Gendered Contentions: Unpacking Women’s Leadership, Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA)

Under what conditions does women’s social and political action contribute to the strengthening of women’s empowerment and lead to accountability outcomes that promote gender equity in contexts of fragility, conflict and violence?

Women’s political agency is limited in multiple ways in fragile, conflict- and violence-affected settings (FCVAS). Existing research confirms that exclusionary social norms, gender biased formal rules and informal practices, gendered political spaces, and risks of violence all limit women’s political participation. But there remains an important gap in scholarly work on women’s experiences in FCVAS: existing study has tended not to focus on the fine-grained issues of when, how, and with what outcomes women do act collectively to demand change.

In spite of clear gender-specific barriers, the first phase of A4EA research found that women lead and participate in these settings in a variety of forms of social and political action at the local, subnational and national levels.

The phase 2 Gendered Contentions workstream has aimed to increase understanding of the factors that positively influence women’s ability to make claims and act politically in settings characterised by fragility and conflict.

The Gendered Contentions workstream has undertaken two linked comparative studies. Building on  previous research on the Bring Back Our Girls movement, fuel-related protests, and alternative expressions of accountability claims, the first is a comparative study between Pakistan and Mozambique, which focused on episodes of contention that women participate in. Through in-depth interviews with women involved in such episodes, researchers explored the gendered nature of these contentions, the forms of women’s leadership, the repertoire of strategies used, and the impact these forms of participation have on women’s political empowerment.

The second study focused on fragile metropolitan settings in Pakistan and Nigeria to understand gender gaps in democratic accountability.  The focus on women in urban environments is both novel and necessary given increasing urbanisation and a weak evidence base on how community-level norms and opportunities differ in these settings.

As the pandemic struck in early 2020, the research pivoted to include a focus on understanding the gendered nature of lived experiences and impacts of the pandemic in a context of household inequality. It is hoped that this study will increase the understanding of the combinations of preconditions, events, and strategies that impact on empowerment and accountability outcomes for urban women.

How can donors support women’s political empowerment?



Key contacts

Collective for Social Science Research

Ali Cheema

Associate Professor of Economics at LUMS

Project details

start date
1 April 2019
end date
31 December 2021


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