“Mind the gap please”, warns a well-articulated, friend

-
ly although somewhat metallic sounding voice when
passengers are about to leave or enter the trains on the
London Underground. The expression could be used to
illustrate the gap that often divides development theo-
reticians and practitioners – a divide that can be bridged
by a conscious dialogue.
Sidastudies no. 
This volume represents a search for analysis that may influence and inspire
the work of practitioners and theoreticians aiming to address the core of the
issue of women’s empowerment. The authors shed light on questions such as:
Does the conceptualisation and rhetoric concerning ‘empowerment’ signal a
genuine and meaningful transformation? Will a real power balance be struck
between the sexes by the way ‘empowerment’, ‘gender’ and ‘mainstreaming’
are addressed in development agencies? How do sociological, academic and
economic patterns related to culture and religion exclude women from exercis-
ing power – and ultimately from development? Do women seek new approach-
es to politics and citizenship?
Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
Address: SE–105 25 Stockholm, Sweden.
Visiting address: Sveavägen 20, Stockholm.
Tel +46 8 698 50 00, e-mail: info@sida.se.
www.sida.se
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Discussing Women’s Empowerment
– Theory and Practice
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THE SIDA STUDIES-SERIES OFFERS A SELECTION OF THE REPORTS AND STUDIES COMMISSIONED BY DIFFERENT
DEPARTMENTS AT SIDA. THE SELECTION IS MADE TO REFLECT ISSUES OF RELEVANCE TO SIDA’S POLICIES AND PRACTICES,
BUT EACH REPORT EXPRESSES THE VIEWS AND FINDINGS OF ITS WRITER(S).
Clockwise from the
upper left corner:
Naila Kabeer
Patricia McFadden
Signe Arnfred
Edmé Dominguez
Sherin Sadallaah
No 1 Moldova’s Transition to Destitution, Per Ronnås and Nina Orlova,
Art. nr. D 0708
No 2 Beneficiary, Consumer, Citizen: Perspectives on Participation for Poverty
Reduction, Andrea Cornwall, Art. nr. D 0718
Previous issues in the Sidastudies series:
Discussing Women’s Empowerment
– Theory and Practice
Sida studies can be ordered by visiting Sida’s website:
www.sida.se
Sida studies can also be ordered from Sida’s information centre.
E-mail: info@sida.se
Tel. +¡6 8 6o8 ·· 8o
The Sida Studies-series offers a selection of the reports and studies recently commissioned by
different departments at Sida. The selection is made to reflect issues of relevance to Sida’s policies and
practices, but each report expresses the views and findings of its writer(s).
Sida studies no. ¸
Copyright: Sida and the authors, for exceptions see individual contributions (N. Kabeer).
Series editor: Anne Sisask
Graphic design: Johan Nilsson/Kombinera
Layout: Ninni Oljemark/Kombinera
Cover Photo: Thomas Raupach/Phoenix
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Art. nr. r o;¸8
Sidastudies
Discussing Women’s Empowerment
– Theory and Practice
AN ANTHOLOGY
This volume offers a selection of papers presented at the conference
‘Power, Resources and Culture in a Gender Perspective: Towards a Dia-
logue Between Gender Research and Development Practice’, arranged by
the Council for Development and Assistance Studies, Uppsala Universi-
ty, Sweden in cooperation with Sida, October .ooo.
The objective of the conference was to create a forum for dialogue,
where development practitioners and researchers could meet to focus on
gender and power. Recent research in the field was presented in order to
introduce new theoretical points of departure, relevant to the reassessment
of development cooperation. Most development cooperation today has
gender equality as one of its objectives. To achieve this, a new relation-
ship is needed between researchers – with their theoretical tools for un-
derstanding and their empirical knowledge of local contexts – and devel-
opment practitioners – with their tacit knowledge of the nature of how
policies are generated, formed and implemented in developing countries.
Probably, there is no linear, one-way relationship between research and
implementation in policy formation. Rather, a close, ongoing dialogue
between researchers and practitioners is required.
It was hoped that the conference would put in place the parameters
for a vital, constructive dialogue of this type. Whether this will be so re-
mains to be seen. There is some hesitation on both sides. However, as the
debates of the conference proved, for those who cross the line and par-
ticipate in the dialogue there is little doubt as to the value and need of
this kind of encounter.
The papers, intended to encourage and inspire both practitioners and
researchers, are a small selection from the conference, chosen for their
policy and methodological implications and their variety of perspectives.
Some papers represent research in progress, while others are written by
theorists already well established in the international discussions on
women and development. They are strongly related, in their various ways,
to the issue of women’s empowerment.
Birgitta Sevefjord Berit Olsson
Gender Equality Adviser, Sida Director, Department for
Research Cooperation, Sarec, Sida
Foreword
Table of Contents
SUMMARY .................................................................................................................8
INTRODUCTION............................................................................................................10
Gender Issues in Development Practices: Two Perspectives
from a Development Coopeeration Agency
Naila Kabeer:
REFLECTIONS ON THE MEASUREMENT OF WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT ................17
Section 1: Conceptualising empowerment .........................................................17
Introduction............................................................................................17
Conceptualising empowerment: resources, agency and achievement. .........18
Qualifying choice: difference versus inequality ...........................................22
Qualifying choice: ‘choosing not to choose’ ...............................................23
Empowerment: dimensions, levels and processes of change ......................26
Section 2: Measuring empowerment: the problem of meaning .............................28
Measuring ‘resources’ .............................................................................28
Measuring ‘agency’ .................................................................................31
Measuring achievement...........................................................................35
Triangulation and meaning: the indivisibility of resources,
agency and achievements .......................................................................40
Section 3: Measuring empowerment: the problem of values.................................44
Status, autonomy and the relevance of context..........................................44
Outsider values and women’s empowerment:
between altruism and autonomy...............................................................49
Conclusion......................................................................................................52
References .....................................................................................................54
Patricia McFadden:
CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION:
EXPERIENCES FROM SOUTHERN AFRICA............................................................58
Colonial Stereotypes – Reinforced by Researchers Today ....................................62
Restricting Women’s Rights to Property and to Mobility........................................64
‘Customary System’ – Used as A Weapon Against Women ...................................67
References .....................................................................................................70
Signe Arnfred
QUESTIONS OF POWER:
WOMEN’S MOVEMENTS, FEMINIST THEORY AND DEVELOPMENT AID ..................73
Section 1: Inequalities of power.........................................................................74
Power contexts of change in terminology from women to gender ................74
Further adjustments of GAD discourse: Gender mainstreaming ...................76
De-politicising of feminist theory?..............................................................78
WID/GAD and women’s movements. .........................................................79
Section 2: Critique of dominant gender policies. .................................................81
Gender mainstreaming – limitations and pitfalls..........................................81
The gender bias of market economy.........................................................83
Section 3: Challenges for the women’s movements.............................................84
Reversals of learning...............................................................................84
Taking advantage of cracks and contradictions..........................................85
References .....................................................................................................86
Edmé Dominguez
CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO:
SEARCHING FOR A NEW POLITICAL CULTURE? VIEWS AND EXPERIENCES
OF PARTICIPANTS AND NON-PARTICIPANTS IN POLITICAL ACTION ......................88
Introduction.....................................................................................................88
Theoretical Questions ......................................................................................89
The Political Participation of Mexican Women .....................................................92
Women and Citizenship at the Urban Level:
Some Views of Both Participants and Non-Participants ........................................97
Methodology..........................................................................................97
The Interviewees ....................................................................................99
Views on Citizenship .............................................................................100
Would the Political System Change if There Were More Women? ................105
Are the Zapatista Women Showing a New Way?........................................108
Final Reflections ............................................................................................110
References ...................................................................................................112
Sherin Saadallah
GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES:
ISSUES FOR DEVELOPMENT PRACTICE.............................................................114
Introduction...................................................................................................114
Religion and the Dialectics of Interpretation: Gender and Power in Islam..............115
Shaping the Status of Women: Islamic Historical Memory ..................................119
Gender and Fundamentalism: The Discourse for Regression ..............................120
Categories of Feminism .................................................................................122
Another Shaping Influence: Societal Islamization...............................................123
‘Non-class Actors’ and the Effects on Development ...........................................124
Concluding Remarks......................................................................................125
References ...................................................................................................127
NOTES ON THE AUTHORS...........................................................................................128
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ..............................................................................................131
In the introductory chapter, Birgitta Sevefjord and Berit Olsson, Sida, dis-
cuss various experiences in trying to implement gender policies in devel-
opment and research cooperation.
Dr. Naila Kabeer, from the Institute of Development Studies in Sus-
sex, United Kingdom, leads the way towards setting critical, analytical
standards as she discusses how prescribed processes of empowerment may
violate the essence of the concept. Dr. Kabeer reviews and evaluates var-
ious measures of women’s empowerment, the values they embody and the
appropriateness of these values in capturing the idea of empowerment.
Furthermore, she discusses methodological implications flowing from the
analysis.
In the same vein of inviting critical thought and discussion, Dr. Patri-
cia McFadden from Southern African Research Institute for Policy Stud-
ies s\nirs, in Harare, Zimbabwe discusses culture as a gendered practice
which excludes women from sites and statuses related to power. She ar-
gues that colonial stereotypes about of Africans today are perpetuated
through academic disciplines in the North and that they work hand in
hand with strategies to control women’s mobility in African patriarchal
societies – both to prevent women’s spatial mobility and ultimately from
moving into modern times. Furthermore, she discusses exclusionary prac-
tices in the state and in the rural spaces of the continent to maintain a
cultural authenticity through the denial of rights and entitlements to
women in terms of material property. ‘Customs’ and ‘customary law’ have
been used as a way to give a stamp of cultural authenticity on to what is
in effect a denial of rights to property and land for many African women
– a matter of central importance in the current tensions and debates with-
in Zimbabwe.
Signe Arnfred from the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden,
Summary
SUMMARY 9
calls current development concepts into question by arguing that the lan-
guage in which to address women’s issues on global scale is not the lan-
guage of political struggle. The use of the terms ‘gender’ and ‘main-
streaming’ have come to impede global solidarity/sisterhood and to ob-
scure power relationships and a need for transformatory processes at a
time when feminist struggle is needed more than ever – in the era of a
neo-liberal agenda world wide. Inspired by ideas developed by e.g. De-
velopment Alternatives with Women for a New Era, r\vx, Arnfred dis-
cusses subversive ways in which to make gender mainstreaming mean-
ingful from women’s points of view. She encourages feminists in the North
to listen more to feminists in the South and encourages all feminists to
develop an astute critique of prevailing trends of marketisation and of the
institutions that promote it.
By using recent political developments in Mexico, Edmé Dominguez,
at the Universities of Gothenburg and Linköping, indicates that women
may show the way to a new political culture. She argues that women’s
participation in the awakening of civil society in Mexico, and also the Za-
patista women’s rebellion against their life situation, with their ‘Revolu-
tionary laws against poverty’, imply a serious transformation in the polit-
ical culture and in related gender relationships. In the interviews that
Dominguez presents, both women who have participated in organisations
for change and also non-participants give their views on what citizenship
implies, they discuss the need for women to change the political culture
and whether the Zapatista women are showing a new way in political style
for women.
Finally, stressing the need to draw sociological and economic pattens
related to religion to the attention of development practitioners, Sherin
Saadallah, currently working as a consultant in a project targeting Social
and Economic Development in Egypt, explores the dynamics of gender
in Islam, whilst differentiating between the texts and the interpretations.
She discusses prerogatives for change and social development in Muslim
societies and suggests policies and strategies for development that would
focus on alleviating gender inequality and power imbalances in the de-
lineated context.
Birgitta Sevefjord, Gender Equality Adviser
Gender Equality: Sida’s Efforts in a Global Context
The promotion of equality between women and men has been a consis-
tent feature of Swedish international development cooperation. Measures
that specifically target women have been emphasised for quite a few years.
Many positive results have been achieved. However, when judging the
achievements in a broad perspective, it becomes clear that most of them
have remained isolated and development has not been affected at all to a
desirable degree. Progress has been slow and strenuous, thus stressing the
fact that gender issues are intimately related to, and even determined by,
the formal distribution of power in society. Around :o per cent of the
world’s parliamentarians are women, and furthermore, on a global scale,
this figure is very unequally distributed.
There is a growing awareness of the importance of shifting the focus
from the symptoms of inequality towards efforts to address the structural
factors that cause it. The relationship between gender equality and sound
economic development is becoming visible. When the potential of both
women and men is utilised in development, there is less need for special
compensatory support for women. To ensure effective and sustainable re-
sults it is necessary that both women and men participate in, and benefit
from, development co-operation. Sida finds itself at the centre of this
process.
Any organisation working with development co-operation has to be
constantly attentive and observant, heedful of the ongoing dialogue be-
tween theoreticians and practitioners. Sida’s mandate requires a keen ear
to the demands, needs and critique formulated by its partners in devel-
opment. The conference ‘Power Resources and Culture in a Gender Per-
Introduction
Gender Issues in Development Practice: Two Perspectives
from a Development Cooperation Agency
BIRGITTA SEVEFJORD AND BERIT OLSSON
INTRODUCTION 11
spective: Towards a Dialogue between Gender Research and Develop-
ment Practice’, arranged by the Council for Development and Assistance
Studies, Uppsala University, in cooperation with Sida, has been a part in
this endeavour. It is Sida’s hope that some of the lively debate at the con-
ference will be made visible through the contributions we have chosen
for this publication. The dialogue continues.
In the following I intend to highlight some of the guidelines that gov-
ern Sida’s contributions to the promotion of equality between women and
men and how the organisation tries to apply these policies in its activities.
More than five hundred employees are stationed at Sida’s headquar-
ters, while a hundred more are active in the field. Of all these persons, one
woman is working full-time as the gender equality adviser – myself – while
twenty persons act as gender focal points in the various departments. For
most of them, their work as gender focal points is additional to their or-
dinary workload, while others have ten to twenty-five per cent of their
working time set aside for this particular work. With a few exceptions, all
are women. This situation was one of Sida’s main reasons for organising
the conference. We are in great need of the expertise of various practi-
tioners and theoreticians. We need their competence, support and con-
structive critique to strengthen the ongoing work with gender equality at
Sida. We do not have enough time and resources to discharge the re-
sponsibility given us by Parliament, i.e. to mainstream gender in all areas
of development co-operation.
At the present time Sida is crossing both the English Channel and the
Atlantic Ocean in its search for researchers and consultants. However, we
increasingly need to reach out to Swedish universities, xoos and re-
searchers from the South. Sida is trying to maximise its efforts to mobilise
and utilise existing knowledge and experience related to the promotion
of equality between women and men. The need for such an endeavour
has been repeatedly expressed in the organisation. In :ooo, an v\ thesis
1
concluded that the entire staff of Sida is of the opinion that there is a need
to increase gender knowledge in the organisation and that more active
male involvement in this process would give this particular issue higher
priority and status in the organisation.
Sida’s objective of promoting equality between women and men has
remained unchanged over the years. However, a considerable develop-
ment of strategies and methodologies has taken place. The late :o8os saw
a change of focus from separate, special efforts for women to a ‘main-
:. Färnsveden, Ulf and Rönquist, Anders (:ooo), ‘Why men – a pilot study of the existing attitudes
among Sida’s staff towards male participation in the promotion of gender equality in develop-
ment’, Peace and Development Research Institute, Padrigu, University of Gothenburg.
INTRODUCTION 12
streaming strategy’ that was intended to address ‘relationships between
men and women’. Incidentally, ‘mainstreaming’ is an exceptionally diffi-
cult concept to work with, particularly since it is not easy to translate to
people who are unaware of its meaning and implications. Just one exam-
ple – during a conference in Laos some members of staff from Sida tried
to shed light on the concept. Afterwards, when the translator was asked
how she translated ‘mainstreaming’ to Lao, she answered ‘like some kind
of a big river’.
In :ooo, orcr⁄r\c presented a peer review of Sweden’s development
co-operation programme. The final report stated that the mainstreaming
effort by Sweden to pay attention to gender issues is commendable. How-
ever, monitoring and reporting on gender take place on an ad hoc basis.
There is a need of systematic monitoring and reporting systems.
Accordingly, Sida is in need of an efficient methodology to deal with
gender issues. The support of both theoreticians and practitioners is cru-
cial for the development of an efficient gender policy in the organisation.
In :ooo, it was estimated that approximately ten per cent of Sida’s dis-
bursements were allocated to projects with a direct gender focus, while
¡o per cent did not focus at all on gender, in spite of the fact that gender
equality continues to be one of Sida’s overriding goals. Despite all inter-
national efforts to put gender issues on the agenda for development poli-
cies in all countries of the world, progress has been slow and uneven: a
state of affairs that is reflected by a stubborn continuation of the limited
access of women to political power. However, information about viola-
tions of women’s rights has increased over the years and bears witness to
serious denials of access by women to human resources, as well as in-
creasing violence against women. Personally I am convinced that violence
against women is more widespread than ever before and that it is a major
obstacle to economic development.
In :oo·, the txrr’s Human Development Report established that
there is no country in the world where gender equality has been achieved.
The same year the women’s conference in Beijing endorsed an Action
Programme for the promotion of equality between women and men. The
Beijing Platform for Action identified twelve common, critical areas of
concern, including poverty, education, health, violence, armed conflict,
environment, power, decision-making, and the situation of female chil-
dren.
In :oo6, the Swedish Parliament decided that gender equality should
be one of the main goals of development cooperation and accordingly
Sida adopted a policy that, among other things, stipulated that specific
emphasis was to be placed on the empowerment of women to participate
INTRODUCTION 13
more fully in political decision-making, since this is a precondition for ad-
vancement in other areas.
In June .ooo, a follow-up of the Beijing conference was held in New
York (Beijing+·). Five thousand delegates from one hundred and eighty-
eight countries participated. The outcome document established that, al-
though recognition of the gender dimension of poverty is increasing, the
economic gap between women and men is widening. At the same time
as globalisation is bringing opportunities and autonomy to some women,
it has marginalised others.
The overall picture continues to be gloomy. One particularly sinister
illustration of this sorry state of affairs was when Angela King, adviser to
Kofi Anan, pointed out that every year hundreds of thousands, maybe
even millions of women and girls are sold world-wide into slavery and
prostitution.
According to txicrr, domestic violence against women and girls has
reached epidemic proportions. Due to sex-selective abortions, infanticide,
malnutrition and other gender-based malpractice and injustices, there are
6o million less women in the world today than could be expected from de-
mographic trends.
In view of this bleak picture it is easy to give in and yield to over-
whelmingly bad odds. However, we have to continue to remain dedicat-
ed to our cause. Sida is committed to supporting and promoting gender
equality. It was as a part of Sida’s search for expertise, knowledge, con-
structive critique and sincere engagement that the organisation’s gender
unit funded the conference. It is our hope that the ongoing efforts to
achieve gender equality are not halted or slowed down, but that this ex-
tremely important endeavour grows in strength and importance. I hope
that this study will be a small contribution to this constant struggle.
INTRODUCTION 14
Berit Olsson, Director of Department for Research Cooperation, Sarec
Addressing Gender Issues: In Search of a Research Agenda
Discussions on women in development have had a far-reaching impact on
development cooperation. This may be contrary to what is aften argued.
My experience as a director at a development oriented research-funding
agency has convinced me that few people are unaware of the need to ad-
dress gender issues. Five years ago, the promotion of equality between
men and women became one of the main goals of Swedish international
development cooperation. An understanding of the importance is nowa-
days reflected in policies, strategies and action programmes and gender
is constantly present in discussions concerned with development. I dare to
state that gender inequalities are more commonly discussed than in-
equalities in general. If this is good or bad is an open question.
However, awareness is just a start. We still lack adequate knowledge
and we need further access to articulated experience. We need to com-
pare what works, why, when and under what circumstances. In general,
gender research tends to describe existing injustices, rather than looking
for means and ways to address their underlying mechanisms, or evaluat-
ing attempts to correct them. I believe there is an ‘uneasy relationship’ be-
tween research and practice that needs to be analysed further. We need
to find better ways of communicating across different types of skills; ex-
perience and knowledge can be gained from both sides and their differ-
ent approaches. We need to learn from viable and successful solutions,
thus gaining some hope for the future. New skills have to be produced and
we need tools, useful instruments.
I would like to briefly mention some of our own experiences in sup-
porting gender research. Sida’s Department for Research Cooperation,
Sarec has supported women’s studies for many years. In the early days,
this was a subversive type of support: a small, visible activist-oriented pro-
gramme with a clear focus, funded through special arrangements rather
than through regular channels. Women studies were something you did
in resistance, working uphill. It was often considered to be a dangerous,
even threatening, activity.
However, in the current phase, ‘the phase of mainstreaming’, it has be-
come legitimate to address these issues, and they constitute a recognised
field of knowledge. But what have been the results of mainstreaming?
Well, ‘invisibility’ seems to be a characteristic of the present state of affairs.
When we planned our participation in the conference, a member of staff
drew up a list that summarised what Sida is supporting when it comes to
gender-related research. I was positively surprised by the number of re-
INTRODUCTION 15
search activities that are actually taking place. Gender studies are being
supported as part of university support and as part of bilateral pro-
grammes, regional networks, organisations and social science studies in a
wider context. All address gender issues in various ways. The fact that all
this research is not supported in the form of a special programme may
render visibility lower than before – but it does not mean that nothing is
being done. Nevertheless, clearly there is a scope for doing more. Special
research efforts could be promoted to enhance the mainstreaming activ-
ities, networks could be encouraged and many research efforts could be
co-ordinated and made more visible.
