Breaking Out of the Boma

For the past century, Maasai men have been the sole financial providers for their families. However, with increasing droughts and dwindling land access due to conservation, men are becoming unable to provide for their multiple wives and families. 

Many women, often forbidden from working and yet unable to watch their families suffer, have forgone societal norms and started businesses — selling small goods like petroleum jelly or snuff tobacco from their homes or nearby markets. While usually making less than $5 USD a week, these women risk abuse and backlash for their actions. In recent years, veteran Maasai businesswomen have created women’s collectives that provide support to this new generation of Maasai businesswomen. With these collectives, opinions towards women are shifting.

The photos follow three generations of women in Oltukai Village, Tanzania as they learn from each other, struggle to grow (or start) their businesses, and challenge their village’s conception of women. 

The accompanying short film.

This project was funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.


Kelele’s mother, Sipapei Lekisamba, clutches a bag of detergent after her daughter sold a 1,000 shilling bag to a neighbor. Despite initial pushback, a generation of Maasai businesswomen are emerging as NGO’s bring education, grants, and women collectives to the area.


Kelele and her half-niece, Ngaisungui Dukutu, spend several hours fetching firewood a few kilometers from their boma. Maasai businesswomen must balance the demands of their business with exhausting and constant household chores (e.g. fetching water and firewood, minding newborn livestock, feeding children, milking cattle, building houses, and harvesting crops).


Lekisamba’s women’s collective meets beside the local primary school to discuss whether they should open a bank account in order to receive a loan from a local political candidate. In the face of social stigma and scarce resources, women’s collectives provide micro-loans within the group, access to bank accounts, support during emergencies, and business strategy advice among other things. After not meeting for two months, members of Lekisamba’s collective voiced concerns about their group “falling asleep.”

This project was a National Finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists' Mark of Excellence Awards.

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