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Women Empowerment and The Pathway We Took So Far

Women empowerment has become one of the most elastic of international development’s many buzzwords. Once used to describe grassroots struggles to confront and transform unjust and unequal power relations, it has become a term used by an expansive discourse coalition of corporations, global non-governmental organizations, banks, philanthrocapitalists and development donors. In the process, many insights from feminist conceptual work carried out in the 1980s and 1990s have been lost.

In this article, I revisit foundational feminist thinking about empowerment before moving to consider the principal findings from a multi-country, multi-disciplinary and multi-perspectival programme of research on women’s empowerment that brought together more than 60 researchers from a diversity of countries, including Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Costa Rica, Egypt, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Palestine, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan and the UK. Funded with generous support from the British, Norwegian and Swedish governments, the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment programme (Pathways) set out to explore the contours of women’s empowerment in settings, in which very different cultural, economic and political constraints on women’s autonomy and agency manifest in persistent gender inequalities.

Mainstream Development policies for Women Empowerment

Pathways sought to understand under what conditions the ‘motorways’ of mainstream development policies for women and girls might work in favour of greater justice and equality and the broader democratization of power relations in society. Through an interdisciplinary approach that brought into dialogue the social sciences, arts and humanities, researchers associated with Pathways explored women’s lived experiences of empowerment and the effects and effectiveness of interventions that sought to enhance women’s rights, power and agency. We sought out the ‘hidden pathways’ that women travel in their journeys of empowerment, with the aim of making the lessons they offer more istanbul escort visible.

Although we wanted to find out about women’s experiences as travellers, individually and together, and to learn what supported them as they made these journeys. And we wanted to understand better the hidden pathways that women may be taking that are completely out of sight from those who travel on the tarmac. Few days back I read another alternative woman in their 20’s can become a critical game changer for women empowerment.

We recognized that understanding empowerment was far more complex than reducing dimensions of women’s experience to a set of measurable indicators: in our methods, we sought to generate both the kind of data that could allow us to gain an understanding of larger-scale patterns in women’s experiences of change and the finely-grained qualitative studies that would permit insight into why and how change happens. In this article, I identify some of the key insights that emerged from this body of work and reflect on implications for policy and practice.

Empowerment from the 1990s offer us three important insights

Looking back, the writings on empowerment from the 1990s offer us three important insights. These complicate the narratives about women’s empowerment in contemporary mainstream development. First, these writings suggest a version of empowerment that is fundamentally about changing power relations. What they give us—building on work in other areas of social action from popular education to primary health care—is an account of power and empowerment in which change involves building critical consciousness.

It is this process of changing the way people see and experience their worlds that can raise awareness of inequalities, stimulate indignation about injustice and generate the impetus to act together to change society. There are important lessons here for contemporary development policy and practice about methodology and process, as well as about understandings of power. Second, they offer a view in which empowerment is relational. Source: The New Indian

Current metrics and rubrics strip away its relational dimensions. Yet any account of the lived experience of empowerment and disempowerment must embrace the essential sociality of the concept. There is in this an intimate imbrication of the personal and political. Third, these writings insist that empowerment is a process, not a fixed state nor an end-point, let alone an easily measurable outcome to which targets can be attached.

Empowerment can be temporary, and some pathways of empowerment can lead women into experiences of disempowerment, from which they may or may not surface empowered. What empowers one woman might not empower another: there are no one-size-fits-all recipes for empowerment. And empowering experiences in one area of a woman’s life do not automatically translate into greater capacity to exercise agency and transform power relations in another part of her life.

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