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Continuity and Change in Social Networks among Borana Women in Northern Kenya

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This work explores informal marro reciprocity networks and formal women's groups among Waso Borana women in northern Kenya, across four variables: livelihood types, wealth ranks, age ranges and literacy levels. Marro exchanges rely on household resources, while women's groups are attractive due to financial benefits available from external sources. We found that all women in our study participate in the informal marro social networks, over-half registered as group members. Women's groups are more popular among the very poor, sedentary households and peri-urban households as opposed to pastoral households. In the marro networks, the use of labour appears to be popular, as opposed to sharing food and cash. The frequency of participation varies with the needs and opportunities of the women. Farming households participate more rarely in exchanges, compared to groups with other livelihood types - an indication of their poverty and the scarcity of resources. The introduction of cash loans turns out to be a challenge and a strength for both networks. The role played by food aid in informal marro networks prompted mixed responses from women. Although the majority of peri-urban and farming households reported that food aid has no adverse impact on marro, the agro-pastoral households perceive that it has a positive impact, while pastoral households reported a negative impact. The growth of women's groups is linked to the attraction of socio-economic opportunities through collective income-generating activities. Membership of a group affords women the chance to start income-generating activities, as well as becoming more aware of their rights at the domestic level.
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Keywords: Livelihoods; marro; pastoralist women; social networks; women's groups

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2018

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  • Nomadic Peoples is an international journal published by the White Horse Press for the Commission on Nomadic Peoples, International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. Its primary concerns are the current circumstances of all nomadic peoples around the world and their prospects. Its readership includes all those interested in nomadic peoples, scholars, researchers, planners and project administrators.
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