Maendeleo ya Wanawake: The Politicization and Co-Optation of a Women's Development Organization
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On December 31, 1994, I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, to begin a three month internship with Kenya's largest women's development agency, Maendeleo ya Wanawake. I sought to view first-hand the power of women's mobilization to create structures for their benefit. My goals for the internship included gaining an understanding of the ideology of women's progress from the viewpoint of women involved in the process, noting the actualization of such ideology within organizational structures, and seeing the implementation of programs and policies aimed . at furthering women's aspirations. The most powerful understanding I gained during my time with Maendeleo was an awareness of the numerous difficulties involved in balancing ideology and reality and the complexities surrounding women and their work for greater recognition. On the one hand, women have had to fight against the collapse of their specific needs within a rhetoric of "the good of society." On the other hand, women have seen themselves partnered to almost every "relevant" issue from "women and children" and "women and energy" to "women and the environment", as if the discussion of one is inherent to the other, and as if they had a greater responsibility to these issues which involve everyone, women and men. Women's efforts to improve personal and community environments, in connection with the corresponding increase in their visibility, have led to the politicization of women's issues and the co-optation of women's establishments. The history and present struggles within Maendeleo ya Wanawake provide examples of outside intrusion into an organization created for and by women, and the ramifications of such intrusion.