Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Research Programme Consortium

Pathways is a research and communication programme which seeks to discover where women are achieving real gains despite or because of policy and practice. It looks at how this has happened, and aims 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.

Pathways was originally funded by UKAid from the Department for International Development as a five-year research programme consortium. In 2011 it was extended via funding from Swedish International Development Cooperation (Sida) as part of the Gender, Power and Sexuality programme. Additional financing from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has enabled the programme to expand to include countries in conflict, post-conflict and crisis situations.

Visit the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment website 

The Consortium

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, UN Women, 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)
  • the Centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy at the University of Ghana (Ghana)
  • 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 that 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 unexpectedly 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 is rooted in the perspectives of women – and has sought 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. Pathways has generated a rich and varied portfolio of studies from journal articles, working papers, research reports and books to popular media, including documentary films and photography exhibitions.

In our research we have drawn on a panorama of disciplinary perspectives from economics to cultural studies, psychology to musicology. By taking a multi-methods approach including the use of survey datasets, ethnographic accounts, film, photography and popular music, we have opened up new avenues for enquiry, enriching our understandings of women’s empowerment and of what it takes to foster positive change.

Our work points to the importance of creating an enabling environment for women’s empowerment. The overwhelming conclusion from the body of evidence that we have accumulated is that a broader transformative model that addresses the structural constraints that women face in their everyday lives is the most effective framework for women’s empowerment in the long term.

What is happening now?

In the current phase of work, under the Gender, Power and Sexuality Programme (GPS), Pathways is drawing on the findings from our research to influence norms and institutions at global and local levels to more effectively tackle the challenge of achieving gender equality.

Together with colleagues in GPS we aim to challenge attitudes and values underpinning unhelpful gender stereotypes, foster improved understandings of structural obstacles to gender equality and social justice for influencing to reshape these and, informed by this, to build alliances for gender equality and social justice.

For more information about Pathways, including a complete list of publications, and to be added to our mailing list for future news and publications, please send your name, email address and mailing address to [email protected] or visit the Pathways website

Key contacts

Project details

start date
13 February 2006
end date
30 September 2014


About this project

Recent work


Pathways of Women’s Empowerment: Stories of Influence

This report explores the strand of work developed by the Pathways of Women's Empowerment programme under the IDS Gender, Power and Sexuality Programme supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). It demonstrates how Pathways' existing work related to the overarching...

1 March 2015


Changing Narratives of Sexuality

Changing Narratives of Sexuality engages with women's sexuality exploring marginal as well as dominant stories in which sexuality may figure overtly or covertly as the subject. This impressive collection brings together a broad range of arenas in which sexuality is embedded.

7 May 2014


Feminisms, Empowerment and Development

The economic and political empowerment of women continues to be a central focus for development agencies worldwide; access to medical care, education and employment, as well as women's reproductive rights remain key factors effecting women's autonomy.

4 March 2014