Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

3rd Session, 40th Parliament,
Volume 147, Issue 96

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Women in Africa

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak about the powerful, courageous and strong women who reside in Africa’s Rift Valley.

On March 8, which marked the one hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day, I had the opportunity to visit Kajiado, a small Maasai village located just outside of Nairobi, Kenya. The Maasai are a pastoral community.

As I am sure honourable senators are aware, International Women’s Day is a time when we all come together and celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world. Typically on this day, we take time to honour women who have made their mark in the political, professional or philanthropic arenas.

Although the achievements of Maasai women like the ones I met in Kajiado often go unrecognized, these women truly exemplify what International Women’s Day is all about.

After hearing several Maasai women offer testimony, I quickly learned that the Maasai women of Kajiado are not only the glue that holds their communities and families together but that they are also patrons of peace and beacons of hope. Historically, these women have had little exposure to formal education, have battled gender inequality and have fallen victim to practices such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

However, grassroots organizations like Amani Communities Africa have worked diligently to empower these women and generate awareness and understanding of women’s human and legal rights, while at the same time providing them with the tools they need to respond effectively to abuses and violations.

My good friend Joy Mbaabu, the Executive Director of Amani Communities Africa, introduced us to Agnes, the leader of the Maasai women in Kajiado. She spoke to us about the challenges Maasai women continue to face and provided insight into what a day in her life is like. She also spoke about the responsibilities she had, both inside and outside her home.

After hearing from Agnes, I learned that it is the women in these communities who are responsible for taking care of their families, tending to the cattle, harvesting the crops and for generating income.

The most important message that Agnes and many other Maasai women conveyed that afternoon was the importance of educating their daughters. They acknowledged that many of their daughters were now given the opportunity to attend primary school. However, they stressed the importance of higher education. The women I had the pleasure of interacting with made it clear that the future of their communities lies in the hands of their daughters, as they would be the ones who would usher in sustainable change.

Upon departing, I asked the women of Kajiado what message I should give to the Canadian people. They responded: “Help us educate our daughters and we will do the rest.”

Honourable senators, the achievements of Maasai women, organizations like Amani Communities Africa and women’s efforts should no longer go unnoticed. I urge all honourable senators to join me in congratulating Maasai women, Amani Communities Africa and Joy Mbaabu for demonstrating the importance of empowering women.