09 Feb

DESERT QUEENS! The most beautiful and resilient woman on the African continent! In this blog post, we'll explore the traditional customs and challenges Tuareg women face and their efforts to improve their lives. For many years, I have had the privilege of visiting Timbuktu and observing the unique nomadic desert lifestyle of the Tuareg people. The Tuareg people inhabit the Sahara Desert region of North Africa. The Tuareg women particularly captivated me on each visit. I was fortunate enough to enjoy, on various occasions, the nomadic Tuareg desert meals, accompanied by stunning sunsets and the sensation of the cool, damp sand beneath my feet as the sun disappeared. The Tuareg women were always present, standing at a distance, eagerly waiting for inquisitive travellers to approach them and examine their handcrafted goods in the hopes of making a sale. Despite the uncertainty of the situation, the women did not appear sad. Instead, they would giggle, smoke their "cigars," and engage in intimate conversations. The cultural significance of smoking among Tuareg women is not well-known, but I have witnessed it multiple times. It's possible that they were amused by the outsiders trying to understand the Sahara. 

Appearance and Clothing 

Tuareg women are known for their distinctive physical features, including dark skin, high cheekbones, and large, dark eyes. They have become resilient to the extreme, harsh conditions of the Sahara. Touch their hands, and it has the texture of sandpaper! The sun has edged thousands of little grooves in their skin, yet they are still beautiful! They use natural ingredients, such as kohl an eyeliner, to enhance their features and protect their skin from the harsh desert sun. Touch their hands, and it has the texture of sandpaper! The sun has edged thousands of little grooves in their skin, yet they are still beautiful! Using kohl reflects their deep cultural heritage and connection to the natural environment and is believed to have both cosmetic and spiritual benefits. Beyond kohl, Tuareg women may adorn themselves with henna tattoos, jewellery, and elaborate clothing. They often cover their faces with a veil, known as "lithium," to protect themselves from the sun and preserve their privacy. As the men, women also typically wear long, lightweight, colourful dresses, sometimes with intricate beadwork, and headwraps that cover their hair and face. They usually wear long, traditional, flowing robes, called "tenadjam”, headscarves made from brightly coloured, hand-woven textiles and silver and metal jewellery, including necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Their ropes signify social status, a woman's marital status and her husband's wealth. This can be decorated with silver and other precious materials. Tenadjam can be tied in intricate knots and designs. The blue colour of the ropes is said to symbolise the Tuareg's connection to the sky and the desert and is often used in Tuareg textiles and clothing. Yes, Tuareg women wear shoes when in the desert. They typically wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes, such as sandals or boots, to protect their feet from the rough terrain and sharp rocks. These shoes are also crucial for keeping their feet cool in the scorching desert sun and providing stability when walking long distances in search of water or other resources. Additionally, some Tuareg women may wear traditional leather sandals called "tehadart" to maintain a connection to their cultural heritage. However, it's important to note that these are generalisations and that the appearance of Tuareg women can vary widely, depending on their community and cultural norms. 

Challenges of Life in the Sahara 

One of the biggest challenges for Tuareg women is access to water, as the Sahara is one of the driest regions in the world. Women must travel long distances to find water sources, returning heavy loads to their communities. Additionally, they are responsible for managing their household's water supply, ensuring enough for drinking, cooking, and hygiene. The harsh desert climate also makes it difficult to grow crops, but Tuareg women have developed sophisticated irrigation systems and learned to grow crops well-adapted to the desert environment. They also rely on livestock and animal husbandry to provide food and income for their families. 

Marriage, Children, and Divorce 

Tuareg women marry young, often in their teens, and have several children. Polygamy is common in Tuareg culture, with men often having multiple wives, depending on their wealth and social status. Divorce is possible in Tuareg culture but is generally discouraged and considered a last resort. In a divorce, the wife may be able to keep her children and receive a portion of her husband's wealth. However, the specifics of divorce procedures and outcomes can vary widely between different Tuareg communities. 

Education and Access to Resources 

The number of children a Tuareg woman has in a lifetime and her access to education can vary greatly, depending on several factors, including her socioeconomic status, cultural beliefs, and educational opportunities. Efforts are being made to improve access to education for Tuareg girls and women, with increasing numbers pursuing higher education and entering previously closed professions. However, the situation remains challenging in many areas, particularly in rural and remote communities, where schools are few and far between, and resources and trained teachers are scarce. 


The Tuareg women of the Sahara have demonstrated remarkable resilience and resourcefulness in the face of the harsh conditions of the desert. The percentage of Tuareg women still involved in the nomadic and salt caravan trade is difficult to determine with certainty. However, the number of Tuareg people engaging in traditional nomadic lifestyles and business has decreased as the Tuareg community has faced numerous challenges, including political instability, conflict, and environmental degradation. This has disrupted their traditional way of life and reduced the number of people involved in the salt trade. Many Tuareg people have shifted towards more settled lifestyles and alternative sources of livelihood. Nevertheless, Tuareg women remain crucial in maintaining their culture, preserving their traditions, and adapting to changing circumstances. While the situation for Tuareg women varies greatly depending on the country and community in which they live, there have been positive developments in recent years, with increasing numbers of girls and women pursuing higher education and entering previously closed professions. The Tuareg women's strength and perseverance continue to inspire future generations.

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