Vinson Institute receives State Department grant for Kenyan Women’s Exchange

Vinson Institute receives State Department grant for Kenyan Women’s Exchange

Athens, Ga. – The Carl Vinson Institute of Government’s International Center for Democratic Governance (ICDG) has received a grant from the U.S. Department of State to develop and carry out a program of exchange visits between women leaders from Kenya and their counterparts in the United States. ICDG faculty member and African program specialist Njeri Marekia-Cleaveland will direct the grant project, which is being done in partnership with the Kenyan nongovernmental organization, Family Mediation and Conciliation, and with two Maasai women’s organizations located in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province, Voices of Women and RETO. The Kenya partners and U.S. Embassy officials in Nairobi will select the participants.

In two groups, 28 Maasai women from the Rift Valley Province will travel to Georgia starting in spring 2008 to develop skills, network with political and community counterparts, and see first-hand what knowledge and organizational capacity are necessary to participate effectively in local government politics and policymaking. Their three-week stay in Georgia will include a wide range of civic experiences, emphasized Marekia-Cleaveland.

“Put simply, Kenyan women have had few opportunities to participate in decision-making at the national and local levels, even though many of the decisions directly affect them and their families,” explained Marekia-Cleaveland. “Although they comprise some 51 percent of Kenya’s population, the lack of visible women leaders in Kenya’s national and local civic life has contributed to the denial of women’s human, political, and social rights. Our hope is that this interactive experience with Georgia women leaders will help empower them with the confidence to contribute in the political arena in ways that improve the quality of life in their communities.”

Likewise, starting in fall 2008 two groups of 16 Georgia women will travel to Kenya to study, make site visits, and reconnect with the Maasai women whom they previously met. “By networking and talking with Kenyan political, nongovernmental, and community leaders, the Georgia participants may gain a better understanding of minority interests and diversity and a recommitment to the ideals of public service,” said Marekia-Cleaveland. A final symposium for all participants will include presenters from other African countries where affirmative action programs in women’s representation have been implemented, like Uganda and Tanzania.

A final and broader goal of the exchange project is the development of a strong cross-cultural understanding that will remain long after the official project has ended and will lead to future collaboration.

“This new project strengthens the work of our International Center for Democratic Governance, as it encourages the development of an active, educated citizenry vital to a well-functioning and responsive local government,” stated Michael Beck, ICDG director.

For more information on the ICDG, visit http://www.icdg.uga.edu/.