Journal Article


Reclaiming Feminism: Gender and Neoliberalism

Published on 1 December 2008

Even the most devoted believers in the neoliberal paradigm will have had their convictions shaken recently, as the world’s markets have played havoc with their faith. For those who have long questioned the purported benefits of neoliberal economic policies and highlighted their injurious consequences, it comes as little surprise that this ‘grab-bag of ideas’ is in freefall.

The focus of this IDS Bulletin is particularly apposite at a time when much-cherished axioms are being re-inspected and where new possibilities and directions are so badly needed. Contributors add to a growing, vibrant debate about Gender and Development. This issue arises from a conference held at IDS in July 2007 in collaboration with Birkbeck College, under the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Research Programme Consortium, where participants reflected on the relationship between feminisms and neoliberalism, in the context of international development.

What emerges from many of these articles is a sense of unease with the extent to which G&D discourses have lent themselves to appropriation – and with what stories they tell about women and their assumed relationships with men and with each other. Revisioning feminist engagement calls for reflexivity, repositioning and canny appraisal of what it takes to make change happen. Challenging and transforming existing power relations involves empowerment and resistance, which may run directly counter to the neoliberal model. To reclaim agency and empowerment we need to reaffirm their liberating dimensions, reasserting their association with forms of collective action that involve possibilities of social transformation. The debates thrown up by this diverse and stimulating collection suggest that this process has already begun.

Table of contents

Introduction: Reclaiming Feminism: Gender and Neoliberalism Andrea Cornwall, Jasmine Gideon and Kalpana Wilson

Beyond the Mantra of Empowerment: Time to Return to Poverty, Violence and Struggle Uma Chakravarti

Liberal vs. Liberating Empowerment: A Latin American Feminist Perspective on Conceptualising Women’s Empowerment Cecilia M.B. Sardenberg

Vulnerabilities of Feminist Engagement and the Challenge of Developmentalism in the South: What Alternatives? Josephine Ahikire

Local Feminism: Between Islamism and Liberal Universalism Islah Jad

Appropriate “Gender” and “Empowerment”: The Resignification of Feminist Ideas in Nigeria’s Neoliberal Reform Programme Charmaine Pereira

“Whose Money is it?”: On Misconceiving Female Autonomy and Economic Empowerment in Low-income Households Penny Vera-Sanso

Holding it Together in a Crisis: Family Strengthening and Embedding Neolibarlism Kate Bedford

An Unholy Trinity: The Church, the State, the Banks and the Challenges for Women Mobilising for Change in Nicaragua Sarah Bradshaw

Counting the Cost of Privatised Provision: Women, Rights and Neoliberal Health Reforms in Chile Jasmine Gideon

Reclaiming “Agency”, Reasserting Resistance Kalpana Wilson


Andrea Cornwall

Honorary Associate

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published by
Cornwall, A., Gideon, J. and Wilson, K.
Andrea Cornwall, Jasmine Gideon and Kalpana Wilson
IDS Bulletin, volume 39, issue 6


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