Gendered Contentions in Fragile, Conflict- and Violence-Affected Settings: 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?

'A woman checks the electoral register during the 2013 elections in Pakistan'. Credit: Olaf Kellerhof.
‘A woman checks the electoral register during the 2013 elections in Pakistan’. Credit: Olaf Kellerhof.

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.

Researchers on A4EA projects explored how women participate in protests and social movements and as voters and representatives in political and civil society institutions to demand better services and answers from the state and other community level actors. A4EA’s work with female politicians in Pakistan, with women’s movement NGOs in Mozambique (publication forthcoming), and case study of the Bring Back Our Girls movement offered new insights into particular forms of women’s leadership of social and political action, and the repertoires of action that result. The first phase study of what might generate greater electoral participation of urban women in Pakistan began to unpack the nature and variety of gendered constraints to political participation and how these might be overcome at a household level. However, the implications of this for collective action for pro-women policy change remain uncertain.

‘[N]o one talks to women when it comes to asking for votes, all the persuading and luring tactics are used on men.’

The new Gendered Contentions workstream aims 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 collective strategies and alliances they use to navigate gender-specific constraints to these actions, and the conditions under which action leads to gender positive outcomes.

The Gendered Contentions workstream will undertake 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 study will be a comparative study between Pakistan and Mozambique, focusing on episodes of contention that women participate in. Through in-depth interviews with women involved in such episodes, researchers will explore 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 will focus on fragile metropolitan settings in Pakistan and Nigeria to explore how and under what conditions constraints to collective action can be overcome. Building on the illuminating work of previous A4EA research in Pakistan, researchers will take a mixed methods approach to evaluate the impact of interventions designed to strengthen collective action among women in specific urban neighbourhoods. 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. It is anticipated that this study will push forward understanding of the combinations of preconditions, events, and strategies that contribute to the strengthening of empowerment and accountability outcomes for women.



Key contacts

Ayesha Khan

Collective for Social Science Research

Image of Ali Cheema
Ali Cheema

LUMS and IDEAS, Pakistan

Project details

start date
1 April 2019
end date
31 December 2020


About this project