation efforts in previously deforested areas, serving as environmental ambassadors and raising awareness about the importance of conserving water catchments. MWECC established a resource center to enhance community members’ environmental conservation capacities, diversify livelihoods, and address youth-related issues like mental health and menstrual hygiene.
Through CESPAD’s support, MWECC effectively utilized the documentary and learning tools provided to create awareness and sensitize the community about environmental degradation and alternative livelihood sources. The women successfully engaged various stakeholders, including Safaricom, who supported them with sewing machines for income generation through clothing production. Additionally, MWECC partnered with Ewaso Nyiro development partners on catchment conservation, resulting in the planting of 10,000 bamboo trees. They continue to educate communities on the importance of bamboo tree planting and supply seedlings during market days.
To document and share their inspiring journey, CESPAD produced a documentary showcasing best practices, lessons learned, and success stories in implementing the IWRM model in Makueni, Narok, and Laikipia Counties. The documentary emphasized the IWRM model’s definition, CESPAD’s role in its implementation, the stakeholders involved, and the innovative processes introduced during its development.
The story of MWECC exemplifies the power of stakeholder engagement and the implementation of Integrated Water Resources Management in overcoming gender-related challenges in the water sector. Through capacity-building, alternative livelihood initiatives, and community partnerships, these once charcoal burners transformed into passionate water and environment champions. Their dedication to conservation, reforestation, and sustainable practices has not only safeguarded water resources but also inspired and empowered others to follow suit. MWECC’s success serves as an inspiring model for similar initiatives across Pan Africa and beyond.