Journal Article


Negotiating Empowerment

Published on 1 January 2010

This IDS Bulletin draws out some of the dilemmas around women’s empowerment: choices, negotiations, narratives and contexts of women’s lived experience. It shows that empowerment is a complex process that requires more than the quick and easy solutions offered by development agencies (who need to have a deeper understanding of what makes change happen in women’s lives).

The issue draws on the work of an international network of researchers – the Research Programme Consortium Pathways of Women’s Empowerment (‘Pathways’) – and brings fresh empirical and conceptual insights to development academics and policy actors.

The focus is not just on what women are doing to change their own personal circumstances, it also extends to collective action and institutionalised mechanisms aimed at changing structural relations. Important issues such as education and legal reforms are highlighted, as well as previously neglected concepts such as relationships, leisure, pleasure, love and care. Women’s own voices continue to be disregarded and it is time that more attention was paid to them.

Most of all, this IDS Bulletin emphasises that empowerment is a complex process of negotiation, not a linear sequence of inputs and outcomes. Policies that view women as instrumental to other objectives cannot promote women’s empowerment, because they fail to address the structures by which gender inequality is perpetuated over time: governments and development agencies should invest in creating an enabling environment and tackle deep-rooted issues of power that impede transformative change.

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Introduction: Negotiating Empowerment Andrea Cornwall and Jenny Edwards


Legal Reform, Women’s Empowerment, and Social Change: The Case of Egypt Mulki Al-Sharmani

Quotas: A Pathway of Political Empowerment? Ana Alice Alcântara Costa

Education: Pathway to Empowerment for Ghanaian Women? Akosua K. Darkwah

Women’s Voices, Work and Bodily Integrity in Pre-Conflict, Conflict and Post-Conflict Reconstruction Processes in Sierra Leone Hussainatu J. Abdullah, Aisha F. Ibrahim and Jamesina King

No Path to Power: Civil Society, State Services, and the Poverty of City Women Hania Sholkamy


Subversively Accommodating: Feminist Bureaucrats and Gender Mainstreaming Rosalind Eyben

Crossroads of Empowerment: The Organisation of Women Domestic Workers in Brazil Terezinha Gonçalves

Reciprocity, Distancing, and Opportunistic Overtures: Women’s Organisations Negotiating Legitimacy and Space in Bangladesh Sohela Nazneen and Maheen Sultan

The Power of Relationships: Love and Solidarity in a Landless Women’s Organisation in Rural Bangladesh Naila Kabeer and Lopita Huq


Family, Households and Women’s Empowerment in Bahia, Brazil, Through the Generations: Continuities or Change? Cecilia M.B. Sardenberg

Negotiating Islam: Conservatism, Splintered Authority and Empowerment in Urban Bangladesh Samia Huq

Unmarried in Palestine: Embodiment and (dis)Empowerment in the Lives of Single Palestinian Women Penny Johnson

Women Watching Television: Surfing Between Fantasy and Reality Aanmona Priyadarshani and Samia Afroz Rahim


Andrea Cornwall

Honorary Associate

Image of Jenny Edwards

Jenny Edwards

Project Manager

Publication details

published by
Cornwall, A. and Edwards, J.
IDS Bulletin, volume 41, issue 2


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