Gender Roles in Economics

The age-set system has a decisive role in defining and regulating the social relations of production and reproduction. Maasai men are not regarded as sufficiently mature to control productive and reproductive resources—livestock, women, and children—until they have reached the elder age-set status and thereby acquired the self-control and personal discipline which are held to be needed to handle the task. The morans, recognized to be the defenders of people and livestock and a reserve labor force in times of distress and drought, are under the authority of elders and are not allowed to marry and reproduce, or to associate sexually with married women. The agnatic lineage system formalizes property rights to animals through inheritance and livestock allocation from fathers to sons. Wives are allocated cattle when they marry and move to the husband's homestead. The foundation of the family's economy is the livestock herd, and the basic unit of production is the polygynous unit consisting of a man, his wife(ves), and children.

Female work is concentrated on tending and minding children, calves, and kids, and on milking and preparing the milk products. All household chores fall to women: home-building, preparation of food, hides, and skins, fetching firewood, carrying water, and shopping. Women also sew the beautiful beadwork for which the Maasai are famous (Klumpp & Kratz, 1993). In most of their work women are assisted by their daughters.

The male-defined tasks revolve around herding and protection of the herd. Men are responsible for grazing and watering the animals, for moving the herds, and for castration, vaccination, and slaughter, as well as for building enclosures and digging wells. Men also make weapons, tools, and certain ornaments of bones and ebony. Furthermore, it is adult men who bring animals to the market and sell them. They also control the cash from the sale. Within the family most of the actual physical labor connected with these tasks is performed by boys and young men, while the elders are mainly responsible for planning, decision-making, and management.

However, the overall gendered division of labor between men-herd and women-house, is to some degree manipulated according to needs and circumstances. When for various reasons there are labor shortages in the family, women assist in such male-defined tasks as herding and watering the animals. For instance, it is estimated that on some group ranches in Kenya female labor in herding amounts to more than 50% (Talle, 1988). However, men seldom engage in domestic work.

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