Furthermore, we need to ask if some of the difficulties in discerning
gender research could have something to do with it being low key, less po-
litical, and containing less dynamite. Has gender research ceased to con-
stitute a threat? The aforementioned conference repeatedly addressed the
issue of power. The insistence made me reflect on particularly two sets of
questions. One of them is: ‘What happens when gender researchers or
gender activists who have been in opposition for a long time, actually gain
power? Does anything happen at all? Is the power gained used to address
problems that formerly were assumed to be of highest priority? Is this
problem actually being studied and researched? If this is the case – why
are the findings, and the debate on the findings, almost invisible?’
The discussions also inspired me to reflect on the potential political im-
plications in the wider context. What would happen if a radical discussion
on access to power and influence, such as the one we were engaged in
during the conference, were adapted to the issue of development cooper-
ation in general? We need to ask whether the radical gender discussion is
kept alive and vivid because it is held by a very special group, within spe-
cial parameters, set apart for the purpose of addressing a specific topic,
exclusive to a certain group of people. In other words, is focusing on gen-
der inequalities a way of deflecting the debate away from inequalities in
general, a far more controversial subject? Are there then any possibilities
for power analysis in the area of gender to ignite an overall debate on
power in development cooperation, or indeed in development at large? I
believe there is a seed in the discourse exposed during this particular con-
ference.
Finally, I would like to mention some issues particularly related to my
area of expertise, namely research funding. One problem we are facing,
when it comes to gender, is that sometimes we do not even know who is
being studied. Many studies do not make a separate breakdown of men
and women. A great deal of statistical information does not distinguish be-
tween men and women. We know that this is particularly serious in health
INTRODUCTION 16
research, and it is probably very serious in many other contexts as well.
Gender does matter to the issues that are being addressed in research and
other vital questions in development cooperation are: How relevant are
the studied issues for whom and in what context? Who formulate the
problems? Are they men or women? Do they come from North or South?
Are they old or young?
We also need to pay increasing attention to how gender is reflected in
research. In this context, I do not mean gender research exclusively, but
research that addresses agriculture, health, engineering etc. How do these
studies and their outcome affect men and women? We need to consider
whether we are evaluating research properly. Are we refuting research
that does not consider such issues? We are trying to address the problem
of integrating gender issues in all the research initiatives we are involved
in, but admittedly we are not yet sufficiently good at it.
A completely different set of questions concerns how researchers are
evaluated. This has been studied in Sweden, and we are rather surprised
at the findings. We find it embarrassing that, just a few years ago, among
the full professors in Sweden, only ; per cent were women. When these
facts were attacked by some bold and determined critics, they were con-
tested and even dragged into court at the European level. Swedish uni-
versities and research bodies have not been very sensitive to gender issues
and should not be too proud of themselves. I would say that the South-
ern universities supported by Sida are often more gender sensitive than
their Swedish counterparts. They are actively engaged in formulating pro-
grammes and activities to address the issue of gender at different levels in
their activities. Of course, we, the development funders, are coaching
them into doing so. However, they are doing it, and they have programmes.
When we talk about partnership and about the importance of learning
from each other, we may still have a way to go. Swedish universities have
a massive resistance to overcome in these issues. Southern universities also
show resistance, but the steps they are taking, their lively debates and the
experience they gain, are certainly worth noting and learning from in our
mutual search for a research agenda.
Section 1: Conceptualising Empowerment
Introduction
Advocacy on behalf of women which builds on claimed synergies between
feminist goals and official development priorities has made greater inroads
into the mainstream development agenda than advocacy which argues for
these goals on intrinsic grounds. There is an understandable logic to this.
In a situation of limited resources, where policymakers have to adjudi-
cate between competing claims (Razavi, :oo;), advocacy for feminist goals
in intrinsic terms takes policymakers out of their familiar conceptual ter-
ritory of welfare, poverty and efficiency into the nebulous territory of
power and social injustice. There is also a political logic in that those who
stand to gain most from such advocacy viz. women, particularly women
from poorer households, carry little clout with those who set the agendas
in major policy making institutions.
Consequently, as long as women’s empowerment was argued for as
an end in itself, it tended to be heard in policy circles as a ‘zero-sum’ game
with politically weak winners and powerful losers. By contrast, instru-
mentalist forms of advocacy which combine the argument for gender
equality/women’s empowerment with demonstrations of a broad set of
desirable multiplier effects offer policymakers the possibility of achieving
familiar and approved goals, albeit by unfamiliar means. The persua-
siveness of claims that women’s empowerment has important policy pay-
offs in the field of fertility behaviour and demographic transition, chil-
dren’s welfare and infant mortality, economic growth and poverty allevi-
ation has given rise to some unlikely advocates for women’s empowerment
in the field of international development, including the World Bank, the
major tx agencies and the orcr-r\c group.
Resources, Agency, Achievements:
Reflections on the Measurement of Women’s Empowerment
NAILA KABEER
However, the success of instrumentalist forms of advocacy has costs.
It requires the translation of feminist insights into the technicist discourse
of policy, a process in which some of the original political edge of femi-
nism has been sacrificed. Quantification is one aspect of this process of
translation. Measurement is, of course, a major preoccupation in the pol-
icy domain, reflecting a justifiable concern with the cost/benefit calculus
of competing claims for scarce resources in the policy domain. And given
that the very idea of women’s empowerment epitomises for many policy-
makers the unwarranted intrusion of metaphysical concepts into the con-
crete and practical world of development policy, quantifying empower-
ment appears to put the concept on more solid and objectively verifiable
grounds. There has consequently been a proliferation of studies attempt-
ing to measure empowerment, some seeking to facilitate comparisons be-
tween locations or over time, some to demonstrate the impact of specific
interventions on women’s empowerment and others to demonstrate the
implications of women’s empowerment for desired policy objectives.
However, not everyone accepts that empowerment can be clearly de-
fined, let alone measured. For many feminists, the value of the concept lies
precisely in its ‘fuzziness’. As an xoo activist cited in Batliwala (:oo¸) put
it: ‘I like the term empowerment because no one has defined it clearly yet;
so it gives us a breathing space to work it out in action terms before we
have to pin outselves down to what it means. I will continue using it until
I am sure it does not describe what we are doing.’ This paper offers a crit-
ical assessment of the various measures of women’s empowerment evident
in the burgeoning literature on this topic. It uses this assessment to reflect
on the implications of attempting to measure what is not easily measure-
able and of replacing intrinsic arguments for feminist goals with instru-
mentalist ones. However, given the contested nature of the concept, it is
important to clarify at the outset how it will be used in this paper, since
this will influence how the various measurement attempts are evaluated.
This is attempted in the rest of this section. In subsequent sections, I will
be reviewing various measures of women’s empowerment, the extent to
which they mean what they are intended to mean, the values they em-
body and the appropriateness of these values in capturing the idea of em-
powerment.
Conceptualising empowerment: resources, agency and achievement.
One way of thinking about power is in terms of the ability to make choices:
to be disempowered, therefore, implies to be denied choice
1
. My under-
18 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
:. Choice has strong neo-liberal connotations but some notion of choice is also implicit in the
Marxist distinction between the ‘realm of necessity’ and the ‘realm of freedom’. I hope that »
» the qualifications offered to the concept of choice in the course of this paper will help to steer it
away from its roots in methodological individualism and to give it a more post-structuralist
interpretation.
standing of the notion of empowerment is that it is inescapably bound up
with the condition of disempowerment and refers to the processes by
which those who have been denied the ability to make choices acquire
such an ability. In other words, empowerment entails a process of change.
People who exercise a great deal of choice in their lives may be very pow-
erful, but they are not empowered in the sense in which I am using the word,
because they were never disempowered in the first place.
However, to be made relevant to the analysis of power, the notion of
choice has to be qualified in a number of ways. First of all, choice necessar-
ily implies alternatives, the ability to have chosen otherwise. There is a logi-
cal association between poverty and disempowerment because an insuffi-
ciency of the means for meeting one’s basic needs often rules out the abil-
ity to exercise meaningful choice. However, even when survival impera-
tives are longer dominant, there is still the problem that not all choices are
equally relevant to the definition of power. Some choices have greater sig-
nificance than others in terms of their consequences for people’s lives. We
therefore have to make a distinction between first and second order choic-
es where first order choices are those strategic life choices, such as choice
of livelihood, where to live, whether to marry, who to marry whether to
have children, how many children to have, freedom of movement and
choice of friends, which are critical for people to live the lives they want.
These strategic life choices help to frame other, second-order and less con-
sequential choices which may be important for the quality of one’s life but
do not constitute its defining parameters.
Empowerment thus refers to the expansion in people’s ability to make
strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied
to them.
Changes in the ability to exercise choice can be thought of in terms
of changes in three inter-related dimensions which make up choice: re-
sources, which form the conditions under which choices are made; agency
which is at the heart of the process by which choices are made; and
achievements, which are the outcomes of choices. These dimensions are
inter-dependent because changes in each contributes to, and benefits
from, changes in the others. Thus, the achievements of a particular mo-
ment are translated into enhanced resources or agency, and hence ca-
pacity for making choices, at a later moment in time.
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 19
Figure 1. Dimensions of empowerment
Resources
(conditions)
Achievements
(outcomes)
Agency
(process)
Resources can be material, social or human. In other words, they refer
not only to conventional economic resources, such as land, equipment,
finance, working capital etc. but also to the various human and social re-
sources which serve to enhance the ability to exercise choice. Human re-
sources are embodied in the individual and encompasses his or her knowl-
edge, skills, creativity, imagination and so on. Social resources, on the
other hand, are made up of the claims, obligations and expectations
which inhere in the relationships, networks and connections which pre-
vail in different spheres of life and which enable people to improve their
situation and life chances beyond what would be possible through their
individual efforts alone.
Resources are distributed through a variety of different institutions and
processes and access to resources will be determined by the rules, norms
and practices which prevail in different institutional domains (eg. familial
norms, patron-client relationships, informal wage agreements, formal
contractual transactions, public sector entitlements). These rules, norms
and practices give some actors authority over others in determining the
principles of distribution and exchange within that sphere. Consequent-
ly, the distribution of ‘allocative’ resources tends to be embedded within
the distribution of ‘authoritative resources’ (Giddens, :o;o), the ability to
define priorities and enforce claims. Heads of households, chiefs of tribes,
directors of firms, managers of organisations, elites within a community
are all endowed with decision-making authority within particular institu-
tional contexts by virtue of their positioning within those institutions.
The terms on which people gain access to resources are as important
as the resources themselves when the issue of empowerment is being con-
sidered. Access may be conditional on highly clientilist forms of depen-
dency relationships or extremely exploitative conditions of work or it may
be achieved in ways which offer dignity and a sense of self-worth. Em-
powerment entails a change in the terms on which resources are acquired
as much as an increase in access to resources.
20 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
The second dimension of power relates to agency, the ability to define
one’s goals and act upon them. Agency is about more than observable ac-
tion; it also encompasses the meaning, motivation and purpose which in-
dividuals bring to their activity, their sense of agency, or ‘the power with-
in’. While agency often tends to be operationalised as ‘individual decision-
making’, particularly in the mainstream economic literature, in reality, it
encompasses a much wider range of purposive actions, including bar-
gaining, negotiation, deception, manipulation, subversion, resistance and
protest as well as the more intangible, cognitive processes of reflection and
analysis. Agency also encompasses collective, as well as individual, reflec-
tion and action.
Agency has both positive and negative meanings in relation to power
2
.
In the positive sense of the ‘power to’, it refers to people’s capacity to de-
fine their own life-choices and to pursue their own goals, even in the face
of opposition from others. Agency can also be exercised in the more neg-
ative sense of ‘power over’, in other words, the capacity of an actor or cat-
egory of actors to over-ride the agency of others, for instance, through
the use of violence, coercion and threat. However, power can also oper-
ate in the absence of any explicit agency. The norms and rules governing
social behaviour tend to ensure that certain outcomes are reproduced
without any apparent exercise of agency. Where these outcomes bear on
the strategic life choices noted earlier, they testify to the exercise of power
as ‘non-decision-making’ (Lukes, :o;¡). The norms of marriage in South
Asia, for instance, invest parents with the authority for choosing their chil-
dren’s partners, but are unlikely to be experienced as a form of power –
unless such authority is questioned.
Resources and agency together constitute what Sen refers to as capa-
bilities, the potential that people have for living the lives they want, of
achieving valued ways of ‘being and doing’. Sen uses the idea of ‘func-
tionings’ to refer to all the possible ways of ‘being and doing’ which are
valued by people in a given context and of ‘functioning achievements’ to
refer to the particular ways of being and doing which are realised by dif-
ferent individuals. These realised achievements, or the failure to do so, con-
stitute our third dimension of power. Clearly, where the failure to achieve
valued ways of ‘being and doing’ can be traced to laziness, incompetence
or some other reason particular to an individual, then the issue of power
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 21
.. The concepts of positive and negative agency echoes the distinction between positive and
negative freedom made by Sen. Negative freedom corresponds to freedom from the effects of
the negative agency of others or their use of ‘the power over’. Positive freedom, which corre-
sponds closely to the way in which I am defining positive agency, refers to the ability to live as
one chooses, to have the effective power to achieve chosen results (Sen \.k.. :o8·).
is not relevant. When, however, the failure to achieve reflects asymmetries
in the underlying distribution of capabilities, it can be taken as a mani-
festation of disempowerment.
Qualifying choice: difference versus inequality
However, a concern with ‘achievements’ in the measurement of empow-
erment draws attention to the necessity for further qualifications to our
understanding of choice. As far as empowerment is concerned, we are in-
terested in possible inequalities in people’s capacity to make choices rather
than in differences in the choices they make. An observed lack of uniformity
in functioning achievements cannot be automatically interpreted as evi-
dence of inequality because it is highly unlikely that all members of a
given society will give equal value to different possible ways of ‘being and
doing’. Consequently, where gender differentials in functioning achieve-
ments exist, we have to disentangle differentials which reflect differences
in preferences and priorities from those which embody a denial of
choice
3
.
One way of getting around the problem for measurement purposes
would be to focus on certain universally-shared functionings, those which
relate to the basic fundamentals of survival and well-being, regardless of
context. For instance, it is generally agreed that proper nourishment, good
health, adequate shelter, reasonable clothing and clean water all consti-
tute primary functionings which tend to be universally valued. If there are
systematic gender differences in these very basic functioning achieve-
ments, they can be taken as evidence of inequalities in underlying capa-
bilities rather than differences in preferences. This, for instance, is the
strategy adopted by Sen (:ooo). However, focusing on basic needs
achievements addresses one aspect of the problem but raises others.
Inequalities in basic functionings generally tend to occur in situations
of extreme scarcity. Confining the analysis of gender inequality to these
achievements alone serves to convey the impression that women’s disem-
powerment is largely a matter of poverty. This is misleading for two rea-
sons.
On the one hand, it misses forms of gender disadvantage which are
more likely to characterise better-off sections of society. Prosperity within
a society may help to reduce gender inequalities in basic well-being, but
intensify other social restrictions on women’s ability to make choices
22 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
¸. A discussion by Folbre offers a pithy example of the distinction I am trying to make here: she
points to the very differing implications of a model of gender equality which seeks to achieve
equal of participation by women and men in the labour market as its indicator of achievement
and one which seeks to equalilty of leisure.
(Razavi, :oo.). On the other, it misses out on those dimensions of gender
disadvantage among the poor which do not take the form of basic func-
tioning failures. For instance, marked gender differentials in life ex-
pectancy and children’s nutrition, two widely used indicators of gender
discrimination in basic wellbeing, do not appear to be as widespread in
the context of sub-Saharan Africa as they do in South Asia. This is usu-
ally attributed to the greater economic contributions that women are able
to make in the former context compared to the latter and to the cultural
rules and norms which have evolved in recognition of their contribution.
However, this does not rule out the possibility that gender disadvantage
can take other forms in these contexts. Shaffer (:oo8), for instance, found
little evidence of income or consumption disadvantage between male- and
female-headed households in Guinea. However, both men and women
in his study recognised women’s far heavier workloads as well as male
domination in private and public decision-making as manifestations of
gender inequality within their community.
A second way out of the problem might be to go beyond the concern
with basic survival-related achievements to certain other functioning
achievements which would be considered to be of social value in most
contexts. This is the strategy adopted in the txrr’s gender-disaggregated
Human Development Index as well as its Gender Empowerment Mea-
sure. Such aggregated measures play a useful role in monitoring differ-
ences in achievements across regions and over time, drawing attention to
problematic disparities. However, while there are sound reasons to move
the measurement of achievements beyond very basic functionings, such
as life expectancy and nutritional status, to more complex achievements,
such as education and political representation, we have to keep in mind
that such measurements, quite apart from their empirical shortcomings,
entail the movement away from the criteria of women’s choices, or even
the values of the communities in which they live, to a definition of
‘achievement’ which represents the values of those who are doing the
measuring. We will return at a later section to the problems that external
values can raise in the analysis of women’s empowerment.
Qualifying choice: ‘choosing not to choose’
The use of achievements to measure empowerment draws attention to a
second problem of interpretation deriving from the central place given
to choice in our definition of power. There is an intuitive plausibility to
the equation between power and choice as long as what is chosen appears
to contribute to the welfare of those making the choice. In situations
where we find evidence of striking gender inequalities in basic well-being
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 23
achievements, the equation between choice and power would suggest
quite plausibly that such inequalities signal the operation of power: either
as an absence of choice on the part of women as the subordinate group
or as active discrimination by men as the dominant group. However, the
equation between power and choice finds it far more difficult to accom-
modate forms of gender inequality when these appear to have been cho-
sen by women themselves. This problem plays out in the literature on
gender and wellbeing in the form of behaviour on the part of women
which suggests that they have internalised their social status as persons
of lesser value. Such behaviour can have adverse implications for their
own wellbeing as well as for the wellbeing for other female members of
the family. Women’s acceptance of their secondary claims on household
resources, their acquiescence to violence at the hands of their husbands,
their willingness to bear children to the detriment of their own health and
survival to satisfy their own or their husband’s preference for sons, are
all examples of behaviour by women which undermine their own well-
being. It is worth noting, for instance, that in Shaffer’s study from West
Africa cited earlier, both women and men recognised the existence of
gender inequalities in terms of women’s heavier workloads and men’s
dominance in decision-making, but neither considered these inequalities
unjust.
In addition, women’s adherence to social norms and practices associ-
ated with son preference, discriminating against daughters in the alloca-
tion of food and basic health care to the extent to compromising the sur-
vival chances of the girl child, promotion of the practice of female cir-
cumcision, the oppressive exercise of authority by mothers-in-law over
their daughters-in-law, a problem often identified in the South Asian con-
text, are examples of behaviour in which women’s internalisation of their
own lesser status in society leads them to discriminate against other fe-
males in that society.
While these forms of behaviour could be said to reflect ‘choice’, they
are also choices which stem from, and serve to reinforce, women’s sub-
ordinate status. They remind us that power relations are expressed not
only through the exercise of agency and choice, but also through the kinds
of choices people make. This notion of power is a controversial one be-
cause it allows for the possibility that power and dominance can operate
through consent and complicity as well as through coercion and conflict.
The vocabulory of false consciousness is not a particularly useful descrip-
tion here, implying as it does the need to distinguish between false and au-
thentic consciousness, between illusion and reality. The consciousness we
are talking about is not ‘false’ as such, since how people perceive their
24 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
needs and interests is shaped by their individual histories and everyday re-
alities, by the material and social context of their experiences and by the
vantage point for reflexivity which this provides. In any situation, some
needs and interests are self-evident, emerging out of the routine practices
of daily life and differentiated by gender in as much as the responsibili-
ties and routines of daily life are gender differentiated. However, there
are other needs and interests which do not have this self-evident nature
because they derive from a ‘deeper’ level of reality, one which is not evi-
dent in everyday life because it is inscribed in the taken-for-granted rules,
norms and customs within which everyday life is conducted.
One way of conceptualising this deeper reality is to be found in Bour-
dieu’s idea of ‘doxa’, the aspects of tradition and culture which are so
taken-for-granted that they have become naturalised. Doxa refers to tra-
ditions and belief which exist beyond discourse or argumentation, ‘undis-
cussed, unnamed, admitted without argument or scrutiny’ (Bourdieu,
:o;;). The idea of doxa is helpful here because it shifts our attention away
from the dichotomy between false and authentic consciousness to a con-
cern with differing levels of reality and the practical and strategic inter-
ests which they give rise to. Bourdieu suggests that as long as the subjec-
tive assessments of social actors are largely congruent with the objective-
ly organised possibilities available to them, the world of doxa remains in-
tact. The passage from ‘doxa’ to discourse, a more critical consciousness,
only becomes possible when competing ways of ‘being and doing’ become
available as material and cultural possibilities, so that ‘common sense’
propositions of culture begin to lose their ‘naturalised’ character, reveal-
ing the underlying arbitrariness of the given social order.
The availability of alternatives at the discursive level, of being able to
at least imagine the possibility of having chosen differently, is thus cru-
cial to the emergence of a critical consciousness, the process by which
people move from a position of unquestioning acceptance of the social
order to a critical perspective on it. This has an obvious bearing to our
earlier discussion about functioning achievements as an aspect of em-
powerment. As I pointed out, the possibility that power operates not only
through constraints on people’s ability to make choices, but also through
their preferences and values and hence the choices that they may make,
appeared to pose a serious challenge to the basic equation made in this
paper between power and choice. However, it is possible to retain the
equation by a further qualification to our notion of ‘choice’, extending
the idea of alternatives to encompass discursive alternatives. In other
words, in assessing whether or not an achievement embodies meaning-
ful choice, we have to ask ourselves whether other choices were not only
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 25
materially possible but whether they were conceived to be within the
realms of possibility
4
.
