KENYA: Maendeleo Ya Wanaume is Welcome

The East African Standard (Nairobi)
December 6, 2006
Posted to the web December 6, 2006

By Muthoni Thang'wa

The announcement of the formation of Maendeleo Ya Wanaume Organisation was fascinating.

The name is not original, but the agenda is relatively creative - to ensure that men are cared for in old age and to campaign for boys as has been the case for girls, especially schoolgoing ones.

The idea of Maendeleo Ya Wanaume, obviously an answer to Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Organisation, has amused many women. But it is not the kind of amusement that causes laughter, but sighs. In spite of the best efforts to boost girls, enough has not yet been done to secure their future locally and in Africa.

In Kenya, statistics show that more girls enrol in school each year than ever before. This has greatly been boosted by the introduction of free primary education in 2003. But that girls' enrolment only increased in some regions after the introduction of free schooling is also a tell tale signal - that there are many parents who would not spend money on the education of a girl and had to wait for it to be free.

True, there are more women in professional cadres in private and public corporations than was the case before. But many confess that they work twice as hard as their male counterparts to break the glass ceiling. It is also a fact that even pastoralists in northern Kenya cannot just marry off their 12-year-old daughters without hue and cry from women's organisations and the provincial administration. But the gains are still far from the desired place for the girl.

For men in Maendeleo ya Wanaume, will power is required in organisational skills, focus and leadership. There are a couple of sterling examples in the girls' campaign the new organisation can learn from. There is Nobel laureate and Tetu MP Prof Wangari Maathai, the 'unbowed' lady.

She chose a tree seedling as the channel for elevating rural women, the environment and eventually democracy through the Green Belt Movement. The group organised rural women to combat deforestation, thus restoring their main source of fuel and at the same time stemming soil erosion.

During the Kanu regime, the movement incorporated advocacy, empowerment of women and democracy in its mission. Almost 30 years and 30 million seedlings later, the movement is still struggling to reverse the adverse effects of deforestation and to ensure that women are accorded their rightful place in development and democracy.

Then there is Ms Agnes Pareiyo of Tasaro Girls Rescue Centre in Narok. The centre serves as a refuge for mainly Maasai girls who refuse to undergo female circumcision and opt for an alternative rite of passage. That the goal of the centre is to reconcile parents and their daughters after the alternative rites and giving them an education speaks volumes of girls in regard to the cultural rites of passage. The United Nations recognised Pareiyo as the person of the year for her work.

The campaign for the girl was designed to emphasise their freedom to choose their own destiny. It aimed to protect them from harmful cultural practices, the society and sometimes even their own families. It was also its goal to widen the options and seal the gaps that give boys a head start in life.

The effects of the girl campaign are only beginning to bear fruit and the weak points are rearing their ugly head. The campaign did not adequately prepare girls for the responsibility that would automatically come with the choices they made. I guess we all looked on the bright side of life and we forgot to tell the girl that there is a price to pay to be in control of their destiny.

Already, more girls are being convicted of drug trafficking at home and in far away lands, and even getting the ultimate penalty.

Maendeleo ya Wanaume should look at the pros and cons of the girl campaign and learn from the successes and shortcomings. And while at it, convince the campaigners to include its 'old age' happiness into their agenda. If the two Maendeleo organisations worked together the results would benefit girls and boys.

The writer is a curator at the Karen Blixen Museum

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