Maasai women using cameras to tackle climate crisis

climate crisis, climate change, maasai women

Women from Maasailand who showcased their photography and explained how they are using it to tackle climate change at Eka Hotel in Nairobi. 

Photo credit: POOL

What you need to know:

  • Armed with a digital camera and desire for involvement, they document changes in weather patterns and their effects on livelihoods in these counties.
  • They then reach out to their communities, using the images to teach them about the impact of the changing climate.

As their region continues to experience harsh and extreme weather patterns, a group of women from Kajiado and Narok counties have chosen a different response to climate change: photography. 

Armed with a digital camera and desire for involvement, they document changes in weather patterns and their effects on livelihoods in these counties. They then reach out to their communities, using the images to teach them about the impact of the changing climate.

Esther Tinayo and five other women displayed their photography work at a gallery held recently at The Eka Hotel in Nairobi. Some of the pictures displayed at the gallery depict vast stretches of land covered in dust, extreme vegetation loss and bare swathes where forests existed. 

Yet others capture the daily struggles of women and their children who walk for tens of miles every day in search for water. There are also those that show how loss of livestock in these counties forces members of the community to seek alternative sources of income. 

Tinayo and these women are beneficiaries of Lensational, a non-profit social enterprise working to elevate the voices of women from underrepresented groups and communities through visual storytelling as a means to participate in the global response to the climate threat.

This NGO trains women on photography, digital storytelling and video production. It empowers them to share their stories and advocate for the issues they face. Currently, Lensational is working in 3 countries and with slightly over 1,000 women from different cultures. 

Lensational started in 2014. In 2018, they ventured into Amboseli and Loita, according to its chief executive Lydia Wanjiku. The aim was to highlight the experience of women in these areas and their interaction with wildlife. It is then that Wanjiku and her team discovered a more pressing issue: climate change.  But why them? Tinayo comes from one of the hardest-hit areas and is a first-hand witness to long droughts and erratic rainfall patterns that have plagued these pastoral counties in the last 30 years.

For the pastoralists, these unpredictable weather patterns, reduced rainfall and prolonged drought mean loss of grazing lands, loss of livestock and, ultimately, loss of a livelihood they have relied on for generations. 

Through photography, Tinayo and other women are telling tales of the story of water shortage and poor harvests became common phenomena, disrupting the way of life. 

Meanwhile, the men in this community are away from home for many months searching pasture. This leaves the women to handle both domestic and grazing chores, including fetching water and looking after calves and weak livestock. Some of the women harvest trona and trek for miles to the neighbouring Tanzania to sell it. 

While many in this community have been unconscious of the changing way of life for many years, few understood the concept of climate change. In the locales of Kajiado and Narok counties, the community has been hoping that the erratic weather of unpredictable rainfall and now almost certain dry spells would pass. Until they became the norm. 

But this is changing now as Tinayo and the other women evangelise about climate change. Climate change is no longer a foreign topic in the community. The women hope to mobilise the community around climate change issues by teaching them about its destructive effects and how to adapt to the new reality. 

Already, the community has started to adapt to more resilient ways of life, among them poultry farming, as shown in a picture of Maasai women rearing chickens. This is a shift from purely livestock farming in this area where poultry was unpopular for decades. The photo is part of the learning material that Esther and her peers use for this course. 

With the images, locals are now aware of the damage that has been wrought by the changing climate and what they can do to conserve their limited resources for survival. 

Besides capturing weather events for education, the women also sell some of the photographs to earn some income.

"One can make up to Sh30,000 from sale of pictures,’’ Tinayo reveals.

In most cases, women in marginalised communities rarely feature in climate policy discussions even as they experience the heaviest hit of this phenomenon.  It is in the realisation that Lensational has partnered with other NGOs like National Adaptation Plan Global Network (NAP) and Global Affairs Canada and policymakers from Kenya to seal the gap of women representation. 

Lensational gives a medium for the local citizens to be heard while NAP brings together policy-makers and bilateral development agencies.

One of the policymakers who took part in the gala is Lelekoiten Lerenten, the deputy director at the climate change directorate at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

For the first time since Lensational began its work in Amboseli and Loita, these pictures have been shared with government departments, igniting debate on what must be done as a matter of urgency.  Wanjiku and her team hope to change the story of drought and loss in these communities to that of adaptation and conservation. Through images taken over a long period of time, this is becoming a reality in the two counties.

“Photography is a great medium for expression. Most importantly, it elevates the voices of these women and their communities. They can be heard by the right people”, she concludes.

Adds Irene, another beneficiary: “Without this partnership, most of us would still be oblivious of climate change. Many of us would not have adapted.’’