Empowerment: dimensions, levels and processes of change
To sum up, the ability to choose has been made central to the concept of
power which informs the analysis in this paper. However, choice has been
qualified in a number of ways to make it relevant to the analysis. Quali-
fications regarding the conditions of choice point to the need to distin-
guish between choices made from the vantage point of real alternatives
and choices which reflect their absence or punishingly high costs. Quali-
fications relating to the consequences of choice reflect the need to distin-
guish between strategic life choices, those which represent valued ways of
‘being and doing’, and the other more mundane choices which follow
once these first-order choices have been made. The consequences of
choice can be further evaluated in terms of their transformatory signifi-
cance, the extent to which the choices made have the potential for chal-
lenging and destabilising social inequalities and the extent to which they
merely express and reproduce these inequalities. Choices which express
the fundamental inequalities of a society, which infringe the rights of oth-
ers or which systematically devalue the self, are not compatible with the
notion of ‘empowerment’ being put forward in this paper.
These qualifications represent an attempt to incorporate the structur-
al dimensions of choice into our analysis. Structures operate through the
rules, norms and practices of different institutions to determine the re-
sources, agency and achievement possibilities available to different groups
of individuals in a society: our criteria of ‘alternatives’ (could they have
chosen otherwise?) recognises these larger constraints. However, the ac-
tions and choices of individuals and groups can in turn act on structural
constraints, reinforcing, modifying and transforming them: our criteria of
‘consequences’ draws attention to these possibilities. Such a conceptuali-
sation of empowerment suggests that it can reflect change at a number
of different possible levels (Figure .).
26 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
¡. The importance of alternatives, material as well as discursive, is common to a number of analy-
ses of power. Lukes refers to the absence of actual or imagined alternatives as a factor explaining
the absence of protest to the injustices of an unequal order. Geuss (:o8:) suggests that knowledge
about social life and the self requires not only freedom from basic want but also the material
and cultural possibility of experimentation, of trying out alternatives, the freedom to experience
and to discuss the results of that experience. Shklar puts the question of alternatives eloquently
when she declares, ‘Unless and until we can offer the injured and insulted victims of the most of
the world’s traditional as well as revolutionary governments a genuine and practicable alterna-
tive to their present condition, we have no way of knowing whether they really enjoy their
chains…’ . (:o6¡. Legalism).
Figure 2. Levels of empowerment
‘Deeper’ levels: Structural relations of class/caste/gender
Intermediate levels Institutional rules and resources
Immediate levels Individual resources, agency and achievements
It can reflect change at the level of individuals and groups, in their
sense of selfhood and identity, in how they perceive their interests and in
their capacity to act. It can occur at the intermediate level, in the rules
and relationships which prevail in the personal, social, economic and po-
litical spheres of life. And it can occur in the deeper, hidden structures
which shape the distribution of resources and power in a society and re-
produce it over time. However, for any such change to translate into
meaningful and sustainable processes of empowerment, it must ultimate-
ly encompass both individual and structural levels. The institution of
rights within the legal framework of a society is meaningless unless these
rights have a real impact on the range of possibilities available to all in-
dividuals in that society. Equally, changes in the resources that individu-
als enjoy, but which leave intact the structures of inequality and discrim-
ination may help to improve their economic welfare without necessarily
empowering them.
In the rest of this paper, I will be reviewing a selection of studies which
attempt to measure women’s empowerment drawn largely from the eco-
nomic, the population and the gender literature in development studies.
As we will see, there are some important differences in how these various
studies deal with the idea of empowerment. They differ in the dimensions
of empowerment which they choose to focus on and in whether they treat
power as an attribute of individuals or a property of structures. They also
differ in how social change is conceptualised.
In some cases, change in one dimension or level is presumed to lead
to, or be symptomatic of, changes in others so that they confine them-
selves to indicators of that change. The txrr’s Gender Empowerment
Measure which focuses on women’s political representation or percent-
ages of women in managerial posts is an example of this approach. It is
assumed that such indicators tell us something important, if indirect,
about women’s ability to make strategic choices in other aspects of their
lives. Others adopt a linear cause-and-effect logic to model the relation-
ship between changes in different dimensions or levels of empowerment.
These tend to confine themselves to changes at the individual level, for in-
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 27
stance, between changes in women’s access to income earning opportu-
nities and their decision-making power within the household although a
few have also sought to model the effects of changes at the structural level
for individual choice
5
. What is understandably missing from the mea-
surement literature are examples of the more processual model of social
change subscribed to by many feminists and exemplified in the following
quotes from Batliwala:
…the exercise of informed choice within an expanding framework of in-
formation, knowledge and analysis…a process which must enable women
to discover new possibilites, new options…a growing repertoire of choic-
es…to independently struggle for changes in their material conditions of
existence, their personal lives and their treatment in the public
sphere…The process of challenging existing power relations, and of gain-
ing greater control over the sources of power… (Batliwala :oo¸ and :oo¡).
A processual understanding of social change tends to treat it as open-
ended. It is premised on the unpredictability of human agency and on
the diversity of circumstances under which such agency is exercised.
While it may identify certain key elements of structure and agency as hav-
ing a catalytic potential, it does not attempt to determine in advance how
this potential will play out in practice. Consequently, empowerment is
seen as a form of social change which is not easily captured by quantita-
tive data.
Section 2: Measuring Empowerment: the Problem of Meaning
Measuring ‘resources’
The ‘resource’ dimension of empowerment would appear at first sight to
be the most easy to measure. However, a critical reading of attempts at
measurement suggest that the task is less simple than it appears, even
when resources are defined in narrow material terms as they generally
tend to be. There is a widespread tendency in the empowerment litera-
ture to talk about ‘access to resources’ in a generic way, as if indicating
some relationship between women and resources automatically specifies
the choices it makes possible. In reality, however, resources are at one re-
move from choice, a measure of potential rather than actualised choice. How
changes in women’s resources will translate into changes in the choices
28 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
·. The study by Hodinott et al. on the reduction in married women’s suicide rates apparently as a
result of changes in the divorce law in Canada is an example.
they are able to make will depend, in part, on other aspects of the condi-
tions in which they are making their choices. By way of example, let us
take women’s ‘access’ to land.
At the systemic level, this is often captured by distinguishing between
different categories of land rights with the assumption that women are
likely to exercise a greater degree of autonomy in those regions where they
enjoy some rights to land (e.g. Dyson and Moore, :o8¸; Boserup, :o;o).
Yet studies which use measures of women’s access to land as an indicator
of empowerment seldom reflect on the pathways by which such ‘access’
translates into agency and achievement, let alone seeking to understand
these pathways empirically. It is noteworthy, for instance, that a causal
connection is often made between patrilineal principles of descent and in-
heritance in the northern plains of the Indian sub-continent compared to
the south and the lower levels of female autonomy beli in the northern
plains of the Indian sub-continent, compared for instance, with the south.
However, land inheritance rules are by no means uniform within this re-
gion. Among Hindus, joint family property is a central tenet shaping in-
heritance practices with some local variation in how this is interpreted.
Joint family property is generally held in a coparcenary system by men,
usually fathers and sons, to the total exclusion of women (Mukhopadhyay,
:oo8). Among Muslims, on the other hand, women have always enjoyed
the right to inherit property and to inherit as individuals. Muslim women
and men consequently enjoy individual, absolute but unequal rights to
property: men tend to inherit twice the share of women. Hindu law has
been reformed after Indian independence to give men and women equal
rights of inheritance; Muslim inheritance principles have been left un-
touched.
However, despite these differences in the customary and legal positions
of women in the two communities, both Muslim and Hindu women tend
to be treated as effectively propertyless in the literature. For Hindu
women, older norms and customs remain powerful and Agarwal (:oo¡)
provides evidence of the difficulties they face they seek to assert legal over
customary practices around land inheritance. Muslim women, on the
other hand, generally prefer, or are encouraged to prefer, to waive their
rights to parental property in favour of their brothers with the result that
they too are treated as effectively propertyless. Thus the critical measure
of women’s access to land which characterises the Indian literature is de
facto rather than de jure entitlement and by this measure, there is little dif-
ference in the Hindu and Muslim community.
Yet it is by no means evident that de facto ownership tells us all we
need to know about the potential domain of choice. It has, for instance,
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 29
been pointed out that although Muslim women do waive their land rights
to their brothers (and may be under considerable pressure to do so), they
thereby strengthen their future claim on their brothers, should their mar-
riage break down. While brothers have a duty under Islam to look after
their sisters, the waiving of land rights by sisters in favour of brothers gives
a material basis to a moral entitlement. The necessity for such an ex-
change may reflect women’s subordinate status within the community but
the fact that women’s land rights are in principle recognised by their com-
munity gives them a resource to bargain with in a situation in which they
have few other resources. Moreover, as the situation changes, they may
begin to press their claims on such a resource. I found evidence of women
beginning to claim their inheritance rights in rural Bangladesh, although
sometimes under pressure from their husbands (Kabeer, :oo¡) while Raza-
vi also notes evidence from in rural Iran of a greater willingness of women
to press for their property rights in court, this time to compensate for their
diminishing employment opportunities (Razavi, :oo.). These are poten-
tials which are not easily available to women in communities where such
rights were not recognised by customary law and tradition, even if they
have, as in India, subsequently been brought into existence by legislative
action. Indeed, Das Gupta (:o8;) has pointed out in the context of her
study in the jat kinship system in Punjab that there was no question of
women owning land: ‘If she should insist on her right to inherit land equal-
ly under civil law, she would stand a good chance of being murdered’.
The main methodological point to take from this discussion therefore
is that the ‘resource’ dimension has to be defined in ways which spell out
their potential for human agency and valued achievements more clearly
than simple ‘access’ indicators generally do if it is to be useful as a mea-
sure of empowerment. One of the limitation of de facto measures of land
entitlements discussed here is that they ignore the diverse processes by
which the de facto possession or dispossession occurs and hence fail to
appreciate possible differences in women’s choices implied by differences
in the de jure position. In addition, the power of customary constructions
of rights over recently introduced legalistic ones noted in these studies also
raises a question about processes of social change which has yet to be sat-
isfactorily answered in the empowerment literature: how do attempts to
change deeply entrenched structures, in this case, pitting the law against
rules legitimised by custom and religion, translate into changes in indi-
vidual agency and choice?
The recognition by many analysts of the need to go beyond simple ‘ac-
cess’ indicators in order to grasp how ‘resources’ translate into the reali-
sation of choice has led to variety of concepts seeking to bridge the gap
30 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
between formal and effective entitlement to resources, generally by intro-
ducing some aspect of agency into the measure. The most frequently used
of these bridging concepts is that of ‘control’, usually operationalised in
terms of having a say in relation to the resource in question. However,
while the focus on ‘control’ is an important conceptual step forward, it
does not necessarily make the question of what to measure any easier to
answer. Instead, what we find in the literature is a tendency to use con-
cepts such as access, ownership, entitlement and control interchangeably
so that there is considerable confusion about what ‘control’ actually means.
Sathar and Kazi (:oo;), for instance, equate both ‘access’ and ‘control’
with having a say in decisions related to particular resources within the
household. Their measure of ‘access to resources’ is based on whether
women had a say in household expenses, cash to spend on household ex-
penses and freedom to purchase clothes, jewellery and gifts for their rel-
atives while ‘control over resources’ is measured by asking who kept
household earnings and who had a say in household expenditure. In Jee-
jheboy’s analysis (:oo;), concepts of ‘access’, ‘control’ and ‘decision-mak-
ing’ are all used in relation to resources, with ‘control’ sometimes refer-
ring to ownership and sometimes to decision-making. Kishor defines em-
powerment as ‘women’s control over key aspects of their lives’ but her at-
tempts to measure this ‘control’ varies between decision-making in rela-
tion to earnings and expenditures; control defined in terms of self reliance
(can women support themselves without their husband’s support); control
as decision-making (who has final say in making decisions about a vari-
ety of issues); and control as ‘choice’ (choosing own spouse or being con-
sulted in the choice of marriage partner).
Nevertheless, despite lack of clarity or consensus about what exactly
‘control’ might mean and how it can be measured, the focus on control
in relation to the resource dimension of empowerment reflects a recogni-
tion on the part of analysts that ‘access’ to resources will only translate into
empowerment if women are able to act on, or because of, these resources
in some definitive way. Thus, one criteria for evaluating the validity of a
resource-based measure as an indicator of women’s empowerment is the
validity of its implicit or explicit assumptions about the kinds of agency
or entitlement that women are able to exercise as a result of their ‘access’
to the resource in question.
Measuring ‘agency’
There are a variety of ways of measuring women’s agency in the devel-
opment studies literature, including negative forms of agency such as male
violence as well as positive forms, such as women’s mobility in the public
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 31
domain in regions where female seclusion is the norm
6
. However, I will
restrict my discussion of measures of agency in relation to women’s em-
powerment to the form which features most widely in the literature which
is ‘decision-making’ agency. Measures of such agency are usually based
on responses to questions asking women about their roles in relation to
specific decisions, with answers sometimes combined into a single index
and sometimes presented separately. Examples of decisions which typi-
cally apppear in measurement efforts and the geographical context cov-
ered are summarised below:
Typical decisions in decision-making indicators
• Egypt: Household budget, food cooked, visits, children’s education,
children’s health, use of family planning methods (Kishor, :oo;)
• India: Purchase of food; purchase of major household goods; purchase
of small items of jewellery; course of action if child falls ill; disciplining
the child; decisions about children’s education and type of school
(Jejeebhoy, :oo;).
• Nigeria: Household purchases; whether wife works; how to spend hus-
band’s income; number of children to have; whether to buy and sell
land, whether to use family planning; to send children to school, how
much education; when sons and when daughters marry, whether to take
sick children to doctor and how to rear children. (Kritz, Makinwa and
Gurak, :oo;).
• Zimbabwe: Wife working outside; making a major purchase; the number
of children (Becker, :oo;).
• Nepal: What food to buy; the decision by women to work outside; major
market transaction; and the number of children to have (Morgan and
Niraula, :oo·).
• Iran: Types and quantities of food; inputs, labour and sale in agricultural
production (Razavi, :oo.).
• Pakistan: Purchase of food, number of children, schooling of children;
children’s marriage; major household purchases; women’s work outside
the home; sale and purchase of livestock, household expenses; purchase
of clothes, jewellery and gifts for wife’s relatives (Sathar and Kazi, :oo;).
• Bangladesh: Ability to make small consumer purchases: ability to make
large consumer purchases; house repair; taking in livestock for raising;
leasing in of land; purchase of major asset (Hashemi et al, :oo6).
• Bangladesh: Children’s education; visits to friends and relatives; house-
hold purchases; health care matters (Cleland et al, :oo¡).
32 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
6. These are discussed in the longer version of this paper published by txnisr (:ooo).
Even a preliminary reading of these different decisions suggests that
they are not all equally persuasive as indicators of women’s empowerment
because they do not all have same consequential significance for women’s
lives. Few cultures operate with starkly dichotomous distributions of
power with men making all the decisions and women making none. More
commonly we find a hierarchy of decision-making responsibilities recog-
nised by the family and community, which reserves certain key areas of
decision-making for men in their capacity as household heads while as-
signing others to women in their capacity as mothers, wives, daughters
and so on. The evidence from South Asia, for instance, suggests that,
within the family, the purchase of food and other items of household con-
sumption and decisions related to children’s health appear to fall within
women’s arena of decision-making while decisions related to the educa-
tion and marriage of children and the market transactions in major as-
sets tend to be more clearly male.
This is clearly illustrated in Sathar and Kazi (:oo;). They found on the
basis of data from Pakistan that the only area of decision-making in which
women reported both participating (;:%) as well as playing a major de-
cision-making role (·:%) was in relation to the purchase of food. They
participated, but did not play a major role in number of children to have
(6·% and :6% respectively); schooling of children (·¸% and :;%) and the
marriage of children (·.% and 8%). They had lower levels of participa-
tion and even less likelihood of playing a major role in decisions relating
to major household purchases (:;% and ·%) and livestock transactions
(.:% and ·%). Thus major economic decisions were largely reserved for
men while women played a more significant role in minor economic de-
cisions. They participated, but did not have a major role, in decisions re-
lating to numbers of children and their schooling and even less of a role
when it came to children’s marriage.
In methodological terms, such distinctions suggest the need for greater
care in selecting and quantifying the decisions which are to serve as indi-
cators of empowerment, with attention given to consequential significance
of different categories of decisions or of different stages in the decision-
making process. Evidence that women played a role in making decisions
which were of little consequence or else were assigned to women, anyway,
by the pre-existing gender division of roles and responsibilities tell us far
less about their power to choose than evidence on decisions which relate
to strategic life choices or to choices which had been denied to them in
the past. We could also distinguish between various critical ‘control points’
within the decision-making process itself where such control is defined in
terms of the consequential significance of influencing outcomes at these
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 33
different points (Beneria and Roldan, :o8;). Pahl (:o8o), for instance, dis-
tinguishes between the ‘control’ or policy making function in making de-
cisions about resource allocation and the ‘management’ function, deci-
sions which pertain to implementation. This distinction may explain the
finding by the Egyptian Male Survey in :oo. (cited in Ali, :oo6) that men
were dominant in the decision to adopt contraceptives, the policy deci-
sion, but tended to leave the choice of contraception largely to women (al-
though Ali’s qualitative study found men’s continuing involvement in
women’s choice of contraceptives as well).
Finally, however, ‘statistical’ perspectives on decision-making should
also be remembered for what they are: simple windows on complex real-
ities. They may provide a brief glimpse of processes of decision-making,
but they tell us very little about the subtle negotiations that go on between
women and men in their private lives. Consequently, they may underes-
timate the informal decision-making agency which women often exercise.
This can be illustrated by comparing Silberschmidt’s (:oo.) account of for-
mal and informal decision-making among the Kisii in Kenya. The for-
mal account of decision-making given by women ascribed most of the
power to men: ‘The husbands were said to be ‘heads’ of households and
their ‘owners’ – as an afterthought the wives might add, “they can buy
us just like cattle”. Their accounts of ‘actual’ decision-making, however,
gave a very different picture:
‘(Women) admitted that men should be consulted on all sorts of issues, and
that they were supposed to determine various actions that must be taken.
In reality, however, many women took such decisions themselves. Their
most common practice was to avoid open confrontation while still getting
their own way… There is no doubt that many women do often manipu-
late their menfolk and make decisions independently. For example, since
the land belongs to the man, he is expected to decide where the various
crops are to be planted. If his wife disagrees, she would seldom say so, but
simply plant in what she feels is a better way. If he finds out that she has
not followed his instructions, she will apologise but explain that because
the seeds did not germinate they had to be replanted in a different man-
ner/spot’. (p. .¡8).
The inability of a purely statistical approach to capture this informal
aspect is not simply a measurement failure, it has conceptual implications.
There is an important body of research from the South Asian context
which suggests that the the renegotiation of power relations, particularly
within the family, is often precisely about changes in informal decision-
34 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
making, with women opting for private forms of empowerment, which re-
tain intact the public image, and honour, of the traditional decision-maker
but which nevertheless increases their ‘backstage’ influence in decision-
making processes (Chen, :o8¸; Kabeer, .ooo; Basu,:oo6). Such strategies
reflect a certain degree of caution on the part of women, strategic virtues
in situations where they may have as much to lose from the disruption of
social relationships as they have to gain.
Measuring achievement
As with the other dimensions of empowerment, the critical methodolog-
ical point to be made in relation to achievement indicators relates once
again to the need for analytical clarity in the selection of what is to be
measured. I have already pointed out the need to make a distinction be-
tween gender-differentiated achievements which signal differences in values
and preferences and those which draw attention to inequalities in the abil-
ity to make choices. An examination of some of the studies which have in-
cluded indicators of achievement in their analysis of women’s empower-
ment will help to throw up other criteria for the selection of such indica-
tors.
Kishor (:oo;) has used national Egyptian data to explore the effects of
direct, as well as indirect, measures of women’s empowerment on two val-
ued functioning achievements: infant survival rates and infant immunisa-
tion. These achievements were selected on the basis of her conceptuali-
sation of women’s empowerment in terms of ‘control’ which she defined
as the ability to ‘access information, take decisions, and act in their own
interests, or the interests of those who depend on them (p. :). Since women
bore primary responsibility for children’s health, she hypothesised that
their empowerment would be associated with positive achievements in
terms of the health and survival of their children. Her analysis relied on
three categories of composite indicators to measure empowerment: ‘direct
evidence of empowerment’; ‘sources of empowerment’ and ‘the setting for
empowerment’. I have summarised these below, together with the vari-
ables which had greatest weight in each indicator:
1) Direct evidence of empowerment
i) Devaluation of women:
reports of domestic violence; dowry paid at marriage
ii) Women’s emancipation:
belief in daughters’ education; freedom of movement
iii) Reported sharing of roles and decision making:
egalitarian gender roles; egalitarian decision-making
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 35
iv) Equality in marriage: fewer grounds reported for justified divorce by husbands;
equality of grounds reported for divorce by husband or wife
v) Financial autonomy:
currently controls her earnings; her earnings as share household income
2) Sources of empowerment
i) Participation in the modern sector:
index of assets owned; female education
ii) Lifetime exposure to employment:
worked before marriage; controlled earnings before marriage
3) Setting indicators
i) Family structure amenable to empowerment:
does not now or previously live with in-laws
ii) Marital advantage:
small age difference between spouses; chose husband
iii) Traditional marriage:
large educational difference with husband; did not choose husband
The results of a multivariate analysis found that the indirect
source/setting indicators of women’s empowerment had far more influ-
ence in determining the value of her achievement variables than the di-
rect measures. There are two possible and mutually compatible explana-
tions for this finding. One is that her direct indicators of empowerment
did not in fact succeed in capturing empowerment particularly well. This
is quite plausible given that many entailed highly value-laden information
about attitudes and relationships within marriage eg. the grounds on
which women believed that a husband was justified in divorcing his wife;
whether husband and wife were justified in seeking divorce on the same
grounds; and whether women should speak up if they disagreed with their
husbands. However, other more factual direct indicators (eg. ‘financial au-
tonomy’ and ‘freedom of movement’) also proved insignificant.
