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Creating voice and carving space

M. Mukhopadhyay, S. Meer
For us politics is about hunger, homelessness, the lack of education for our children, violence against women. Everyday life is thus politics. Women in our town first thought that participation in politics was only for men and not for women. Now that they have seen that they can participate in any political activity, they believe they can become councillors and governors. They cannot only be there to produce children, to cook mieliepap, to be battered or only to become teachers or nurses.
Thekla, 50/50 Campaign leader, Namibia

While it is clear for Thekla, the Namibian woman quoted above, that politics and power play a central role in decisions governing her life and that of people like her, international development agencies supporting the good governance agenda in the 1990s largely failed to acknowledge this in their approaches (Robinson, 1995). The ‘good governance’ agenda focussed on administrative reform of the state and not on the political arena. The international development establishment and the Gender and Development (GAD) sector of this establishment have mainly steered clear of engaging with the political arena of governance. The GAD policy prescriptions to increase women’s presence in the state and exert policy influence focused on ‘including’ women in the bureaucratic architecture of the state. Setting up dedicated bureaucratic machineries such as women’s commissions and ministries and gender focal points in important ministries has been the main strategy. But as studies have pointed out, starved of resources and isolated from the arena of politics, these machineries have had little influence on policy making. This approach has been characterised by researchers as an anti-political discourse of inclusion (Goetz and Hassim 2003).