Women’s Organizations and Collective Action in Kenya: Opportunities and Challenges - The Case of the Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organization

Rosemary Wanjiku Mbugua


This paper presents an analysis of women's organizations in Kenya and looks into their opportunities and challenges, using the Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organization (MYWO) as a case study. It analyses the development of women’s organizations in Kenya and how they have impacted on the wider women’s political empowerment. It also traces MYWO's historical origins and development, its metamorphosis and the impact it has had on women’s struggles for equality and participation in all areas of national development. Maendeleo's role in galvanizing women around different agendas in the areas of political empowerment has also been examined and an analysis of the challenges and opportunities that it has faced as a women’s rights organization has been done. The paper is divided into four sections. Section 1 focuses on the development of women’s organizations in Kenya and their impact on women’s political empowerment. Section 2 is on MYWO’s struggles to carve its niche and sustain the momentum in the context of the social political dynamics in Kenya, giving a brief history of MYWO and its metamorphosis from its inception during the colonial period to the post-independence developments up to and including the struggle for a democratic and women friendly environment through the Constitution review process. Section 3 explores MYWO’s role in galvanizing women’s agenda for political participation in the Second Liberation and clamour for a new Constitution. Section 4 looks at MYWO as a model for women’s leadership.

The Case study method was used as well as library search. A review of published literature, including books, journal articles, reports, the Hansard, Court documents and the Organizations’ reports and documents as well as other in-house and historical documents were also perused. The (African) Feminist Political Theory was used to analyse the Organization and its vision, environment, challenges and opportunities.

The paper finds that for the most part of its existence, MYWO has not been an independent organization as it was conceived by government staff as a strategy for women's support by the government and as an espionage mechanism through which the colonial government could gather information on the Mau Mau movement (Chitere, 1988). Most of the funding and technical support has come from the government, putting the Organization directly under its patronage. To its credit, MYWO does indeed have a national network which has served as a conduit for women's agenda in important undertakings such as the Constitution making process. The research finds that MYWO has initiated minimal programmes on its own. It has mostly been used by others, including by KANU, to carry out their agenda and mobilize women for political ends. Indeed, MYWO has had a daunting task trying to shed its relationship with successive governments - something that has greatly worked against it.

Key Words: Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organization, women's organizations, constitution.

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