The other possible explanation was that the achievements in question
did not in fact depend on whether or not women were directly ‘empow-
ered’ but on other factors which were better captured by the ‘source’ and
‘setting’ variables. A further ‘deconstruction’ of Kishor’s findings suggests
that child mortality was higher in households where women were cur-
rently, or had previously been, in residence with their parents-in-law as
well as in households where there was a large difference in the age and
education levels of husband and wife. Child mortality were lower if the
mother had been in employment prior to her marriage. As far as the im-
36 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
munisation was concerned, children were more likely to have been im-
munised in households where their mothers had extended experience of
employment, where they reported exposure to the media, where they
were educated and where they were not under the authority of in-laws as
a result of joint residence. In addition, where the age difference between
husband and wife was small and where women expressed a belief in
equality in marriage, children’s survival chances were likely to be higher.
Thus the only direct measure of empowerment which proved significant
in the analysis was her ‘equality of marriage’ indicator and it proved sig-
nificant only in relation to child immunization.
Returning to a point made earlier, if, as is likely, the care of infants
came within women’s pre-assigned sphere of jurisdiction, then improve-
ments in functioning achievements in this sphere should be seen as in-
creased efficacy in pre-assigned roles rather than as evidence of their em-
powerment. In other words, what mattered for achievements in relation
to children’s wellbeing was women’s agency as mothers rather than as
wives. This is why the direct measures of empowerment, which dealt
largely with equality in conjugal relationships, proved insignificant in ex-
plaining the achievement variables. Instead, it was variables which cap-
tured women’s ability to take effective action in relation to the welfare of
their children which played the significant explanatory role. For instance,
women who lived, or had lived, with their in-laws , were more likely to
have been subordinate to the authority of a senior female, with less like-
lihood of exercising effective agency at a time when such agency was crit-
ical to children’s health outcomes. Women who were less educated than
their husbands or much younger were also likely have been less confident,
competent or authoritative in taking the necessary actions to ensure their
children’s health. Female education and employment both had a role in
explaining child welfare outcomes but with slight variations. Lifetime ex-
perience of employment by women had a direct positive effect on their chil-
dren’s chances of survival as well as the likelihood of child immunisation.
Female education influenced children’s survival chances indirectly
through its association with improved standards of household water and
sanitation but had a direct influence on the likelihood of child immuni-
sation. The differences in the determinants of the two achievement vari-
ables are worth noting. The fact that women’s education and employment
as well as ‘equality in marriage’ all had a direct influence on the likelihood
of child immunization but only women’s employment affected their sur-
vival chances, suggests that the former activity may have required a more
active agency on the part of mothers than did the more routine forms of
health-seeking behaviour through which child survival is generally assured.
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 37
The case for analytical clarity in the selection of ‘empowerment-relat-
ed’ measures of achievement can also be illustrated with reference to a
study by Becker (:oo;) which used data from Zimbabwe to explore the im-
plications of women’s empowerment on a different set of functioning
achievements: the use of contraception and the take-up of pre-natal health
care. Regression analysis was carried out in two stages. First of all, he ex-
plored the effects of some likely determinants of these outcomes. He found
that contraceptive use appeared to be positively related to household
wealth, as measured by a possessions index, the number of surviving chil-
dren, the wife’s employment and husband’s education. Older women,
women who lived in rural areas and who had polygamous husbands were
less likely to use contraception. The likelihood that women received pre-
natal care was positively related to household possessions, rural residence,
women’s age, education and employment and husband’s education. In the
second stage, Becker added a measure of women’s empowerment to his
equations to see what difference it made. Empowerment was measured by
an index of women’s role in decision-making in three key areas: the pur-
chase of household items, the decision to work outside and number of
children to have. Adding the empowerment indicator did little to improve
the fit of the equation in relation to contraceptive use, but significantly im-
proved the fit as far as take up of pre-natal care was concerned.
Speculating on the meaning of these findings, Becker pointed out that,
given the commitment of the Zimbabwean government to family plan-
ning, contraceptive services were widely available through community-
based distribution systems and contraceptive prevalence was correspond-
ingly high. Over ·o% of the women in his sample used it. In a context
where contraception was both easily available, and had also become a rel-
atively routine form of behaviour, women’s employment status increased
the likelihood of use, but otherwise, it did not appear to require any great
assertiveness on the part of women to access the necessary services. By
contrast, women’s take up of pre-natal care was more closely related to
their role in intra-household decision-making as well as to both their ed-
ucation levels and their employment status, suggesting that it may have
required far greater assertiveness on the part of women than contracep-
tive use. In other words, women who were assertive in other areas of
household decision-making, who were educated and employed, were also
more likely to be assertive when it came to active and non-routine health-
seeking behaviour on their own behalf.
In both the studies discussed here, direct measures of women’s agency
were far more significant in determining outcomes when women were re-
quired to step out of routine forms of behaviour – getting their children
38 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
immunised, in one case, and pre-natal health visits in the other – than out-
comes which allowed them to conform to prevailing practice.
However, apart from the extent to which outcomes require women to
go against the grain of established custom, achievements also have to be
assessed for their transformatory implications in relation to the gender in-
equalities frequently embedded in these customs. While both child sur-
vival and immunisation are highly valued achievements from a number
of variety of perspectives – of policy makers, of the family and, above all,
of women themselves – and while both were quite evidently the product
of women’s greater effectiveness as agents, neither achievement by itself
necessarily implied a shift in underlying power relations. In this sense,
women’s ability to access pre-natal health care is more indicative of the
kind of transformative agency we are talking about.
A similar distinction between achievements which testify to women’s
greater efficacy as agents within prescribed gender roles and those which
are indicative of women as agents of transformation would apply to the
determinants of under-five child mortality and gender differentials in child
mortality in India reported by Dreze and Sen (:oo·). They found that fe-
male literacy reduced under-five child mortality while both female labour
force participation as well as female literacy reduced excess female mor-
tality in the under-five age group. They interpreted these effects as evi-
dence that women’s access to education and employment enhanced their
ability to exercise agency. While accepting this interpretation, I would
nevertheless argue that the meanings conveyed by the two functioning
achievements carried rather different implications in terms of women’s
empowerment. The reduction in under-five mortality associated with
women’s access to education can be taken as evidence of more effective
agency on the part of women but does not, by itself, testify to a transfor-
matory agency on their part. On the other hand, the reductions in excess
female mortality associated with higher levels of female education and em-
ployment does suggest something more than greater efficacy of agency.
Given that the reduction in excess female mortality represented an in-
crease in the survival chances of the girl child rather than a decrease in the
survival chances of boys, it suggests that women who have some educa-
tion and are economically active are more likely than others to give equal
value to sons and daughters and to exercise equal effort on their behalf.
Our discussion therefore suggests that in situations of gender discrim-
ination, evidence that the enhancement of women’s agency led to a re-
duction in prevailing gender inequalities in functioning achievements can
be taken as evidence of women’s empowerment. The fact that this may,
as in Becker’s study, entail agency on their own behalf is not intended to
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 39
equate empowerment with self-interest, but as acknowledgement that, by
and large, gender inequalities often take the form of women’s well-being
being given a secondary place to that of men
7
. In some contexts, this sec-
ondary place results in extreme and life-threatening forms of gender in-
equality. In others, it may take less life-threatening forms, for instance,
gender inequalities in education. In most contexts, it would be a reason-
able hypothesis to assume that improvements in women’s wellbeing are
likely to also imply improvements in the wellbeing of other family mem-
bers, whereas improvements in the wellbeing of other family members do
not necessarily imply improvements in women’s wellbeing.
Triangulation and meaning: the indivisibility of resources,
agency and achievements
The review so far of the ‘fit’ between the different dimensions of empow-
erment and the indicators used to measure them has essentially been a
review about the ‘fit’ between the meanings attributed to a measure and
the meanings empirically revealed by it. What the discussion has thrown
up very clearly is that it is not possible to establish the meaning of an in-
dicator, whatever dimension of empowerment it is intended to measure,
without reference to the other dimensions of empowerment. In other words,
the three dimensions are indivisible in determining the meaning of an indicator and hence
its validity as a measure of empowerment. Specifying ‘access’ to a resource tells
us about potential rather than actual choice and the validity of a ‘resource’
measure as an indicator of empowerment largely rests on the validity of
the assumptions made about the potential agency or entitlement embod-
ied in that resource. It is similarly difficult to judge the validity of an
achievement measure unless we have evidence, or can make a reasonable
guess, as to whose agency was involved and the extent to which the
achievement in question transformed prevailing inequalities in resources
and agency rather than reinforcing them or leaving them unchallenged.
Similar considerations apply to evidence on agency: we have to know
about its consequential significance in terms of women’s strategic life
choices, their ability to realise valued ways of being and doing, and the
extent to which their agency transforms the conditions under which it is
exercised.
40 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
;. As far as the Becker study is concerned, it should be noted that unlike South Asia, sub-Saharan
Africa is not characterised by marked gender inequalities in mortality and life expectancy.
However, in as much as it has higher rates of fertility than many other parts of the world, and
correspondingly higher rates of maternal mortality, exacerbated by the absence of good health
services, women’s ability to access both ante-natal health care and contraceptive services can be
taken as helping to redress a gender-specific form of functioning failure. Obviously we would
need to take account of the terms on which such contraceptives were offered before taking
evidence of take up as evidence of empowerment.
The methodological implication flowing from this is the critical need
to triangulate, to cross check through other sources and methods the evi-
dence provided by an indicator in order to establish that it means what it
is believed to mean. Indicators not only compress a great deal of infor-
mation into a single statistic but make assumptions, often implicit, about
what this information means. The more evidence there is to support these
assumptions, the more faith we are likely to have in the validity of the in-
dicator in question. Let me illustrate the importance of triangulation by
analysing the very conflicting conclusions regarding the empowerment po-
tential of loans to women which were reported by a number of evaluations
of the same sub-set of credit programmes in Bangladesh. As I have argued
elsewhere, these conflicting conclusions reflected very different under-
standings of empowerment rather than contradictory sets of evidence (see
Kabeer, :oo8 and .oo: for a more detailed analysis of these evaluations).
Pitt and Khandker (:oo·) attempted to infer gender differences in bar-
gaining power within the household from the extent to which a set of pre-
selected decision-making outcomes varied according to the gender of the
loanee. In terms of the terminology of this paper, they were seeking to
make assumptions about agency on the basis of evidence on the relation-
ship between resources and achievements. However, the value of their
analysis was undermined by the fact that no rationale was offered for the
selection of the particular decision-making outcomes in question, nor was
it always clear whether these outcomes constituted achievements of some
valued goal or a failure to realise a valued goal. For instance, the authors
themselves interpret their finding that women loanees spent more time on
market-related work than did women in male loanee households as evi-
dence of women’s empowerment but explained as an ‘income effect’ the
finding that men in households that had received credit spent less time
on market-related work, and probably more time on leisure, regardless
of whether the loan in question had been a male or a female. However,
the increase in women’s market-related work as a result of their access to
credit has been given a much more negative interpretation by others who
have suggested that increases in women’s loan-generated labour may sim-
ply add to their increased work burdens, overwork, fatigue and malnu-
trition (Montgomery et al.; Ackerly, :oo·; Goetz and Sen Gupta, :oo¡).
Similarly, men’s greater leisure as a result of loans to their household, re-
gardless of who actually received the loan, could quite plausibly be inter-
preted as evidence of male privilege and power rather than (or as well as)
an ‘income effect’. Further information on what their findings actually
meant would have helped to distinguish between these alternative hy-
potheses.
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 41
A similar absence of information on the agency involved in the
achievement of particular decision-making outcomes also characterises a
study by Rahman (:o86). However, her selection of outcomes at least had
a plausible bearing on women’s empowerment since they relate to basic
welfare achievements in a context characterised by considerable gender
discrimination. She found that women who had received loans enjoyed
higher levels of welfare (food, clothing and medical expenditure) com-
pared to women in households where men had received the loans or in
economically equivalent households which had not received any loans at
all. Her findings would lead us to conclude that women’s access to cred-
it reduced, but did not fully eliminate, gender differentials in intra-house-
hold welfare. However, as evidence on women’s empowerment, they
would have been strengthened by information on whose agency was in-
volved in translating loans into impact. Did increased expenditures on
women’s wellbeing represent the more active and direct exercise of pur-
chasing power by women; did it represent their greater role in household
decision-making about the distribution of household resources; or did it
represent the greater weight given by the household head to women’s
wellbeing in recognition of women’s role in bringing in economic re-
sources? Clearly each of these possibilities throws a different light on the
issue of power and agency within the household so that while we can ar-
rive at some firm conclusions about the effects of their access to credit on
women’s welfare, there is still a question mark about its implications for
their empowerment.
If there are problems with inferring agency on the basis of inadequate
information about achievements, attempts to infer achievement possibil-
ities on the basis of restricted understandings of agency are equally prob-
lematic. This is evident in a study by Goetz and Sen Gupta (:oo6) in
which they used an index of ‘managerial control’ as their indicator of
women’s empowerment. This index classified women who had no knowl-
edge of how their loans had been utilised or else had played no part in
the enterprise funded by their loans as having ‘little or no control’ over
their loans at one end of the spectrum while at the other end of the spec-
trum were those who were described as exercising ‘full control’ over their
loans, having participated in all stages of the enterprise, including mar-
keting of their products. The large numbers of women found to be exer-
cising ‘little’ or ‘no control’ over their loans according to this criteria led
the authors to extremely pessimistic conclusions about the empowerment
potential of credit programmes for women.
However, if we return to our earlier point about the hierarchy of de-
cisions within decision-making processes, a major problem with their
42 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
index of ‘managerial control’ was that it conflated quite distinct moments
in the decision-making processes by which access to loans translates into
impact on women’s lives. In particular, it conflated ‘control’ and ‘man-
agement’, making no distinction between the policy decision as to how
loans were to be utilised and repaid, and the management decisions by which
decision regarding loan use were implemented. If this distinction had
been taken into account, then apart from the unknown proportion of the
..% women in their ‘no control’ category who reported that they did not
even know how their loans were used, the remaining ;8% of women in
their sample could, in principle, have exercised much greater control over
their loans than allowed for by the authors. Putting this point to one side,
if, as Goetz and Sen Gupta apppear to be hypothesizing, control over the
loan-funded activity is in fact a critical ‘control’ point in the process by
which access to loans translates into a range of valued achievements, then
certainly ‘managerial control’ can serve as an indicator of empowerment.
However, this hypothesis is directly contradicted by yet another eval-
uation of a similar set of credit programmes in rural Bangladesh. Hashe-
mi et al. (:oo6) classified all the women loanees in their sample according
to the categories of ‘managerial control’ spelt out by Goetz and Sen
Gupta. While the results varied considerably according to both the length
of women’s membership of credit organisation as well as by credit or-
ganisation, they confirmed that large percentage of women in certain vil-
lages did indeed ‘lose’ control over their loans by Goetz and Sen Gupta’s
criteria. By then going on to examine the relationship between women’s
access to loans and a range of empowerment indicators, Hashemi et al
were essentially asking whether women’s access to credit could have any
transformatory significance for their lives, regardless of who exercised
‘managerial control’. The indicators they used were: mobility in a num-
ber of public locations; the ability to make small purchases as well as larg-
er purchases, including purchases for women themselves; involvement in
major areas of economic decision-making; land-related decisions or pur-
chase of major assets; whether women had suffered appropriation of their
money or any other asset; been prevented visiting her natal home or from
working outside; the magnitude of women’s economic contribution to the
family; and participation in public protests and campaigns; political and
legal awareness; economic security viz. assets and savings in their own
names.
The results of their analysis suggested that women’s access to credit
contributed significantly to the magnitude of the economic contributions
reported by women; to the likelihood of an increase in asset holdings in
their own names, to an increase in their exercise of purchasing power, in
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 43
their political and legal awareness as well as in the composite empower-
ment index. Furthermore, access to credit was also associated with high-
er levels of mobility, political participation and involvement in ‘major de-
cision-making’ for particular credit organisations. Finally, the study ex-
plored the separate effects of women’s economic contribution to the
household budget and their access to credit on the various empowerment
indicators and found that separating out women’s economic contribution
reduced the impact of women’s access to credit, but the independent im-
pact of access to credit on the empowerment indicators remained signif-
icant. In other words, access to credit and the size of reported economic
contributions were each sufficient but not necessary for the achievement of em-
powerment-related outcomes. Together, their effects were mutually rein-
forcing.
This comparison of different approaches to the quantification of em-
powerment in the context of the same set of credit programmes highlights
very clearly the need for the triangulation of evidence in order to ensure
that indicators mean what they are intended to mean. The absence of
such supportive evidence carries the danger that analysts will load mean-
ings onto their indicators which reflect their own disciplinary, method-
ological or political leanings rather than the realities they are seeking to
portray. Triangulation requires that multiple sources of information are
brought to bear on the interpretation of an indicator thereby guarding
against the interpretative bias of the analyst. It should be noted that the
indicators used by Hashemi et al. were devised on the basis of a prior
ethnographic study, rather than being derived from a priori assumptions,
and explains their greater persuasiveness as measures of what they sought
to measure. While their indicators focused largely on different aspects of
women’s agency, it could be argued that each manifestation of agency
measured also constituted a valued achievement in itself.
Section 3: Measuring Empowerment: the Problem of Values
Status, autonomy and the relevance of context
I have so far focused on the problem of meaning in the selection of indica-
tors of empowerment: do indicators mean what they are supposed to
mean? I want to turn now to the question of values and how they com-
plicate attempts to conceptualise and measure women’s empowerment.
Let me start with the question of emic or ‘insider values’ before going on
to consider the complications introduced by outsider values. The main
way in which ‘insider values’ have been captured in studies dealing with
44 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
women’s empowerment has been through variables measuring ‘cultural
context’. Such studies tend to be comparative in nature and explore how
differences in cultural context influence resources, agency and achieve-
ments. For instance, we have already noted the findings reported by
Dreze and Sen that women’s literacy and employment status helped to ex-
plain variations in overall child mortality and in excess female mortality
among children across India. However, the single most important vari-
able in their study explaining excess female mortality was a dummy vari-
able standing for geographical location: gender differentials in mortality
rates were far less striking in the southern states of India than in the north-
ern and western states.
These regional dummy variables can be seen as compressing infor-
mation about a whole range of inter-related norms and practices related
to marriage, mobility and inheritance which make up gender relations in
different parts of India. If we accept that investments in the survival and
well-being of a family member tells us something important about the
value attached to that member, then the analysis by Dreze and Sen tells
us that the structural variables which make up gender relations in differ-
ent parts of India were far more important in determining the extent to
which the girl child is valued within the family than the individual char-
acteristics of her parents.
Jejheeboy’s study (:oo;), which compares Tamil Nadu, one of the
southern states of India, with Uttar Pradesh, one of its northern states,
offers some lower-level insights into the relationship between cultural con-
text and individual preference. Her study explores the effects of a range
of variables on women’s autonomy, some of which reflected factors tradi-
tionally associated with female status (e.g.. number of children and more
specifically, number of sons, co-residence with mother-in-law and size of
dowry) as well as education and waged employment, variables associated
with the modernisation paradigm. Measures of women’s autonomy in-
cluded their role in decision-making, mobility, incidence of domestic vio-
lence, access to economic resources and control over economic resources.
Predictably, women in Tamil Nadu fared better on most indicators of au-
tonomy than women in Uttar Pradesh. However, she also found that the
determinants of women’s ‘autonomy’ varied in the two regions.
In general, the traditional factors conferring status on women – the
number of sons they bore, the size of their dowry and nuclear family res-
idence – were more closely linked with the autonomy indicators in the
restrictive context of Uttar Pradesh than they were in the more egalitar-
ian context of Tamil Nadu. In Uttar Pradesh, women who had brought
large dowries to their marriages, who lived in nuclear families and who
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 45
produced sons were far more likely to report a greater role in household
decision-making and greater freedom from domestic violence than others.
While female employment also had significant and positive implications
for most of the autonomy indicators in the Uttar Pradesh, education had
a far weaker and less significant impact. In Tamil Nadu, however, the ef-
fects of these more traditional ‘status’-related variables were far weaker
and female employment and, even more strongly, female education were
both more consistently related to women’s autonomy.
Jeehheboy’s study points to the strong rationale that women are like-
ly to have in certain contexts for making choices which are essentially dis-
empowering. The contextual variables in her study, as in Sen and Dreze’s,
are a shorthand for the deeply-entrenched rules, norms and practices
which shape social relations in different parts of India and which help to
influence behaviour, define values and shape choice. Since women are like-
ly to be given greater respect within their communities for conforming to
its norms, and to be penalised if they do not, their own values and be-
haviour are likely to reflect those of the wider community and to repro-
duce its injustices. There is evidence, for instance, that women in the
northern states like the Uttar Pradesh are far more likely to express strong
son preference than those in southern states like Tamil Nadu (Dyson and
Moore, :o8¸). The apparently ‘voluntary’ nature of such choices should
not detract our attention from their consequences. If empowerment is
simply equated with role in decision-making and ‘control’ over household
resources, then having sons and bringing in a large dowry would be con-
sidered conducive to women‘s’ empowerment. Yet dowry is a practice
which simultaneously expresses and reinforces son preference and trans-
forms daughters into financial liabilities for their parents. Both dowry and
son preference are central to the values and practices through which
women are socially defined as a subordinate category in a state which is
associated with some of the starkest indicators of gender discrimination on
the Indian subcontinent.
