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Maendeleo’s smooth and bumpy ride through 60 years

By Gardy Chacha | November 27th 2012
SPECIAL DAY: Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation members from all over the country were at KICC on Monday.


By Gardy Chacha

As early as 6am on Monday some women had already arrived at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi largely clad in colourful African prints and headscarves.

They talked excitedly. They had come from all corners of the country to mark a historic moment — their organisation, Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation (MYWO) has been around for 60 years.

The organisation, which was started during the colonial times in 1952, has been of service to the womenfolk of Kenya as an entity that fostered the first whiffs in the clamour for gender equity and improvement of women lives in tandem with the world’s requirements for human rights.

They danced, cheered and ululated. They hugged and kissed each other’s cheeks.

The spirit of celebration was in the air and it was the right thing to do: Their organisation has lived through good times and not-so-good times.

The togetherness the organisation has nurtured even through some turbulent times was heavy.

The African vitenge, traditional necklaces, carved bangles, Maasai robes, Turkana beads, and other traditional accessories, as well as the modern clothing that has growingly defined the new face of Kenya’s modern female populace, enhanced the mood.

The idea

MYWO was started at the height of the struggle for Kenya’s independence by a group of white settler women, who conceived and believed in the idea. It was created to bring community development to women and taught women how to keep their families healthy, among other things.

Women leaders of the time, especially after independence, set the fashion trends for other women. What they said, was upheld.

There was no unifying force that managed to bring together Kenyan women like MYWO did.

Then the unexpected happened. In 1987, the organisation, which was really powerful then, changed its name to Kanu Maendeleo ya wanawake and with that, it entered the murky waters of politics. After it was thus renamed, its sting was removed as both women and men started viewing it with suspicion.

Damaged name

It has taken years to rebuild the damaged name. Reverting to the initial name (by dropping the Kanu prefix) did not help matters — not that quickly.

Over the years, it took up campaigns that advocated for issues that mostly affected women such as maternal child health, family planning; eradication of female genital mutilation and leadership, among others.

So celebrating their six decades of existence in style — as they invited dignitaries including President Kibaki to grace the occasion — was a good way to reclaim its glory; and announce its larger than life presence in the country.

Other powerful guests came from top officials from other countries such as Malawi, South Sudan, AU president, ambassadors and high commissioners as well as former chairpersons, among other dignitaries.

But the most important guests were the hundreds of women from all over the country whose happiness was infectious.

These women ululated and whispered to one another about the who-is-who in the room. They craned their necks to have better views of their guests of honour.

Choreographed tunes by music groups like the NHIF and the Safari Voices choirs brought the roof down as the women stood to dance to the pleasant singing.

Poet Caroline Nderitu, clad in the usual colours that reflect nationhood spurred the women on, encouraging them not to sit back but to go for leadership positions.


“Women should rise to places of recognition,” she chirped.

“Nani kama mama?” she went on. “The Maendeleo women are on flight on the wings of an eagle. We are moving to a whole new place.”

Looking across the whole, it was clear that many of the group’s members had decided to forget the normal problems of life and graciously shared the moment’s glory.

Other challenges can be addressed another day, they seemed to reason.

They were like eagles as the poet said.

Rahab Muiu, MYWO’s deputy chairperson, asked the president to assist in the growth of the group since it was important in the development of the country.

“We request that you include us in the Budget so that we can take the fight against poverty as part of our core objectives.”

Only problem is that the next Budget is likely to be read months after President Kibaki has retired next year.

Jane Kiano, the organisation’s patron got a resounding applause when she said: “The group is becoming even stronger now that the new Constitution has captured well the spirit of equality and human rights.

“Today, we are glad that as Maendeleo ya Wanawake, we have the power and capacity to decide who the president the country is going to be.”


Chairperson Rukia Sugow reiterated the importance of women in the society and the values that brought MYWO into being.
In his speech, the president  maintained the excitement in the room by showering the women with praise and urged them to claim the rights new Constitution has bestowed upon them.

He concluded by asking the women to seek elective positions in the next General Elections slated for March next year.

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