Pathways of Women's Empowerment Research Programme Consortium
This is a DFID-funded five-year research and communication programme which seeks to discover where women are achieving real gains despite or because of policy and practice, and how this has happened, and to make these pathways visible so that we can build on these revealed successes. By involving policy actors and practitioners directly in what we are learning, through action research and through innovative communications methods, we hope that our work can in itself become a catalyst of change.
The programme links a network of southern and northern academics and activists in South Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and West Africa with its development partner, UNIFEM, at the international and regional level, through ‘hubs’ in five research institutes: BRAC University (Bangladesh), the Interdisciplinary Women’s Studies Nucleus (NEIM) at the Federal University of Bahia (Brazil), the Social Research Centre at the American University in Cairo (Egypt) and the Centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy at the University of Ghana (Ghana) and the Institute of Development Studies (UK), which plays an overall co-ordinating role.
Our goals and approach
Empowerment has often been regarded as a destination than can be reached through the development equivalent of motorways: fast-track programmes which can be rolled out over any terrain. But what if we instead look at it as a journey along meandering pathways full of twists and turns, that may circle back on themselves, lead unexpectadly into deserts or verdant forests, and sometimes reach dead ends? Looking at empowerment in this way urges us to pay more attention to what can be learnt from the everyday experiences of those whom development seeks to 'empower' - and to the pathways of empowerment that women are already taking for themselves.
Our goal is to make these pathways visible and to learn from women's lived experiences of what makes change that produces more equity in their relationships with each other and with men happen in their lives. Our research will be rooted in the perspectives of women - seeking to learn from their daily struggles to make money, to choose when and with whom to have sex and children, and to influence the decisions and institutions that affect their lives.
By tracing women's pathways of empowerment in a diversity of social, cultural and political contexts, we hope to discover any generic factors that enhance women's empowerment and to understand more about those factors that are context-specific. We will seek out ‘success stories', development interventions that appear to have built more equitable social and gender relations. We plan to find out what exactly made them work - and whether these 'ingredients' can be used in other places with similar effects. And by involving policy actors and practitioners directly in what we are learning, and through action research in global as well as local arenas, we hope to become catalysts of change ourselves.
Consortium members will link with researchers, women’s movements, civil society organisations and donors in Latin America, West Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, with whom collaborative research or comparative research can be pursued, including leveraging additional funds for research and capacity development. IDS will convene a ‘hub’ for action research with those active in global arenas with the goal of acquiring and applying an enhanced understanding of how global policy processes, international standards and the aid architecture present constraints and provide opportunities for feminist activism within global, national and local arenas.
What is happening now?
Over the first year of the programme, we will hold regional agenda-setting workshops bringing together practioners, academics, activists and policy actors to ask: How has ‘empowerment’ been understood and acted on, in policy and practice, in this region? What lessons have been learnt, and even more importantly, what questions remain unaddressed? Where are the most promising entry points for changes that can make a difference to achieving more equitable gender relations and enabling women to exercise voice, gain greater bodily integrity and pursue more lucrative, more secure and more fulfilling means of making a living - and what can research contribute to making these changes happen?
A series of reflective reviews, drawing on multiple fields of enquiry - from feminist economics to social psychology and participatory research methodologies - will dovetail with these workshops in building a research agenda that responds to the challenge of understanding what makes change happen for women’s empowerment.
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- Stephanie Barrientos