Two related studies from rural Nepal offer further interesting insights
into the relationship between contextual and individual factors in shap-
ing women’s choices (Morgan and Niraula, :oo· and :oo6). ‘Context’ was
captured in these studies through the comparison between a village lo-
cated in a tarai or plains setting (and sharing many of the social charac-
teristics of Hindu culture in northern India, including its rigid caste and
gender relationships) and a village located in the hills (and characterised
by a less orthodox Hinduism which incorporated aspects of tribal and
Buddhist beliefs and practices and a generally more relaxed caste and gen-
der regime).
46 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
The analysis contained three sets of variables. The first set, which cap-
tured the degree of agency and choice permitted by local social practices,
related to a number of marriage-related behavioural variables: the likeli-
hood of ‘choice’, rather than ‘arrangement’ in women’s selection of their
marriage partners; the ability to leave unsatisfactory marriages and enter
new ones; to maintain contact with one’s natal family after marriage; will-
ingness to let children choose their own spouses. The second set, which re-
lated to ‘women’s autonomy’, was made up of measures of individual
agency: their role in household decision-making and their freedom of move-
ment in the public domain. The third related to measures of reproductive
choice: family size preferences, son preference and use of contraception.
The first stage of the analysis, which explored the relationship between
‘social’ and ‘individual’ agency, found not unexpectedly that women who
exercised greater choice in marriage-related behaviour also enjoyed a
greater role in household decision-making and freedom of movement.
However, once context was controlled for through the introduction of a
village dummy, there was a marked reduction in the association between
individual aspects of behaviour and the indicators of women’s autonomy.
For instance, the strong association between women who had exercised
choice in relation to their marriage partner and mobility in the public do-
main disappeared once context was factored in.
Context not only helped to explain variations in women’s autonomy
between the two villages, but also mediated the effects of women’s au-
tonomy on their apparent preferences. Explored in separate equations,
the village dummy and measure of women’s autonomy had the expected
effects. Women in the more restrictive tarai village expressed stronger son
preference, wanted larger numbers of childen, were less likely to use con-
traception and also less likely to have educated children, particularly ed-
ucated daughters. The relationship between individual autonomy and re-
productive choice was also predictable: women with greater freedom of
movement were more likely to use contraception when they did not want
any more children. When the effects of both individual autonomy and vil-
lage setting were explored together, they remained significant but in a re-
duced form. The authors concluded that, while individual agency did in-
crease women’s ability to implement reproductive choice, such agency it-
self was largely shaped by social context rather by individual characteris-
tics of women.
In terms of our discussion of empowerment, the influence of social
context, ‘the structures of constraint’, on individual behaviour and ca-
pacity for choice raises a number of important issues. It reminds us that
while individual women may play an important role in challenging these
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 47
constraints, structural inequalities cannot be addressed by individuals
alone. Individual women can, and do, act against the norm, but they may
have to pay a high price for exercising such autonomy and their impact
on the situation of women in general remains limited. It goes back to the
point made earlier that individual empowerment is a fragile gain if it can-
not be mobilised in the interests of collective empowerment. The project
of women’s empowerment is dependent on collective action in the public
arena as well as individual assertiveness in the private.
In methodological terms, the discussion in this section reminds us why
empowerment cannot be conceptualised simply in terms of choice, but
must incorporate an assessment of the values embedded in agency and
choice, values which reflect the wider context. It points, in other words,
to the need make a distinction between ‘status’ and ‘autonomy’ as crite-
ria in evaluating agency and choice from an empowerment perspective.
‘Status’ considerations relate to the values of the community, whether
these communities are hierarchical or egalitarian, and they draw atten-
tion to the influence of the larger collectivity in ascribing greater value to
certain kinds of individual choices over others and hence in giving greater
value to those who abide by these choices.
When such considerations set up a trade-off for women between their
ability to make independent choices in critical arenas of their lives – such
as marriage, reproduction, friendship and so on – and their ability to
enjoy status within the family and community, status becomes antitheti-
cal to autonomy. As Sen comments in relation to reproductive choice:
“The point is especially apparent in gender hierarchies where, for exam-
ple, a woman’s status may be linked to her fertility. Bearing the approved
number of children will grant a woman the rights and privileges accord-
ed to a fertile woman, but do not necessarily give her greater autonomy
in decision-making’ (Sen G., :oo¸, p. :o8).
More strongly, in such contexts, status is also likely to be antithetical
to empowerment. The need to bear the approved number of children in
order to secure social status and family approval takes its toll on women’s
bodies and on their lives as they bear children beyond their capacity. Fur-
thermore, status considerations in cultures of son-preference require
women to give birth to a certain number of sons, to favour their sons over
their daughters in ways which help to reinforce social discrimination
against women and to bring their daughters up to devalue themselves,
thereby acting as agents in the transmission of gender discrimination over
generations. Status considerations also lead to the more hidden costs of
dependency, difficulty to measure but testified to eloquently by women
all over the world (Kabeer, :oo8; Rowland, :oo;; Villareal, :ooo, Silber-
48 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
schmidt, :oo.). Finally, in the extreme, status considerations can lead to
cultures where female infanticide and foeticide, female circumcision,
widow immolation all become ‘rational’ responses to social norms.
Outsider values and women’s empowerment: between altruism and autonomy
I have spelt out in greater detail the rationale for the various qualifications
on the notion of choice which informs my understanding of empower-
ment by pointing to the significance of social values in justifying the sub-
ordinate status of women and to the internalisation of these values by
women themselves. However, these qualifications entail an external nor-
mative standpoint, a set of values other than women’s own, as the basis
for assessing the meaning of their choices. The problem that this raises is
not one of a normative standpoint per se – the whole idea of develop-
ment is, after all, based on some kind of normative standpoint – but in de-
termining the extent to which this normative standpoint expresses values
which are relevant to the reality it seeks to evaluate. There is always the
danger that when we assess ‘choice’ from a standpoint other than that of
the person making the choice, we will be led back to ourselves and to our
own norms and values.
The tendency to re-present ‘the self’ in representing ‘the other’ has
been noted by Mohanty (:oo:) who describes the way in which third world
women from a variety of contexts tend to get reduced and universalised,
particular in texts coming out of the field of women and development:
‘This average third world woman leads an essentially truncated life based
on her feminine gender (read: sexually constrained) and her being third
world (read: ignorant, poor, uneducated, tradition-bound, domestic, fam-
ily-oriented, victimized etc.)’ (p. ·6). Although this portrayal of the ‘aver-
age’ disempowered third world woman was intended to evoke sympathy
and action on their behalf, its reductionism reflected the fact that the so-
cial distances of location, class, nationality and language which often sep-
arate researcher and ‘researched’ in the social sciences are particularly
large in the field of development studies.
The same distances help to explain why attempts to define and mea-
sure women’s empowerment have given rise to similarly ‘averaging’ ten-
dencies in the portrayal of the empowered woman. I want to point to two
distinct examples of these tendencies, coming out of quite different forms
of scholarship and advocacy, both containing some elements of truth but
large elements of simplification. One model promotes what could be
called ‘the virtuous model of the empowered woman’ and is associated
with the instrumentalist forms of gender advocacy that we noted before.
It draws on various examples of gender scholarship which document the
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 49
greater connectedness of women’s sense of selfhood in order to endow
them with various traits which form the basis of policy advocacy on their
behalf: altruism, of course, and the dedication to the collective family wel-
fare ; thrift and risk-aversion; industriousness in the form of long hours
of work and in little need for leisure; a sense of civic responsibility, man-
ifested in their willingness to take on unpaid community work and so on.
These presumed traits have given rise to a range of interventions which
seek to exploit their pay-off in terms of policy, exemplified in the now fa-
miliar ‘win-win’ format asserting that ‘gender equality/women’s empow-
erment is both an important end in itself and also essential to the achieve-
ment of efficiency/fertility decline/environmental sustainability/family
welfare/poverty alleviation/good governance’.
The fact that many of these interventions are justified on instrumen-
talist grounds does not mean that women do not obtain any benefits from
them. Instrumentalism is, after all, a game that two can play and studies
suggest that not only have women benefited from such interventions
which have ensured them access to a range of development benefits that
had previously been withheld from them but that they have also drawn
on this policy discourse in instrumental ways to promote their own inter-
ests (Harrison, :oo;; Villareal, :ooo). However, instrumentalism has its
costs. Women’s empowerment as a central element of social justice and
as a valued goal in itself has had to take second place to the demonstra-
tion of its synergy with official development goals. The language of em-
powerment has been co-opted by scholars, governments and internation-
al development agencies who have little interest in empowering women
beyond whether or not it is capable of ‘delivering the goods’. Instead of
an open-ended process of social transformation, we find a notion of em-
powerment as a form of electric shock therapy to be applied at intervals
to ensure the right responses: ‘empowerment appears to be best ‘learned’
early and needs reinforcement through constant exposure to empower-
ing circumstances’ (Kishor, :oo;. p. :6).
Agencies who seek to delivering resources for women’s empowerment
on instrumentalist grounds may fail to realise their full transformatory po-
tential because empowerment was never really on their agenda. Alterna-
tively, they may empower women but not in intended ways. While there
may be sound reasons why women are likely to see their interests better
served by investing effort and resources in the collective welfare of the
household, ‘altruism’ may often be a manifestation of their disempower-
ment, a response to their restricted options rather than a ‘natural’ female
attribute. Consequently, if efforts to channel resources to women succeed
in empowering them, they will also succeed in bringing a number of op-
50 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
tions within the realms of possibility options which had previously been
denied to them. Not all women will choose options which are likely to re-
ceive the official stamp of approval. In some cases, their greater ‘voice’
within the household can lead to greater conflict within the household,
particularly within marriage, and possible intensification of male violence.
In other cases, they may choose the ‘exit’ option.
In the ts context, England and Farkas suggest that the rising access
to employment by women since the :o·os and the rise of single mother-
hood, as a result of divorce or nonmarital births, is not coincidental: ‘the
short version of the story is probably that employment gave women the
freedom to leave unhappy marriages’ (England, :oo;). There is similar ev-
idence from Ghana (Roberts, :o8o) Zimbabwe (Hoogenboezem, :oo;),
Thailand (Moore, :oo¡), Mexico, Philippines and Costa Rica (Chant,
:oo;) and Bangladesh (Kabeer, .ooo and .oo:) that access to independent
resources allowed many women the ability to walk out of unsatisfactory
marriages.
While the instrumentalist notions of empowerment tend to emphasise
women’s greater altruism and ‘connected’ sense of self, an alternative
model of empowerment is also evident in the literature which focuses on
the conflictual element of gender relations and hence favours a more in-
dividualised model of the empowered woman. What is valued as evidence
of altruism by some is interpreted by others as evidence of women’s in-
ternalisation of their own subordinate status, their tendency to put the
needs of others in the family before their own. Fierlbeck, (:oo·) for in-
stance, argues that women would be much more likely to expand their
ability to make choices if they were to view themselves as individuals
rather than members of a social group (p. .o) while Jackson (:oo6) com-
ments: ‘It may well be true that women prioritise children’s needs, but
there is a sense in which one might wish women to be a little less selfless
and self-sacrificing’ (:oo6, p. ¡o;) .
It is certainly the case that in contexts where the separation of re-
sources within the family, and indeed, some degree of separation within
the family, has cultural sanction, women may view greater autonomy as
a desirable goal for themselves and we have noted some examples of this
already. In such contexts it may make sense to ask, as Lloyd (:oo·, p; :;)
does: ‘If income permits, wouldn’t a mother-child unit prefer to form a
separate household with its own decision-making autonomy rather than
join a more complex household under other (most likely male or older fe-
male) authority?’ However, in contexts where households are organised
along more corporate lines, where a powerful ideology of ‘togetherness’
binds the activities and resources of family together under the control of
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 51
the male head, such a question would have very little resonance. In such
contexts, even in the situations of rising female employment and wages
cited earlier, women do not actively seek the opportunity to set up sepa-
rate units from men because such autonomous units are neither socially
acceptable nor individually desired. Instead, they invest considerable time
and effort in maintaining their marriages, in strengthening the ‘co-oper-
ative’ dimension of ‘co-operative-conflict’, seeking separation only in ex-
ceptional circumstances.
Conclusion
Indicators of empowerment need merely ‘indicate’ the direction of change
rather than provide an accurate measurement of it. However, there are
various reasons why they may prove inaccurate and even misleading. We
have seen how single measures, disembedded from their context, lend
themselves to a variety of different meanings. We have also noted how no-
tions of women’s empowerment is a field of struggle between protagonists
who subscribe to very different values about development itself and their
own place within it. Finally, there are problems of measurement associ-
ated with capturing a particular kind of social change. Many of the indi-
cators discussed here provide one-off ‘snapshot’ accounts, often using
cross-sectional variations to capture change. There is an implicit as-
sumption underlying many of these measurements that we can somehow
predict the processes of change involved in empowerment whereas
human agency is indeterminate and hence unpredictable. Any change in
the structure of opportunities and constraints in which individuals make
choice can bring into existence a variety of different responses, which can
have quite different impacts and meanings in different contexts.
This suggests that there is no single linear model of change by which
a ‘cause’ can be identified for women’s disempowerment and altered to
create the desired ‘effect’.
To attempt to predict at the outset of an intervention precisely how it
will change women’s lives, without some knowledge of ways of ‘being and
doing’ which are realisable and valued by women in that context, runs into
the danger of prescribing process of empowerment and thereby violating
its essence, which is to enhance women’s capacity for self-determination.
Despite these caveats, however, there are two general practical points
to make on the basis of the discussion in this paper. Many of the resources,
forms of agency and achievements which feature in the empowerment lit-
erature are integral to the broader developmental agenda. The arguments
52 RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER
for equalising access to health, education, credit, land, livelihoods and em-
ployment opportunities (as well as equality in the wider political domain
which has not been dealt with in this paper) rest solidly on grounds of gen-
der equity and social justice, regardless of their implications for intra-
household relationships and female autonomy. Whatever the specific pri-
orities in different contexts, the paper suggests that both official develop-
ment agencies as well as social movements have important contributions
to make to the project of women’s empowerment, based on their com-
parative advantage in these different fields. Creating equality of access to
these various valued resources for sections of society who are otherwise
excluded from them is clearly a vital and legitimate area for public poli-
cy interventions. Changes in access to the kinds of goods we are talking
about here are far simpler to measure, regardless of context, than the sub-
tle and open-ended negotiations that may go on within culturally-differ-
entiated families as a result of such improvements in access. They are also
indicative of changes in the conditions of choice. Greater investments in
women’s health and well-being in contexts where they previously suffered
deprivation, greater access to paid activities in contexts where they were
previously denied such opportunities, greater evidence that they partici-
pate in the political processes of their communities in situations where
they were previously disenfranchised are all critical dimensions in chang-
ing the conditions of choice.
At the same time, equity requires that poorer women and other ex-
cluded groups are not just able to gain access to valued goods but to do
so on terms which respect and promote their ability to define their own
priorities and make their own choices. Such achievements are less easy
to quantify since they deal more directly with the renegotiation of power
relations and have to be far more sensitive to local cultural nuances. They
would would have to be monitored through methodologically pluralist ap-
proaches combining quantitative and qualitative data, preferably by grass-
roots-based organisations whose greater embeddedness in local realities
and commitment to long term places them in a better situation to com-
bine ‘emic’ understandings with ‘etic’ analysis (Harriss, :oo¡).
Different earlier versions of this paper has been published in Development and Change ¸o.¸ (July :ooo),
pp. ¡¸·-6¡ and in United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (txnisr), Discussion Paper,
rr :o8 (August :ooo). Reprinted with permission of the copyright holders, the Institute of Social Studies,
The Hague, and txnisr, Geneva.
KABEER • RESOURCES, AGENCY, ACHIEVEMENTS 53
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KABEER • REFERENCES 57
Summary:
I will attempt a definition of culture as gendered practice which excludes
women from sites and statuses related to power ( in both social and
material senses), as it interacts with notions of citizenship, nation and
development. I will speak to culture as a ‘re-invented’ and heavily contest-
ed phenomenon and terrain, especially in relation to issues of identity,
belonging and authenticity in the context of Africa ( as a broad geo-
political and historical space) and in particular reference to the struggles
of African women for rights and new statuses in Southern Africa as it
becomes ‘post-colonial’.
I want to begin this brief intervention by locating my use of the notion of
culture in a resistance discourse that reflects a development of the mean-
ing and uses of culture beyond its traditional definition as an expression
of past human creativity and interaction, “…all those practices, like the arts of
description, communication and representation, that have relative autonomy from the eco-
nomic, social, and political realms and that often exist in aesthetic forms, one of whose
principal aims is pleasure” (Said, :oo¡).
That is only one multi-faceted side of culture as a phenomenon. How-
ever, as Said goes on to say, culture is “a source of identity, and a rather com-
bative one at that, as we see in recent ‘returns’ to culture and tradition… In this sec-
ond sense culture is a sort of theatre where various political and ideological causes en-
gage one another” (ibid.).
Drawing particularly from the work of both Amina Mama (:oo;),
Kum Kum Bhavnani (:oo¸) and the work edited by Filomena Steady
(:o8:), among an array of feminist scholars who have engaged with no-
tions of culture in relation to the struggles by women of color for inclusion
into the conceptual and territorial spaces of Africa and Europe respec-
Cultural Practice as Gendered Exclusion:
Experiences from Southern Africa
PATRICIA McFADDEN
tively, I will be arguing that culture is best understood as a heavily con-
tested source of identity (in gendered and ethnic terms) and power (in a
political and material sense), which is located in the historical struggles
against colonialism and racism on the African continent, and in the more
recent struggles by women for rights of inclusion into that space called ‘the
nation’, as it is emerging in the countries of South Africa in particular.
Through reference to the Gramscian notion of hegemony (Munck
:o86) which I too find interesting in its ability to explicate the experience
of power by those who are excluded from it, particularly in relation to
the state and issues of property and citizenship, Mama (:oo;) argues that
“In post-colonial African states culture is a heavily contested terrain, because of the
widespread disruption of the continent’s cultural fabric and the dynamics of its cultur-
al production”. Having made reference to the attempts by national libera-
tion movements to “…articulate and define what they understood to be national cul-
tures in the hope of unifying the emerging (African) nation states”, Mama poses the
following questions:
Are men and women culturally different in Africa?
What are the conditions under which women become
the bearers and men the articulators of culture?
Where are women in African political cultures?” (Mama, ).
In the following pages, I would like to take up some of these questions
as a means of continuing a discourse which African feminists have
launched in response to several conceptual and historical discrepancies
within what is now commonly, but problematically referred to as ‘West-
ern’ discourses of colonialism and culture, and here I am referring par-
ticularly to Western feminist colonial and ‘post-colonial’ discourses; and
to persisting African political and cultural discourses which are deeply
marked by androcentricity and nationalist ideological rhetoric.
However, from the onset, I would like to distance myself, ideologically
as a feminist, from two strands of what I would refer to as ‘feminine’
claims in relation to culture as a gendered concern, and as an exotic, al-
beit intellectual, adventure. The first of these strands is a discursive and
deeply political stance that is represented by the work of a growing num-
ber of indigenous African anthropologists/ethnographers, pre-domi-
nantly West African female scholars based in the North (see Oyewumi,
:oo; and Chikwenyi, .ooo in particular), who dismiss the notion of gen-
der as it is widely used within feminist discourse, based on the claim that
it is epistemologically Western and therefore inapplicable to African so-
cieties. This contestation has been going on within the African women’s
McFADDEN • CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION 59
movement for a while and various positions and arguments have been
made over the past two decades as African women began to actively par-
ticipate in global feminist discourses, especially about the intersections be-
tween health, sexuality and rights, on the one hand (including issues of
female genital mutilation and child marriage) and rights as a notion which
comes into its own largely through the public struggles of Northern
women during the .oth century (Steady, :o8;; Mogwe, :oo¸; Parpart (un-
dated); Hendricks & Lewis, :oo¡; Mannathoko, :oo.; Palla-Okeyo, :o86;
McFadden, .ooo).
In making this claim, they refer specifically to the particular empiri-
cal realities of Nigeria as a country, and more directly to the ethnic com-
munities that they have focused upon in each respective study. Interest-
ingly, their common dismissal of the notion of gender as ‘Western’ comes
from a peculiar reliance upon the very intellectual traditions that under-
pin the disciplines of social anthropology and ethnography. The academic
language of lineage, the family, and notions of hierarchy and status are
drawn largely, in methodological and conceptual terms, from the stock of
traditional ethnographical and anthropological sense making, different
only in that it is applied via a claim that because it is an African female
academic who is using the language, it therefore assumes a different
meaning and implies different and previously unknown features and char-
acteristics about those societies and communities (Epprecht, .oo:).
Here I am not dismissing the attempts by these African scholars, which
are part of a long and very crucial Africanist tradition of resistance dis-
course to the hegemonic interpretations of who Africans were and are; a
tradition within which I position myself most proudly and essentially in
political and cultural terms. However, I am casting a critical, albeit casu-
al, eye upon an intellectual practice which, to me, seems new only in its
claims to African authenticity, but which resonates with a well known
white, largely male, intellectual practice in epistemological and political
terms.
From where I am positioned, I cannot afford the intellectual luxury
of pretending that I live in an African society without gendered relation-
ships and structures that are directly linked to systems of power, control
and violation. Nor can I even imagine that the notion of gender could be
anything but a product of the difficult, life-taking but often life changing
struggles of women across the world (Mies, :o86; Miles, :oo6) – defini-
tively inclusive of African women’s struggles for rights, common entitle-
ments and a dignity – all of which are not dependent upon idiosyncratic
notions of ethnic and or cultural locality in any way. Ethnic and cultural
localities obviously impact directly and in intimate ways upon the lives
CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION • McFADDEN 60
and realities of each and every woman, especially in societies that still treat
women in basically feudal and undemocratic ways, but ethnic and cultural
location cannot be used as the sole or even major basis for the definition
of gender as a heuristic construct within the African context.
