Pathways of Women's Empowerment consortium presents findings from research to UK parliamentarians

30 January 2012

Hugely audacious, timely and essential” was how Baroness Kinnock described the work of the Pathways to Women’s Empowerment (Pathways) research consortium at a recent event in the House of Commons. 

This was just one of two high profile meetings that Pathways convened to celebrate the launch of its synthesis report, and mark its move from consortium to network. The other was jointly organised with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

Both events provided an important opportunity to bring together academics, policy makers and those working in NGOs to discuss some of the key findings from the five-year Pathways research programme and how they could be used to underpin policy and practice aimed at improving the lives of women. The meetings also provided an exciting chance to hear from partners from the Pathways hubs in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and South Asia.

Programme Director and former IDS fellow, Professor Andrea Cornwall highlighted how the Pathways consortium had sought to visualise empowerment in a much more creative way and expand the horizons of the possible for women in their day to day lives. As the Pathways Latin America Hub Convenor, Professor Cecilia Sardenberg (Nucleus for Interdisciplinary Women's Studies, Federal University of Bahia in Brazil) noted in the final report, “Being a part of Pathways has given us the opportunity to dare, to brave into unconventional forms of doing research and giving voice to women.”

Examples of some of the exciting and innovative approaches to how the research was undertaken, including short films and photography exhibitions, were given at both events. They aptly demonstrated how women's experiences of empowerment vary greatly and reinforced one of the consortium's key findings that ‘What is empowering to one woman is not necessarily empowering to another: Understanding empowerment needs to begin from women’s own experiences, rather than focus on a predictable set of outcomes.'

In remarks to the parliamentary event, Helen O'Connell, independent adviser and former head of policy at One World Action, noted it was essential to recognise that there are no blueprints to empowering women and that knowing and understanding context is everything. As Hania Sholkamy, Pathways Middle East Hub Convenor remarked in the final report, “Women's empowerment is often treated by international agencies as something that can be designed as a policy blueprint, rolled out and scaled up. What actually happens when policy is conceived, negotiated and shaped may be altogether different.” Helen concluded that donors and researchers need to take time to work with local organisations in order to build understanding and in-depth analysis, and to find out what is going on in specific contexts.

Watch some of the short films:

Understanding empowerment needs to begin from women’s own experiences, rather than focus on a predictable set of outcomes.
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