When the cows come home: Gender dynamics and intra-household livestock management in southern Kenya

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Yurco, Kayla Marie
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 09, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Brian Hastings King, Dissertation Advisor
  • Brian Hastings King, Committee Chair
  • Lorraine Dowler, Committee Member
  • Karl Stephen Zimmerer, Committee Member
  • Carolyn Elizabeth Sachs, Outside Member
  • gender roles
  • livestock
  • Maasai women
  • milk management
  • Kenya
  • pastoralism
This dissertation investigates pastoral women’s roles in managing livestock in southern Kenya. Although there is a rich body of literature on human-livestock-environment interactions in sub-Saharan Africa, scholarship has tended to focus primarily on herding activities in rangelands where livestock graze under the supervision of men. Pastoral women’s caretaking roles at home have tended to be overlooked, yet they are integral to decision-making about household economy. As such, I provide empirical evidence for pastoral women’s contributions to livestock management by examining milking activities in bomas (homesteads). Specifically, I examine women’s considerations to balance output (milk offtake for household needs) with investment (milk allocated toward young animals) and the spaces in which such decisions occur. Given that milk is a primary food source for much of the year, I find that women’s decisions have crucial implications for food security and herd health. This dissertation is based on 14 months of fieldwork conducted from 2014 to 2015 in a Maasai community in southern Kenya. I used mixed methods, including structured household surveys, intra-household surveys, and semi-structured interviews with men and women to understand the gendered nature of livestock management. Through an in-depth focal household study over ten months, I also collected quantitative and qualitative data during hundreds of milking observations with women and herding events with men. This dissertation presents several main findings. First, livestock management practices that determine livelihood outcomes occur within pastoral households in highly gendered, contested, and dynamic private spaces. Second, gendered, intra-household relations shape three central components of pastoral livelihoods: livestock productivity, food security, and adaptive and coping capacities. This means that intra-household relations, rather than grazing activities or household assets such as herd size, determine milk resources for individuals within households. Moreover, gender relations within households are co-produced through milking practices that emerge as women exercise their responsibilities to apportion milk and as men attempt to preside over these activities. Third, abilities to cope with and adapt to risks of climate change are gendered and vary within households. As evidence of this, an extreme drought in the region in 2014 resulted in milk yields dropping substantially, which forced most families to migrate some or all of their livestock. Based on a variety of intra-household dynamics, some individuals in certain households were left more food insecure and vulnerable than others. By applying a feminist methodology to the literatures on pastoral systems, livelihoods, institutions, and political ecology, this dissertation demonstrates the importance of focusing attention to women’s roles in livestock management in scholarship and policy. More broadly, my findings suggest that examining gendered, intra-household variation can be key for understanding livelihoods and human-environment interactions for communities in the Global South.