However, the really problematical features of such claims are that they
not only assert that the notion of gender as currently applied in non-
African societies did not exist in certain African societies (Amadiume,
:o;8) which is a plausible anthropological claim; but they go on to ex-
trapolate that ‘women’ as a construct is also Western (Oyewumi, :oo;)
and feminism is therefore also a ‘Western’ invention. When gender and
women disappear from the conceptual landscape, then feminist resistance
politics is also displaced, leaving us without a political means of respond-
ing to patriarchal exclusion, and therefore largely dependent upon some
fancy notion of cultural complimentarity that is somehow supposed to au-
thenticate the uniqueness of such societies.
It is the extrapolation from an anthropological claim onto the current
realities of Africa which causes me most discomfort as a social scientist and
feminist activist, because this is not only a typically Northern anthropo-
logical gimmick of re-inventing African societies as ‘unchanged and stat-
ic’, but it also allows for the insertion of a conservative nationalist politics
which locks African women into the past, especially in relation to ongo-
ing rights and entitlement discourses. This is where the interface between
old, European appropriational practices of studying Africa as an exotic
landscape, inhabited by pre-capitalist natives, on the one hand, and the
claims of indigenous African anthropologists meet in rather strange con-
sonance. This compatibility of interests is further reflected in the replace-
ment of feminism with the notion of ‘Womanism’, a notion that suppos-
edly speaks more realistically to the realities of African women it is argued
(Arndt, .ooo).
Given the limited time and space of this text, I wanted only to make
reference to the political implications of the above claims. The interest-
ing coincidence of claims by white anthropologist and essentialist feminists
that Africa is different and must stay different (otherwise, what would they
do as anthropologists if they no longer had an ‘Other’ to study and scru-
tinize) and the claims of difference by indigenous African female scholars
which attempt to assert an authentic gaze (supposedly in response to these
very colonial anthropological practices they seek to counter), are based on
a notion of culture as the ‘preservative’ of Otherness and Difference.
McFADDEN • CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION 61
Colonial Stereotypes – Reinforced by Researchers Today
The insistence that African women remain a ‘Cultural Other’, in the same
way that Sarah Baartman was paraded semi-nude across Europe at the
turn of the nineteenth century, in a cage, for the entertainment of and
study by white men who were fascinated by her ‘large buttocks’ (Mama,
p. 6;) is an expression of colonial arrogance and racism. The colonial nar-
rative is replete with texts which claimed to have ‘understood and dis-
sected the native’ as part of the civilizing mission within the colonial pro-
ject of the past four hundred years. In terms of the feminine, such insis-
tence that Africa remain an anthropological play ground is deeply em-
bedded in the arrogant and racist traditions of women like Mary French
Sheldon who strode across Africa on the backs of semi-nude Black men,
declaring herself a ‘white African Queen’ (Boisseau, :oo·). Very few Eu-
ropean feminists researchers take the time to ask why it is that they con-
tinue the colonial traditions of studying Africans, (and other colonial sub-
jects in Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America) as though there were no
anthropological subjects in Europe, for that matter (Chaudhuri & Strobel,
:oo.).
What is it that is so intriguing about the mutilated vaginas of poor
peasant women in a remote village of the Sudan or the Casamance and
why is it a matter of ‘scholarly curiosity’ rather than a violation of a
woman’s fundamental right to bodily and sexual integrity? The fascina-
tion by Europeans, male and female, with the sexuality of Africans, is as
old as the colonial idea itself. Evidence of this is replete in numerous an-
thropological and literary texts and this issue has become a source of
tremendous tensions between white and Black women on the continent
and in the Diaspora. Black women have consistently rejected the con-
struction of Africans, wherever they live, as the colonized and exoticised
‘Other’ of white scholarship (duCille, :oo¡; Christian, .ooo; Hill Collins,
.ooo; Rooks, .ooo; Abraham, :ooo; Lewis, .ooo; McFadden, :ooo).
Nevertheless, the practice of appropriation persists, and I wonder if
maybe it is per-chance due to the fact that racially and socially privileged
individuals can enter such communities wearing the colour of privilege
and the nationality of a former colonizer; armed with ‘scientific’ jargon
and claims of ‘objectivity’ as well as the currency of Northern economies
which remain dependent on the cheap labour and vast mineral resources
of these ‘backward’ societies; and not have to be accountable to anyone
for whatever text one produces, because after all they are illiterate and
very remotely located?
It seems to me that it is long past the moment when Europeans should
CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION • McFADDEN 62
have come to terms with their colonial academic practices and trans-
formed those discipline which perpetuate racist, colonial stereotypes about
Africans by acknowledging that Africans have a dignity and a presence
which demands respect and recognition (see Kuster, :oo¡). I felt wound-
ed by the narratives of continuing colonial scrutiny as I sat listening, to
how individuals have carved little personal colonial spaces where they re-
turn year in and year out, analyzing the sexual and ritual practices of
‘backward’ villagers (in comparison to the implicit assumption that such
behaviour is peculiarly African and native); narratives which represent
African societies as untouched and unchanged by the dramatic transfor-
mations of the .oth century just past. How could it be that a discipline
such as anthropology continues to produce texts that are carbon copies
of the very colonial claims made by white men over a hundred years ago,
and people sit in a room and do not feel disturbed by such objectionable
rhetoric? For me, it is only explicable in relation to privilege and the lack
of a critical consciousness which buttress privileging ideologies and struc-
tures so effectively as to inhibit critical new thinking about anthropology
as a discipline and Africa as a place in transition to modernity and change
(Minh-ha, :o8o).
In terms of the practices of European women in the academy, this ‘cul-
turalisation of the native’ is also perpetuated through claims that African
women cannot possibly be feminist, and if we do persist in this self-nam-
ing, then the concession is that we can only be ‘Third World’ feminists –
i.e. heterosexual, nurturing and caring – but we most certainly cannot ar-
ticulate a feminism which encourage and facilitates the autonomous pres-
ence of an individual with a consciousness of rights and entitlements. That
is Western and we must be ‘copying’ such radical ideas from Northern
feminists.
Interestingly, this is a claim made by both Black men (who are usual-
ly radical nationalists located in the state, and who have a stake in pre-
venting the development of a feminist consciousness among African
women; by white essentialist feminists whose only claim to fame is that
they study something about the lives of African women). For years I have
been locked in arguments with essentialist white feminists who claim that
even the notion of patriarchy is Western and therefore we as African
women who ‘aspire’ to be radical must be cautious of such notions be-
cause they are ‘foreign’ to the cultural landscape of the continent. Un-
derlying these cautions is an incipiently arrogant assumption that African
feminists cannot construct radical feminist theory to free themselves from
the patriarchal bondage which provides such interesting anthropological
practices as ‘female genital cutting’ (the revised naming for Female Gen-
McFADDEN • CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION 63
ital Mutilation, rov, by presenting it as merely the ‘cutting of the geni-
tals’ – for a typical example of this de-politicized re-naming see Master-
son and Hanson Swanson, .ooo) – and all sorts of fascinating expressions
of sexual exotica.
Such academic practices not only perpetuate the ‘colonial gaze’ with-
in the North, but they reinforce the exclusionary practices used by Black
men who occupy the neo-colonial state and who have a vested interest in
keeping African women outside the most critical sites of power in those
societies. Who would have imagined that essentialist white feminists and
Black ‘womanist’ anthropologists would become intellectual and political
bed-fellows with myopic white male anthropologists and Black male na-
tionalists who occupy a neo-colonial state on that tragic continent I call
home. But that is what it looks like from where I am positioned as an
African feminist scholar engaged in the struggle for my rights and the
rights and dignity of my sisters.
I would like to move on and look at some of the exclusionary prac-
tices used by men in the state and in the rural spaces of the continent to
maintain a ‘cultural authenticity’ through the denial of rights and entitle-
ments, especially in terms of bodily integrity and material property, to
African women. I will reply on examples drawn mainly from Zimbabwe,
South Africa.
Restricting Women’s Rights to Property and to Mobility
Through the re-invention of culture as the central trope of nationalist dis-
course, and it’s deployment as the authentic expression of anti-colonial,
anti-racist ideology, African men were able to position women outside the
most critical social, political and economic institutions in both colonial
and neo-colonial societies (Barnes & Win; Prinsloo, :ooo). The notion of
exclusionary practice is useful to an understanding of how this was done,
because culture is so easily constructed as untouchable and sacrosanct; as
something which must be guarded and protected, especially from exter-
nal influences and pollution; and by positioning women as the custodians
of these sacred cultural texts, women themselves become trapped in an
unchanging phenomenal reality which allows for their exclusion in struc-
tural, ideological and other terms.
One of the earliest expressions of cultural exclusion as a gendered ex-
pression of women’s ‘Outsiderness’ can be seen in the manner through
which African and white men colluded to keep African women outside the
emerging urban spaces of the colonial town and city (Barnes, :oo.;
CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION • McFADDEN 64
Schmidt, :oo.). Through colonial legal interventions and the deployment
of what became known as ‘customary law and practice’, Black and white
men colluded in keeping most Black women in the rural spaces under the
surveillance and control of older patriarchal males who ensured that they
reproduced cheap Black labour for the emerging capitalist industries even
as they maintain the cultural and sexual sites of authentication for Black
men, most of whom were forced to sell their labour power as migrant
workers in the urban and mining areas of the colony. Traditional land
tenure systems were maintained, albeit in the limited spaces where
Africans were pushed by white settlers and African women were denied
any relationship with the land as a critical resources, except as users for
the purpose of reproducing the African heterosexual family. African men
were also denied a propertied relationship with land in those circum-
stances, and so-called communal tenure systems were preserved, farcical
though it had become – given that limited land space, a changed division
of labour, and the absence of many of the social and ecological elements
which define communal tenure as a specific form – had been disrupted by
colonization and the extraction of male migrant labour for white com-
mercial farms. There is a vast literature on Southern Africa which sub-
stantiates the commonalties in colonial land appropriation and labour ex-
traction for all the societies of the region.
However, in the neo-colonial period, Black men have engaged in in-
tense battles with white men over the ownership of land as private prop-
erty on an individual basis, arguing that this is what they fought for. For
Black women in Zimbabwe, for example, this has not been so automatic,
and the only Black women who own land are those who have had access
by virtue of their class status as educated women; business women; pro-
fessionals and or heirs (Gaidzanwa, :oo·), although the latter is very rare
as the Zimbabwean courts have been used most efficiently by Black males
to exclude women from property ownership, once again resorting to ‘cus-
tom and tradition’ as an excuse for the denial of women’s property rights
(see Magaya versus Magaya, :ooo in e.g. Zigorno, .ooo).
For the majority of Black women, a relationship with property,
whether intellectual property or material property in the form of land and
housing, remains a heavily contested, culturalized issue, because such a
relationship clearly disrupts certain structural and ideological relationships
of power between women and men and between women and the state
(McFadden, .ooo; Hassim, :ooo). I shall return to this point below be-
cause it is of central importance in the current tensions and debates with-
in Zimbabwe at the present time.
The terms of the relationship between women and the creation of civic
McFADDEN • CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION 65
spaces where rights and entitlements become a realistic possibility and
such engagements provide the possibility for a change in the gender rela-
tions between women and men, the restriction of women’s mobility was
directly linked to cultural claims that women who left the authentic rural
spaces – khumusa/ekaya – were loose, de-culturalised, and polluted by
Westerism; they had ceased being African women in the sense that they
did not accept the authority and dominion of Black men, and or did not
have a man to legitimize their presence in the city. Colonial law con-
structed them as ‘interlopers’ who had entered the urban civic space ille-
gally, and any man (usually a Black man) was licensed to ‘arrest’ such
women and return them to the custody of their chiefs or head-men (Mc-
Fadden, :o8;). All in the name of protecting the integrity of Black women
in the face of modernization and the cultural vacuum which the city rep-
resented.
This is an old ‘Othering’ strategy in patriarchal societies, aimed at
keeping women outside those civic spaces that offer the possibility of au-
tonomy and independence from male control and dependence. The de-
monization of women’s sexuality as an expression of exclusion worked par-
ticularly well in relation to Black women, who had already been con-
structed as the ultimate sexual Other within dominant colonial discours-
es, and whose bodies had been conflated in sexual terms with the dangers
and mysteries which Africa as a continent presented to the colonizer. The
novels of Rider Haggard in particular, who entertained European audi-
ences with his novels about the hazards of Southern Africa in novels like
‘King Solomons Mines’ and ‘Sheba’s Breasts’, served to inscribe a ram-
pant sexual identity on the bodies of all Black women; a sexuality which
needed to be contained and controlled; kept under close surveillance in
the safe and distance spaces of rural Africa (Mama, :oo;; Mire, .ooo).
Therefore, although Black women left the rural spaces in defiance of
such restrictions, often enlisting the support of Black men who agreed to
‘make them decent’ by claiming that they were wives, these arrangements
often turned into ‘live-in’ arrangements whereby the woman became a
‘wife’, cooking, cleaning and providing the man with sexual services, with-
out the couple having actually married in either the traditional or civic
sense (Barnes, :oo.; Jeater, :oo¸; Raftopoulos, :oo·). Most women sim-
ply disappeared into what became the informal economy of the countries
of the region, often having to resort to prostitution as a means of survival
while they sold food and provided entertainment to Black men who
worked in the homes and industries of colonial capitalism. These became
the ‘culture-less’ women who had positioned themselves outside the con-
trol and definition of ancient African patriarchy, and whose struggles for
CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION • McFADDEN 66
inclusion into the formal economy and the civic spaces of modern African
existence continues to this day. Most laws in the region continue to treat
Black women as interlopers; outsiders in the city, without any rights to
housing as the research from the ontrnrr project has clearly shown, often
located on the margins of a rapidly modernizing region (Sithole-Fundire
et.al, :oo·).
‘Customary System’ – Used as A Weapon Against Women
Another strategy which has served to keep women outside modernity
under the pretext that modernity for women is un-African, is the perpet-
uation of a dual system of laws which applies only to Black women. White
colonial women were never affected by the so-called ‘customary laws’
which both White and Black men re-constituted and codified in the face
of women’s resistance to patriarchal restrictions and surveillance. What
had been largely conventions and cultural practices became ‘legalised’
and entrusted to those men who occupied surveillance statuses within the
traditional hierarchy as chiefs and head-men. They became the reposito-
ries of supposedly centuries old untouchable rules and regulations which
aimed mainly at regulating cheap labour for the colonial state, but most
importantly, ensuring that Black women remained in the backward, pri-
vatized realities of ancient patriarchal social existence.
The re-invention of custom and conventions into ‘customary law’,
which is a misnomer because if something is ‘law’ then it must apply to
everyone, has become a powerful weapon against women’s demands for
equal rights within their societies, and has served both the interests of
Black men who feel threatened by the civic demands of Black women, and
the interests of White feminists who continue to study African women
within these fossilized contexts. Few question the gendered character of
such a system, and several European scholars have claimed that actually
these customary laws are better for African women than the modern, civil
law – because they insist, such systems provide women with a place of be-
longing (Arnfred, :oo¡; Greer, :ooo; Armstrong, :oo8).
What are the implications of maintaining a customary system that tar-
gets mainly women and which has serious consequences for the struggles
of Black women in terms of the right to integrity (both bodily and sexu-
al) as well as protection against violation and impunity? I want to touch
very briefly on some of these consequences as an indication of how ex-
clusionary they are for Black women of all classes, but particularly women
who are rural and poor.
McFADDEN • CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION 67
First of all, customary practice functions through the perpetuation of
rituals and systems that put Black women outside the protections and en-
titlements which civic spaces provide to all citizens in a modern society.
Africans fought against colonialism and racism, and African women par-
ticipated in numerous ways and in large numbers in those struggles for
justice and freedom to become citizens. We created the civic spaces that
encompass the justice system; the economic and political structures; edu-
cational institutions and other civic resources that are the products of the
collective struggles of a people in any society. The law, in general, is sup-
posed to ensure that every person in a society at least has the theoretical
right to such protections and entitlements, even if in reality class and gen-
der mediate to make this assumption often more difficult to be realized for
certain groups (MacKinnon, :oo¸).
In the context of Southern Africa (and across the continent) the exis-
tence of ‘customary law’ only compounds the difficulties faced by Black
women in particular in exercising their rights, essentially because it su-
persedes the civic rights which a constitution guarantees to women as cit-
izens, putting women outside the parameters of the law, and therefore ap-
plying a different standard to Black women as Africans and as citizens of
their societies. Section .¸ of the Zimbabwean Constitution states clearly
that ‘African’ custom and tradition shall supersede any rights and enti-
tlements that women may have been granted by the Constitution, as long
as those rights and entitlements threaten the hegemony of custom and tra-
dition (Zigomo, .ooo). It is the most ludicrous but most fiercely guarded
section of the constitution, and although Zimbabwean women have
fought it for years, they have not been able to change it yet because the
Black judges (in collusion with white male judges) have used it effectively
to block any attempts to break down the barriers these customs and con-
ventions put between Black women and their civic rights.
These are the laws which make it acceptable for men to continue vi-
olating women in the home even though it has become a crime to do so,
because often women find themselves outside the justice delivery systems
which are constructed as ‘anti-family’ and ‘anti-custom’; conventions
which facilitate the use of girls as compensation when men kill each other
or one family commits a wrong to another, and the police and other legal
practitioners do not seem to know how to eradicate the practice, claim-
ing that it is ‘cultural’ and ‘significant to the identity of the Shona as a peo-
ple’; practices which allow for widowhood rites which construct women
as witches; a evil and dangerous; as women in need of cleansing because
they are polluted and must be made clean through humiliating practices
which destroy the woman’s self-esteem and mark her as a ‘husband killer’.
CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION • McFADDEN 68
In many African communities such women, when they are older, are ban-
ished to isolated villages where they live as pariahs, inscribed with the sta-
tus of exiles in their own societies, simply because the husband died; these
are practices which make it possible for fathers to sexually violate and rape
their daughters under the claim that they are preparing them for marriage
and increasingly, because women and girls fall outside the civic protec-
tions of their societies, they are vulnerable to rape for purposes of ‘curing
niy/\irs’ and also to ritual murder. The list of violations is seemingly end-
less – and it is linked to the existence of so-called customary laws which
exist specifically to ensure male cultural and sexual privilege; making it
possible for males to behave with impunity towards women and girls,
often without redress for those who are affected by such behaviour.
This for me is one of the greatest challenges we face as feminists and
as Africans. We have to find ways of removing this impediment to
women’s dignity and rights; an impediment which presents itself in the
garb of culture and which has become institutionalized as ‘an authentic
cultural system which is appropriate to African women’. Worst of all, it is
defended by certain anthropologists and ‘feminists’ like Greer (:ooo) who
claim that there are some good things in it and African women should not
throw out the baby with the bath water, so to speak.
Well, my position is that that is total hogwash. Such people do not
have to live under these so-called ‘appropriate’ customs and if they did
they would change them as they did when such backwardness prevailed
in Europe. Why is it culturally appropriate for African women to be treat-
ed as less than human; for inhuman and barbaric patriarchal practices to
be perpetuated because it applies to Black women? If white women love
these customs so much, why don’t they re-invent them in their European
societies and enjoy them there instead of bothering us with their nonsense
about ‘preserving our authentic cultures’.
Most African women, given the choice, would opt for a modern, dig-
nified life, with education for themselves and their children, with tap
water and a school in close proximity; with choices on what contracep-
tives to use and how many children to have; with electricity and a safe,
aesthetically pleasing home to live in, and with the right to be an au-
tonomous individuals who can relate to other humans through systems
and choices which fulfil them as persons and as part of their communities.
It is a vicious myth to claim that African women like ‘belonging’ to back-
ward spaces, where their worlds are so limited they never experience even
a fraction of what life has to offer a modern day person; where they do
not know their rights because these are encoded in languages and signs
that they cannot decipher because they are unable to read (and please do
McFADDEN • CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION 69
not tell me that there is beauty in illiteracy because you know as much as
I do that illiterate people remain poor and excluded in every society of the
world today); where their lives are simply one long, miserable nightmare
of poverty and dispossession.
The fact of the matter is that Africa has to become modern, and we
will not allow anyone to stop that process, whether they think it is part of
their privilege to continue studying Africans as ‘exotic objects’ or to ex-
ploit Africa for profit and gain. Through the struggles of African women
for rights and justice we are moving our continent out of the backward-
ness that has been so ‘exciting’ and ‘profitable’ for certain groups of peo-
ple. As far as I am concerned, Europeans cannot continue to have the mo-
nopoly of modernity at the expense of the rest of the world. We can move
forward together, or we can do it the harder way and continue the con-
test over each persons right to define themselves as complete and digni-
fied human beings – we have a choice, and I hope that we will choose
the path of cooperation in making the world a place of dignity and jus-
tice for all human beings. Then culture can become what it was meant
to be, and aesthetically, life-enhancing artifact in the service of all those
who craft and use it as a source of pleasure.
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REFERENCES• McFADDEN 72
Questions of Power:
Women’s Movements, Feminist Theory and Development Aid
SIGNE ARNFRED
In the :o;os and :o8os insights from the Western women’s movement
were fed into the thinking and practice of development aid, resulting first
in the vir (women-in-development) programmes, and later in their trans-
formation to o\r (gender-and-development) approaches. Up to a certain
point it looked like a success story, culminating in the tx Fourth World
Conference on Women in Beijing :oo·. The jubilant editorial of Women’s
Studies Quarterly, celebrating ‘Beijing and Beyond’ in a double issue
:oo6, proclaims the total conflation between women’s studies, women’s
movements world wide, and the Beijing Platform for Action: The plat-
form for Action is described as “a women’s studies curriculum”, produc-
ing scholars and activists “carrying the women’s movement into the twen-
ty-first century” (Howe :oo6, p. :¡).
This very confident feeling of progress regarding women’s issues was
– and is – quite widely shared. According to Rounaq Jahan “there has
been a sea-change in knowledge and awareness. Affirmative action poli-
cies have been introduced. Special measures have been designed to re-
move barriers to women’s participation. Women’s voices are stronger than
ever. (…) These changes in awareness, expertise, policies, laws and
women’s voice were brought about by the efforts of many different actors
– women’s movements as well as national governments and internation-
al donor organizations” (Jahan :oo·, quoted in Hannan .ooo. p. ¸;o).
This may be so, but such advantages – if indeed they are real – have come
at a price. There is a backside to the success story. The series of tx con-
ferences – added to the four conferences on women, :o;· in Mexico, :o8o
in Copenhagen, :o8· in Nairobi and :oo· in Beijing, also the Conference
on Environment and Development in Rio :oo., the Conference on
Human Rights in Vienna :oo¸, the Conference on Population and De-
velopment in Cairo :oo¡, and the Social Summit in Copenhagen :oo· –
QUESTIONS OF POWER • ARNFED 74
these conferences have played a major role in the creation of a unified lan-
guage in which to address women’s issues on a global scale. This language
is the language of development agencies; it is not the language of politi-
cal struggle. Ifi Amadiume makes a comparison between Nairobi :o8·
and Beijing :oo·: “The intensity of interaction [i.e. the series of confer-
ences in the early :ooos (s\)] has led to participants almost speaking the
same language as opposed to the creative dissent and tensions of Nairobi
:o8·” (Amadiume .ooo. p. :o). Over this same period of time, according
to Amadiume, focus has shifted from the articulations of grass-root
women’s movements to a global formalized language regarding women’s
issues: “With this shift from a community or grass-root articulated focus
to professional leadership imposed from above, issues and goals have be-
come repetitive in a fixed global language, and discourse is controlled by
paid tx and other donor advisers, consultants and workers” (Amadiume
.ooo. p. :¡).
A major problem with this unified global language is that it obscures
the inequalities of power between governments and development aid institu-
tions on the one hand, and women’s movements/feminist scholarship on
the other. It also makes difficult the critique of dominant gender policies.
Thus in the following I shall discuss :) issues highlighting inequalities of
power, .) problematic aspects of dominant policies, and ¸) challenges for
women’s movements.
Section 1: Inequalities of Power
Power contexts of change in terminology from women to gender
Insights from women’s movements and women’s studies have been co-
opted by state and development institutions, in the process being trans-
formed into something very different. The change of language from
women to gender is a case in point. When the vocabulary of gender-and-
development was introduced into the development debate in the :o8os,
it was advocated by feminists, who wanted to criticize the dominant
women-in-development (vir) approach for dealing only with integration of
women into existing development policies, with no critical analysis of de-
velopment as such, and with no criticism of the unequal power relation-
ships between men and women.
Seen from the point of view of these feminists, the term ‘gender’ as
compared to ‘women’ had a double advantage. Firstly, it put ‘women’ into
a context, focusing on the socially constructed relation between women
and men, and by doing so it made visible the aspect of power in gender
ARNFED • QUESTIONS OF POWER 75
relations. Concurrently it became clear that changing gender relations,
as being relations of power, was bound to be contested, and thus to be a
struggle, in the South as well as in the North. Since such changes were
likely to be perceived as threatening to male privileges, they would cause
male resistance. And secondly, thinking in terms of gender power rela-
tionships also pointed to the epistemological aspects of male dominance, call-
ing for a deconstruction of apparently gender neutral development lan-
guage. Terms like ‘farmer’, ‘household’ and ‘community’ (to name but a
few) carry an implicit male bias, hiding possible gender disparities as well
as gender hierarchies, struggles and conflicts.
Nevertheless, in spite of the good intentions, which were through
gender-and-development (o\r) thinking to politicize the vir debate,
the opposite seems to have happened. Where talking about women im-
plied awareness of women’s marginalisation and subordination (this
being the reason for specific efforts for integrating women) the term gen-
der is used as a neutral term, referring to both women and men. As also
acknowledged by Sally Baden and Anne Marie Goetz “a problem with
the concept of ‘gender’ is that it can be used in a very descriptive way
and the question of power can easily be removed” (Baden and Goetz
:oo8. p. .·).
Thus to a large extend the gender language has implied a de-politiza-
tion of women’s issues in development, turning gender into a matter of
planning and monitoring and not of struggle. The term gender, in devel-
opment agencies today, is obscuring power relationships more than illu-
minating them. At the xoo Forum in Huairou, during the Beijing con-
ference, women from the South are reported to have argued along these
lines. Nighat Khan, director of the Applied Socio-economic Research or-
ganization of Pakistan “argued that gender analysis had become a tech-
nocratic discourse, in spite of its roots in socialist feminism, dominated by
researchers, policy-makers and consultants, which no longer addressed is-
sues of power central to women’s subordination. She identified factors un-
derlying this shift as the professionalization and ‘xoo’isation’ of the
women’s movement and the consequent lack of accountability of ‘gender
experts’ to a grass-root constituency. (…) Nighat Kahn asserted that the
focus on gender, rather than women, had become counter-productive in
that it had allowed the discussion to shift from a focus on women, to
women and men, and, finally, back to men” (Baden and Goetz :oo8. p.
.:). As also pointed out by Indian feminist Kamla Bhasin: “There is
money in gender but little passion, there is objectivity in gender but no
stakes” (Bhasin n.d. p. ¡).
Discussion on women’s issues is being robbed of its struggle aspects,
QUESTIONS OF POWER • ARNFED 76
at a time when struggle is needed more than ever. Since the fall of the
Berlin wall in :o8o neo-liberal politics have been on the increase world
wide, promoting market relations on a global scale. And according to the
analysis presented in this paper, global market forces are not gender neu-
tral: They tend to promote the power positions of men, while many as-
pects of the kind of work that women usually do, and which are unrelat-
ed to the market – e.g. food production from self-grown crops and tak-
ing care of children – are rendered invisible. As pointed out by Kamla
Bhasin there is today a resurgence of male and patriarchal power. “Pa-
triarchy and patriarchal violence are definitely not on the decline”
(Bhasin n.d. p. ·).
Further adjustments of GAD discourse: Gender mainstreaming
In the context of development discourse gender has become an issue of
checklists, planning and ‘political correctness’. Through the terminology
of gender women’s issues have become de-politizised. In my view the lan-
guage of gender mainstreaming has continued and exacerbated the trends
just described regarding the shift from ‘women’ to ‘gender’. Lots of nice
words are produced, with lots of good intentions – but when you look at
the outcome, the picture is different.
‘The mainstreaming approach’ has grown in importance since the
:oo· Beijing conference. A Sida definition of gender mainstreaming goes
like this: “Mainstreaming implies that attention to equality between
women and men should pervade all development policies, strategies and
interventions. Mainstreaming does not simply mean ensuring that women
participate in a development agenda that has already been decided upon.
It aims to ensure that women as well as men are involved in setting goals
and in planning so that development meets the priorities and needs of
both women and men. Mainstreaming thus involves giving attention to
equality in relation to analyses, policies, planning processes and institu-
tional practices that set the overall conditions for development. Main-
streaming requires that analysis be carried out on the potential impact on
women and men of development interventions in all areas of societal de-
velopment. Such analysis should be carried out before the important deci-
sions on goals, strategies and resource allocations are made” (Sida :oo;,
quoted in Hannan .ooo. p. .8o, emphasis in original).
Carolyn Hannan produces a table with characteristics of the ‘integra-
tion strategy of the :o8os’ as opposed to the ‘mainstreaming strategy of
the :ooos’ which reads much like previous vir/o\r juxtapositions (e.g.
Razavi and Miller :oo·). According to Hannan, the integration strategy
is about “women’s involvement (participation, representation, parity, ‘num-
ARNFED • QUESTIONS OF POWER 77
bers’) usually in a development agenda decided upon by others” (Han-
nan .ooo. p. .8;, emphasis in original), with a focus on ‘women’ out of
context and often at household level, and on technical aspects – develop-
ment of methods, tools and technical skills, with no consideration of the
political aspects. In contrast, the mainstreaming strategy is “going beyond
‘numbers’ – bringing the perceptions, experience and interests of women as well as
men to bear on the development agenda”. Furthermore the mainstreaming strat-
egy is characterized by “use of analysis to focus on relations/power – uncover-
ing inequality, conflict and confrontation”, “a focus on political aspects of
promoting gender equality – relations, power, transforming the agenda, and
changing of organizations and institutions” (ibid., emphasis in original).
A key element in the mainstreaming strategy, according to Hannan, is
“that there should be a shift from quantitative aspects of participation of
women to more transformatory aspects – bringing the perceptions of women
as well as men to bear on the development process itself, rather than sim-
ply trying to integrate women into existing development agendas formu-
lated by others” (Hannan .ooo. p. .8·, emphasis added, s\).
This may be the programme of enthusiastic feminists, working in the
development sector, but judging from my own (of course limited) experi-
ence the justifications for mainstreaming by non-feminists (which happen
to be in the majority in development organizations) run along very dif-
ferent lines. The transformatory aspects are not in high demand. Rather
the arguments put forward in support of gender mainstreaming tend to
focus on better quality and on efficiency – from an economic point of view.
Regarding ‘better quality’ the argument goes for instance like this: A pre-
condition for good planning is relevant knowledge and adequate concep-
tualization of the reality in question. Social realities are gendered, in third
world countries often even more explicitly than in Europe. Development
planning must acknowledge and respond to this gendered reality. And re-
garding ‘efficiency’: Women are potential wage labourers and producers
of marketable goods. Integration of women in market economy gives
higher oxr. In the latest World Bank document on gender Engendering De-
velopment (Consultation Draft May .ooo) a recurring punch-line runs like
this: Gender Inequalities are Costly to Development. Or to put it the other way
round: Gender Equality is Good Business! It is stated in the document that
gender equality is a development objective in its own right – “but gender
equality also enhances development by strengthening the ability of coun-
tries to grow, to reduce poverty and to govern effectively” (World Bank
.ooo. p. :).
The message is that ‘development needs women’ – development un-
derstood as expanded market relations. The market needs women as pro-
QUESTIONS OF POWER • ARNFED 78
ducers of marketable goods and services (through so-called income-gen-
erating activities) and consumers – provided that they have the money.
Mainstreaming becomes a means for economic growth and more suc-
cessful mobilization of women on a neo-liberal economic agenda. The de-
velopment establishment is concerned about the market, i.e. economic
growth; only few non-market aspects of social life remain visible, human
rights being one. The caring and food-providing work of women is not
considered. “Income generating activities for women are promoted, but
a redefinition of sex roles to alleviate the resulting double burden is ig-
nored” (r\vx .ooo. p. :o6).
‘Development needs women’ – but do women need development? Or
rather: Which type of development do which women need? According to
Hannan the mainstreaming strategy should be geared for asking – and an-
swering – just this type of question. To me, however, this looks too much
like wishful thinking. And wishful thinking is not enough to change eco-
nomic agendas.
De-politicising of feminist theory?
Initially the issues of vir and later of o\r were pushed by women en-
gaged in feminist theory and in the women’s movement. In the :o;os in
general there was quite a close connection between women’s movements,
feminist theory and the launching of gender issues in political contexts,
nationally and in development organisations. At the level of the nation
state feminists got involved in government politics for gender equality –
a collaboration which in the Scandinavian context has been dubbed ‘state
feminism’. Similarly in the North a kind of ‘development feminism’
emerged, increasingly integrated in and with issues of investigation de-
fined by the big and powerful development institutions – the World Bank,
the tx and donor governments – and not by feminist movements.
While a part of feminist scholarship has been integrated in govern-
ment and development institutions, another part has withdrawn from po-
litical involvement. Concurrently with the global process of increasing
marketisation, feminist theory in the North has developed in directions
away from engagement in issues of global inequality. The implicit con-
text of most post-structural feminist theory does not go far beyond West-
ern middle class concerns, an example being Judith Butler’s very influen-
tial theoretical work, the political scope of which is a struggle for more
open definitions of sexual identity (Butler :ooo:xxyi). Maria Mies and
Veronica Bennholdt-Thomsen point to this kind of shortcomings in their
rather blunt statement that “feminism has been narrowed down mainly
to equity politics and cultural feminism, to mean a change in one’s sexu-
ARNFED • QUESTIONS OF POWER 79
al orientation, in linguistic and social behaviour. (…) The postmoderns
continue to discover ever more differences between people, supposedly
as barriers between them, but they never talk of exploitation and oppres-
sion” (Bennholdt-Thomsen and Mies :ooo. p. :8¸-¡).
It is my own opinion that there is ample potential in post-structuralist
feminist theory for an epistemological as well as a political critique of glob-
al relations of power, but that so far these potentials remain largely un-de-
veloped. Feminist theorists from the South are, however, working on the
issue. The potential for epistemological critique, developed by the first
generation of gender-theorists (among others Sandra Harding :o8;, :oo:
and Joan Scott :o88) can readily be extended with a third world dimen-
sion: Just as presumed gender neutral thinking, seen with feminist eyes re-
veals itself as heavily male biased, in so far as the subject of Western think-
ing almost always is implicitly male – this same Western thinking, seen
with third world eyes reveals itself as not only male, but also ethnocentric.
Feminists from the South are scrutinizing not only Western presumed
‘gender neutral’ theories, but also Western feminist thinking, finding
much of it gender aware, but ethno-blind (cf. Ifi Amadiume :o8;, :oo;,
Chandra Mohanty :oo:, Oyeronke Oyewumi :oo;, among others).
Often in social science a view from the margin, from the periphery or
from below, is necessary in order to reveal what the centre itself is not able
(or willing) to see. One problem with the by now established gender-and-
development and gender mainstreaming discourse is that it has moved
from margin to centre, loosing in the process its critical itch. Main-
streaming o\r discourse today is talking from the centre of powerful de-
velopment institutions. Thus a gap has emerged between the kind of gen-
der thinking expressed in the unified global language of development dis-
course (the o\r, mainstreaming and World Bank ‘engendering-develop-
ment’ way of thinking) and the kind of feminist theory which draws its
energy and direction from questions and concerns posed by feminist ac-
tivists and by women’s movements from the South.
WID/GAD and women’s movements
According to some observers (and I agree) the whole development set-up
has rendered difficult relations of solidarity between women’s movements
in North and South. Programmes of vir and o\r “potentially dis-
place/disrupt/interrupt political connections among autonomous
women’s groups and activists in ‘third’ and ‘first’ worlds. Relations be-
tween donor and recipient are fostered instead” (Angela Miles :oo8. p.
:68). I see this as a very important observation, because it focuses on the
unequal power relationships embedded in all development work, no mat-
QUESTIONS OF POWER • ARNFED 80
ter how much the development discourse itself is trying to neglect the
basic situation of unequal power, by talking about ‘development dia-
logue’, ‘partnership’ etc. No real solidarity between partners can emerge
when mutual dependence is not acknowledged. The important thing is for
feminists in the North to realize that we too, if we want to change the male
bias of the market system, need the support of feminists and women’s
movements in the South.
What vir and o\r discourses further achieve, according to Angela
Miles, is to obscure the fact that transformative feminist trends do exist
in the North. Not all feminists have been engulfed in ‘state’ or ‘develop-
ment’ feminism, or withdrawn to apolitical theorising. As a matter of fact
new feminist movements are emerging in the Scandinavian countries –
but so far they remain unrelated to feminist movements of the South.
“The unequal discourse of development that shapes and contains vir and
o\r relationships means that they cannot provide an adequate frame for
the development of political sisterhood/solidarity. On the contrary, if they
are understood by ‘third world’ women to reflect the whole of Western
feminisms, these vir and o\r relationships can mask the existence of
transformative feminisms in the ‘first world’ and impede the development
of global solidarity/sisterhood. When this occurs the necessary and diffi-
cult process of building political relations among ‘first world’ and ‘third
world’ movement counterparts is supplanted by suspiciously well-funded relations
between women in the development industry in North and South, and between these
women and some activists in the South” (Miles :oo8. p. :6o, emphasis added,
s\). This point echoes the observations made by Ifi Amadiume and
Nighat Khan, quoted above, regarding ‘discourse as controlled by paid
tx and other donor advisers, consultants and workers’ and ‘the profes-
sionalization and xoo’isation of the women’s movement’.
A further problem in this context is the split, created by national gov-
ernments and development institutions, between elite and grass root
women of the South. As argued by Amina Mama “post-colonial women’s
organisations tend to be hierarchical in structure, dominated by elite
women and dedicated to quiet and comparatively genteel politics of pur-
suing legal and policy reforms” (quoted in r\vx .ooo. p. :·:). Such
women’s organisations tend to “be co-opted or absorbed by the state, re-
sulting in their ineffectiveness as vehicles for women’s struggles. Further-
more they rarely retain their linkage with grass-root organisations and
women whose interests they claim to represent” (ibid.).
Seen from the point of view of the vir/o\r development establish-
ment – including many South women’s organisations – a lack of corre-
spondence between local women’s concerns and the o\r development
ARNFED • QUESTIONS OF POWER 81
discourse, will be explained as due to the grass-root women’s ignorance
and limited knowledge. Through gender training courses women all over
the world are being taught to express themselves in the unified global lan-
guage of gender-and-development discourse. But to which extend is this
language useful as a tool for changes in consciousness and self-perception
of grass-root women? An example from my own experience in northern
Mozambique: In :oo8-oo I was conducting anthropological fieldwork in
an area only marginally integrated in market relations, where food prod-
ucts were controlled by women, and where matrilineal kinship structures
provided some older women with quite powerful positions. Here the way
in which you would know if women had been in contact with gender-and-
development efforts was that in this case they would have acquired a lan-
guage of women’s subordination, having learned to see themselves as
powerless and oppressed. They had not learned to see their importance
in the family and in community rituals as positions of power, nor to per-
ceive their knowledge and skills as valuable potentials.
Section 2: Critique of Dominant Gender Policies
Gender mainstreaming – limitations and pitfalls
Gender mainstreaming is a policy adopted – if at all – from above.
Notwithstanding the keen and struggling feminists who, like Carolyn
Hannan, insist on interpreting ‘mainstreaming’ as another word for ‘agen-
da-setting’ (Hannan .ooo. p. .8¡) – mainstreaming is an institutional de-
vise. Hannan herself points to a series of possible pitfalls: There is a risk
that mainstreaming is taken to simply mean integration into existing agen-
das (Hannan .ooo. p. .8·); it is important that special attention should be
given to gender equality, and this aspect must be explicitly treated and
made very visible if mainstreaming (as Hannan understands it) is to be suc-
cessful (Hannan .ooo. p. .oo, emphasis added, s\). An overriding prob-
lem when it comes to the question of promoting gender equality, accord-
ing to Hannan, is the lack of political will. Relevant frameworks and tools
have been developed in abundance, but they are not being used accord-
ing to the intentions. There is a tendency, Hannan notes, within devel-
opment co-operation “to reduce the promotion of gender equality to a
technical issue, and to neglect the important political implications” (Han-
nan .ooo. p. .¡¡). This observation is not at all new. Rather it is the order
of the day in development institutions. The ways in which this side-lining
of the gender mainstreaming issues work -gender mainstreaming under-
stood in the inclusive, transformative way which Hannan advocates – are
diverse. The r\vx group of South feminist researchers
1
list a series of
structural barriers to gender mainstreaming in this inclusive sense: Con-
spicuous neglect, wilful misconceptions, low position of ‘national women’s
machineries’ in government hierarchies, stubborn male resistance within
bureaucracies and a generally hostile environment (r\vx .ooo. p. :o·-
:o6). The prominent position in the policy papers of many development
agencies of gender equality as a political goal is not reflected in the (often
precarious) staffing of the gender office, nor in the (often low) prestige of
working with gender issues. Very often, thus, progress in the matter will
depend entirely on committed individuals, i.e. on the chance existence of
feminists, male or female, in the departments.
Another factor is that the conspicuous neglect, wilful misconceptions,
stubborn male resistance etc. in the face of an official policy in favour of
gender equality, tends to keep feminists busy in fighting for gender main-
streaming with the risk of diverting their/our attention from the overall
impossibility of the task. It might be more useful to realize that feminist
visions regarding mainstreaming as a tool for changing gender power re-
lations, do not match the reality of governments and development institu-
tions. These bodies simply understand the matter differently, “equating
gender equity with providing access and opportunities for women to par-
ticipate in the production of goods and services that can contribute to the
country’s oxr trade and dollar reserves” (r\vx .ooo. p. o·).
Thus as feminists we’ll have to accustom ourselves to more subversive
ways of working, taking advantage of ‘cracks in the edifice’ of states and
development institutions (as developed by r\vx, cf. below) and of the ex-
istence of the odd feminist in a key position. An important aspect of
r\vx’s work is discussions regarding the character of state and develop-
ment institutions, highlighting their male bias and their sensibility to mar-
ket concerns more than to women’s and poor people’s needs, but also their
composite character with internal cracks and contradictions. At a time and in an age
when the state increasingly is being re-organised to serve the interests of
market forces rather than the interests of the dispossessed (r\vx .ooo.
p. :6.) attempts to make states attentive to women and poor people may
look like a contradiction in terms. “More progress has been made in the
adoption of policies and the setting up of institutions to support global
markets than to support people and their rights” (txrr Human Devel-
opment Report :ooo, quoted in r\vx .ooo. p. 6·). It is evident from
QUESTIONS OF POWER • ARNFED 82
:. r\vx (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) is a feminist network of women
activists, researchers and policy makers from the South who are committed to developing alter-
native frameworks and methods in order to attain the goals of economic and social justice,
including gender equality. r\vx was established in :o8¡ and has its headquarters at University
of the South Pacific at the Fiji Islands.
ARNFED • QUESTIONS OF POWER 83
much of the general debate on the nature of political changes (including
changes for democracy and human rights) and processes of governance
that the dominant discourse does not include perspectives and concerns
of poor people, nor of women. Feminists have to realise that states are in-
stitutions where male privileges remain deeply embedded; “we cannot
add gender or women to frameworks that have led to the exclusion of
women in the first place, and to the marginalization of the majority of
poor people” (r\vx .ooo. p. :6¸). “Gender equity thus goes beyond
equal opportunity; it requires the transformation of the basic rules, hier-
archies and practices of public institutions” (r\vx .ooo. p. o¡). Pushing
for gender mainstreaming in the inclusive and transformative sense thus
is no easy task, and the pitfalls and blind alleys are many. Nevertheless,
according to r\vx: Disengagement is not an option. “Despite the formi-
dable obstacles faced by women, to abandon the project of institutional-
izing gender is not an option” (r\vx .ooo. p. ::6). The challenge for fem-
inists is to find ways in which to make gender mainstreaming meaningful
from women’s points of view.
The gender bias of market economy
A major problem of global market forces is the way in which they render
invisible much of what women actually do. Again on this point I shall
quote from the work of the r\vx researchers: “There is a major flaw in
these monetized and market-driven presuppositions that affect women.
Indeed in many countries women provide products, labour and services
as part of family obligations, reciprocal household responsibilities, mutu-
al aid and the like. Further this theory [i.e. neo-classical economic theo-
ry, s\] considers work performed, services rendered and products made
that do not have an explicit price to have no economic value. Thus, much
of what society classifies as women’s work is rendered invisible and unim-
portant for understanding how economics works” (r\vx .ooo. p. ;o).
One consequence of this determined blindness – the market’s pur-
poseful inability to see, perceive and acknowledge aspects of social life
which are external to market relations – is a disregard for women’s dou-
ble workload. And states follow the lead of the market: “The state assume
that women’s labour time is available as a reserve, subsidiary and com-
plementary source for capitalist development” (r\vx .ooo. p. 68), the
fact being that the vast majority of women are overburdened by repro-
ductive burdens that have not been equally shared by men. In addition
to this, women’s (and men’s) roles and positions at other levels: in rituals,
religion, healing practices etc. are entirely disregarded. Conducting field-
work in Northern Mozambique I became aware that local culture to a
QUESTIONS OF POWER • ARNFED 84
large extend was based on connections between the living and the dead,
between body and soul, and between the individual and the community
– many of these connections in this place (a rural matrilineal communi-
ty) being handled and taken care of particularly by women – as spirit
mediums and female ‘chiefs’, as healers/diviners and as grandmothers
/family elders. In contexts of ‘development’ however, such connections
tend to disappear from sight. What is seen and considered are the living,
the bodies and the individuals, while the links to the dead, the souls and
the community are discarded. In this reduction much of women’s lives
and local importance is erased.
Thus the blessings of the global market tend to be limited from
women’s points of view. Only few women are integrated in market rela-
tions as wage labourers, more often than not on lousy terms. e.g. in Free
Trade Zones which are “characterised by women working for cheap
wages, on a piece-rate basis, in substandard working conditions with a
high degree of job-insecurity. The jobs are repetitive and monotonous and
require concentration and nimble fingers – considered as ‘assets’ of female
workers, who are never valued as ‘skilled’” (r\vx .ooo. p. 6.). In actual
fact most poor women operate outside the formal markets, in subsistence
production and/or in the so-called ‘informal sector’. As however the mar-
ket proper only responds to needs expressed in cash, “the emerging
state/market relationships perpetuate the exclusion of poor women from
mainstream economic and social activities” (Taylor :ooo). While just a
tiny minority of middle class women are likely to experience the advan-
tages of development, the majority of women are being excluded – in a
world where transformation to market conditions is increasingly taking
place.
Section 3: Challenges for the Women’s Movements
Reversals of learning
Mainstream development aid is implicitly based on a model saying: They
(the development aid receivers) have the problem, we (the donors) have
the solution. This line of thinking produces the overall conception of eco-
nomic poverty as the dominant problem, matching economic growth, in
the shape of marketisation, as the universal solution. In the field of gen-
der their problem is women’s oppression and subordination, our solution
is equal rights and market relations. But does it work? Maybe time has
come for North/South reversals of learning.
Reversals of learning is an idea adapted from Robert Chambers (:o8¸,
ARNFED • QUESTIONS OF POWER 85
:oo¸. :oo·). He advises the development practitioner to sit down, to ask
and to listen (:o8¸. p. .o.). In Chambers’ context initially in order for
the development practitioner to be able to communicate more effective-
ly with the local farmer (man or woman?), later increasingly in order to
“turn the spotlight round and look at ourselves” (:oo·. p. 6). In order for
us from the North to look at ourselves with the eyes of men and women
from the South. “Papers on the poor proliferate, like this one” Chambers
writes in a paper titled Poverty and Livelihood: Whose Reality Counts? “One
may speculate on what topics the poor and powerless would commission
papers if they could convene conferences and summits: perhaps on greed,
hypocrisy and exploitation? But the poor are powerless and cannot and
do not convene summits, and those papers are rarely written” (Chambers
:oo·. p. ·-6).
In feminist contexts ‘reversals of learning’ have a lot to do with femi-
nists from the North listening to and learning from feminists from the
South, picking up on concepts and critiques, learning to see our own re-
alities with eyes from without, “reinventing ourselves as other” as Sandra
Harding says (:oo:. p. .68) and “learning from the outsiders within”
(:oo:: :¸:). The idea of “outsiders within” is developed by Patricia Hill
Collins, pointing to Black feminist scholars as “marginal intellectuals
whose standpoints promise to enrich sociological discourse” (Hill Collins,
quoted in Harding :oo:. p. :¸:). The idea of the critical view from the
margin, from the periphery, from the ones excluded as ‘others’ by the
dominant discourse, has much as yet un-developed potential for feminist
thinking and practice in the North.
Taking advantage of cracks and contradictions
Much practical work in South women’s xoos and feminist research in the
South are only possible with money from donor organisations. Feminists
from the South have had to learn to navigate in donor-dominated wa-
ters, taking advantage of the money and the contacts while making ef-
forts to use it according to their own agendas. In the .ooo r\vx docu-
ment an analysis of the state and development organisations as complex
and contradictory sites is emerging, sites with cracks and contradictions
that can be used to lever spaces for alternative strategies. “Feminists have
moved beyond regarding the state as a homogenous, patriarchal and cap-
italist entity to understanding it as a complex site. The state is a group of
arenas, discourses, institutions, the result of political struggles and specif-
ic contexts…” (r\vx .ooo. p. :¡·). “There are cracks emerging in the ed-
ifice of global decision making. How we use these spaces that are being
created is going to be very important in determining the alternative paths
QUESTIONS OF POWER • ARNFED 86
that we develop to promote the type of transformation that all of us are
working towards” (Taylor :ooo). The idea is to work inside, but to some
extent ‘against the grain’ of state and development institutions, the strat-
egy not being attempts to make these institutions take over a transforma-
tory agenda, which is not going to happen, but rather to work in a more
subversive manner, taking advantage of person-to-person contacts, and of
the spaces opened up by cracks and contradictions in the institutional set-
up of states and development agencies.
This strategy of taking advantage of ‘cracks in the edifice’ may be seen
as an initial concretisation of the ‘there is no other option’ – position.
Feminists North and South have to develop an astute critique of prevail-
ing trends of marketisation, and of the institutions – governments, multi-
national financial institutions and agencies of development aid – which
promote this marketisation. Feminists have to be acutely aware of the re-
lations of power – of class, race and gender – embedded in these institu-
tions. But at the same time we have no other alternative but to work
through these same structures. These are major challenges for North/
South women’s movements.
References
Amadiume, Ifi :o8;: Male Daughters, Female Husbands, Zed Books.
Amadiume, Ifi :oo;: Reinventing Africa. Matriarchy, Religion and Culture. Zed Books.
Amadiume, Ifi .ooo: Daughters of the Goddess, Daughters of Imperialism, Zed Books
Baden, Sally and Anne Marie Goetz :oo8: Who needs [sex] when you can have [gender]?
Conflicting discourses on gender at Beijing, in: Cecilie Jackson and Ruth Pearson (eds): Feminist
Visions of Development, Routledge.
Bennholdt-Thomsen and Maria Mies :ooo: The Subsistence Perspective. Beyond the Globalised Economy.
Zed Books.
Bhasin, Kamla n.d. Gender and Gender Workshops: Sharing some Thoughts, Concerns and Experiences.
Butler, Judith :ooo⁄:ooo: Gender Trouble, Routledge.
Chambers, Robert :88¸: Rural Development. Putting the Last First. Longman.
Chambers, Robert :oo¸: Challenging the Professions. Intermediate Technology Publications.
Chambers, Robert :oo·: Poverty and Livelihood: Whose Reality Counts? isr Discussion Paper ¸¡;.
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Hannan, Carolyn .ooo: Promoting Equality between Women and Men in Bilateral Development Cooperation.
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Harding, Sandra :oo:: Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Open UniversityPress.
Howe, Florence :oo6: Editorial, Beijing and Beyond. Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol xxiy, nos :&..
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Mohanty, Chandra Talpade :oo:: Under Western Eyes, in Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo
and Lourdes Torres (eds): Third World Women and the Politics of Difference, Indiana University Press.
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discourse, txnisr, Geneva.
Scott, Joan :o88: Gender and the Politics of History, Colombia University Press.
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the r\vx South Asia, South East Asia and Pacific Workshop, Thailand Oct. :ooo. (Avaliable at
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Draft. (Available at www.worldbank.org/gender/prr/)
Introduction
Mexico has finally left behind the era of the one party-system to start its
career on a multi-party track where stability may be sacrificed to the le-
gitimacy provided by democratic elections. To a great extent this trans-
formation is the fruit of general dissatisfaction with the official party. The
first expressions of this unrest were seen in the :o8os with the awakening
of civil society in Mexico. And, in this awakening, women’s participation
has been particularly relevant. It is mostly women who participated in the
new urban movements of the :ooos. Through their work in all kinds of
organizations, from the housing activists to the feminists and even the
armed movements, women are playing a new role that implies a serious
transformation in the political culture and gender relationships. Further-
more, women’s demands have given the Zapatista movement one of its
main features in comparison with other Indian or guerrilla movements
in Mexico or Latin America.
Even women who do not participate in political action share somehow
the awareness of certain problems, of the need to change, to democratize
and to transform gender relations. In our research we have looked at what
notions these women – participants and non-participants – have of con-
cepts such as citizenship and democracy. Are participant women trying to
enter the system or are they aiming to change it? Have non-participant
women similar notions to the participants in respect of gender issues and
the need for a new political culture?
In this paper I argue that both participants and non-participants share
the view of an authoritarian system that needs to be changed. They also
agree on the importance of participation in order to realize these changes,
in order to achieve citizenship – understood as rights and obligations to-
Citizenship and Women in Mexico:
Searching for a New Political Culture? Views and Experiences
of Participants and Non-Participants in Political Action
EDMÉ DOMÍNGUEZ
wards the community and as an awareness of, and responsibility for, pub-
lic affairs. And they agree on the qualities women may need to contribute
to transform this system.
This paper is a presentation of some of the partial results of our re-
search into women’s urban and rural movements and citizenship in Mex-
ico.
1
It is also a continuation of the articles already published, or in process
of being published, within the framework of the project (Domínguez and
Castro, :oo8, Domínguez, :oo8).
Taking as the point of departure some theoretical reflections on the
concepts of gender and citizenship, and the most recent and relevant
events as to the political participation of women in Mexico, I will present
some of the empirical material on urban women that I have been able to
gather at the end of :oo8, the beginning of :ooo and, most recently, in
June-July .ooo.
Theoretical Questions
From an analytical perspective, the concept of citizenship recalls a con-
flictual practice associated to power and reflecting the struggles of ‘who
can attain what’ in the process of defining the social common problems
and how they are to be approached. Both the citizenship and the rights
attached to it are always in a process of construction and change. Femi-
nists have centred their criticism to the following classical notions:
• Public Responsibility, Civic Activity and Political
Participation;
• Equality (for whom?, in what way?);
• Divisions and Antagonisms: How are they to be solved?
How can socio-economical and political differences be
reconciled with equality?;
• The Dichotomy Public-Private; used as a principle for
exclusion and for the subordination of women. Everything
concerning the private sphere – the family context – has
been regarded as irrelevant for the exercise of citizenship;
• Pluralism and Multiculturalism; as features of all contem-
porary democracies. How does the recognition of differ-
ent cultural identities affect women’s rights as citizens?.
DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 89
:. This joint research project involves also Ines Castro, a Mexican researcher, and studies of the
Zapatista and other women’s organizations in Chiapas in order to compare them with urban
women’s organizations. The project has received financial support from Sida-s\nrc in :oo8-
.ooo.
In general, the criticism have focused on the abstract model of a citi-
zen within a patriarchal society based on the exclusion of all groups that
cannot adjust to the model in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, class and
religion (Massolo, :oo¡, p. :¸-:;).
One of the first currents opposing the universality of the patriarchal
model has tried to find a feminine model naturally associated to equality
and rather superior to the patriarchal one (Jelin, Las Mujeres… :oo6).
However, such currents in their turn have been criticized on the grounds
that the relationship established by maternity cannot be taken as a model
of egalitarian democracy as it is naturally unequal (mother-child are not
equal). Moreover, and perhaps the most serious criticism to this model
concerns its belief in a common essence to all women, for example, the
experience of maternity (Dietz, :o8·). It is generally admitted that we can-
not speak of a woman but of women, a heterogeneous group of social agents
with a huge diversity of cultures, identities, experiences and positions.
Their different situation in the intersections of power relations is also im-
portant to notice. Finally, according to the criticism, masculine superior-
ity is being replaced by a feminine superiority that, trying to focus on the
notion of difference, only reproduces a hierarchical order (Jelin, Women,
Gender… :oo6).
Another criticism of the liberal notions of citizenship implies that it is
impossible to reduce the diverse identities into a single and abstract ‘citi-
zen identity’. As Mouffe (:oo., p. ¸;.) has pointed out, the subject’s dif-
ferent positions affect or are even determinant in collective social prac-
tices, such as those recently known as ‘new social movements’.
2
Within this
conception, sexual difference is one of the recognized identities but the
goal is to make this as well as other identities irrelevant in many of the
social relations where it is relevant today. For Mouffe the liberal inter-
pretation of rights is based on an abstract equality, but these rights are
nevertheless fundamental if seen together with an active political partici-
pation and the sense of belonging to a political community. In this way
“citizenship cannot be understood only as an identity but as an articulat-
ing principle that affects the different positions of the subject and allows
for a plurality of specific loyalties and respect to individual freedom.”
(Mouffe, :oo.. p. ¸;8). The public-private dichotomy is thus reconstruct-
ed at each level: the desires, decisions and options are private but their
CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ 90
.. The so called ‘new social movements’ are described, since the beginning of the :o8os as hetero-
geneous, focusing in short-term goals and mostly engaged in local changes without ever aiming
at the conquest of power. Examples of the movements are the urban-colonos movements or the
indigenous movements. Women can thus have several identities: mother, ‘colona’ or Indian,
corker or peasant, etc. (Escobar, Alvarez :oo., p. :-8)
realization is public. Equality at home, within the family, is recognized as
a pre-condition and a requisite for public equality (Mouffe :oo.).
Furthermore, citizenship is associated to public responsibility and political
participation. These notions are also analysed by the ‘democratic partici-
pation’ perspective. Within this perspective, democracy is conceived as a
common, active project involving all active citizens who seek to partici-
pate and to influence all levels of society. Politics then include all kinds of
areas and issues that affect citizens’ autonomy and rights, thus engaging
people that normally would not be interested in participating and/or
those who are traditionally regarded as passive, or excluded, like women
or immigrants. These excluded groups become active participants by
transforming their local and daily concerns into political issues. Partici-
pation becomes a process of learning of acceptance, of tolerance in rela-
tion to difference and to the possibility of influencing decision-makers
(Dahlstedt, :ooo, p. 8:-8¸).
A citizen participation perspective involving notions of social and wel-
fare rights would oppose both liberal individualism and an elite and ‘del-
egational’ perspective that focuses only on electoral rights. It would be
much closer to those citizen-, women-, consumer- or neighbourhood-
movements that flourished in Latin America during the :o8os, the so-
called ‘new social movements’, or social actions already mentioned above.
Thus, politics would encompass “power struggles enacted in a wide range
of spaces culturally defined as private, social, economic, cultural and so
on” (Alvarez et al :oo8, p. ::) And these political struggles are “crucial in
fostering alternative political cultures and potentially in extending and
deepening democracy in Latin America” (ibid. p. :.).
3
Summarizing, we propose to use a feminist radical interpretation of
citizenship focusing on a plural and participatory democracy. Such an in-
terpretation focuses on those social relations that give place to oppression,
questioning such oppression and looking at the way of making all daily
and local issues political. We thus emphasize the concept of public respon-
sibility and political participation but also the issue of multiplicity of identities.
This framework makes it possible to articulate different issues and move-
ments, like those of working women, Indian women and homosexuals,
DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 91
¸. However, it is necessary to remember that not all social participation leads necessarily to pro-
jects of democratization. Even this participation can be manipulated by authoritarian regimes,
fanatical religious movements (for example Islamic or even Catholic). An example of this is the
‘new communitarianism’ which gives priority to the needs of the community over those of the
individuals and privileges the notion of responsibilities over that of rights. This has severe impli-
cations for the debates on social policy in general and on women rights in particular. This new
movement has even been regarded as an alternative to both liberal individualism and socialism.
Focusing on virtues of ‘self-help’ and voluntary work, this kind of movement targets specially
women. (Moulineaux, :oo6).
based on the principle of democratic equivalence respecting these differ-
ences. However, there is a problem; the recognition of the different iden-
tities can lead to their “essentialization”, to their de-historization. In order
to avoid this, according to Phillips (:o8;), we must try to find a new ver-
sion of democratic equality that is able to recognize and represent these
differences without creating absolute barriers. Dietz (:o8·) speaks of a
“transcendent vision” that overcomes the narrow group interests and even
feminism in order to undertake a citizen activity that includes and requires
a masculine participation.
Analysing women’s actions and movements we try to account for their
heterogeneity but also for their ‘nodal points’, common interests, and tak-
ing as point of departure certain identities. These identities, even if they
prove to be conjunctural, may find experiences, interests, goals or com-
mon aspirations that can be politically articulated. In this sense, feminist
analyses can be considered an effort to discover all forms of subordination
where the notion of woman is relevant. Consequently there will be as
many feminist perspectives as forms of women subordination.
4
The Political Participation of Mexican Women
Mexico was one of the last countries in Latin America to recognize the
political rights of women (the right to vote in municipal elections in :o¡;
and in federal elections in :o·¸). Nevertheless the political participation of
women was important even before the Mexican revolution (:o:o) as part
of trade union, peasant and middle class movements, especially during the
:o¸os, in order to obtain electoral rights. In the :o¡os the feminist move-
ment started, mainly among middle-class sectors, and it was not until the
:o;os that the urban-popular movement, that had mostly women among
its rank and file, started to include women’s claims. However, no close
cooperation between the latter movement and the feminist movement
would take place, despite the first tx Women’s World Conference in Mex-
ico City in :o;· and the parallel activities associated with it, until the
:o8os.
5
Since the awakening of civil society in the :o8os, and particular-
ly after the near defeat of the offical party, Partido Revolucionario Insti-
tucional, rni (the Institutional Revolutionary Party), new women’s orga-
nizations (organized by feminists committed to democratization) were cre-
CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ 92
¡. This is inspired by Mouffe (:oo., p.
¸8.
): “there will be as many feminisms as forms of women
subordination may exist”.
·. On the parallel activities associated with this Conference see E. Jelin (:oo6), “Ciudadanía
Emergente o Exclusión.
ated and their numbers had increased noticeably by the end of :oo:.
The entry into x\r+\ (North American Free Trade Agreement) and
the rzrx (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) rebellion in Chia-
pas in :oo¡ gave way to deep changes in Mexico. This rebellion that start-
ed as a symbolical reaction to the Mexican entry to x\r+\, aimed to re-
mind both the Mexican government and the people of the miserable re-
alities that most Indian people faced in Mexico. These realities were the
other side of the coin the Mexican government wanted to show foreign
investors attracted by x\r+\. However, it was not only an Indian rebel-
lion, it also aimed to revive the Mexican civil society’s participation in a
structural transformation of the Mexican political system and political cul-
ture.
6
Moreover, the Zapatistas created a new political style symbolised
in their motto: “to command by obeying” (‘mandar obedeciendo’) which
means: leaders must listen to the people, they should be accountable and
always in direct contact with the people, in other words: ‘get rid of all au-
thoritarianism’.
The Zapatistas also presented the situation and demands of Indian
women (‘The Women’s Revolutionary Laws’) that questioned the Indian
women’s traditional role and oppression within their communities and in
society as large, thus creating for the first time in Latin America what we
could call a feminist Indian movement. These revolutionary laws were the
Zapatista women’s demands to their communities, to their families and
to the state. They demanded, among other things, the right to choose
their husbands and the right to be elected to the community’s decision-
making positions (Rojas, :oo¡, :oo6). The Revolutionary Laws that the
Zapatista women called ‘the program of demands’ focused mainly on re-
viewing women’s rights within the communities in general: women’s rights
to go to meetings, to participate in community councils, to continue study-
ing after the basic school years, to choose the men whom they wanted to
marry. The second version of the revolutionary laws again formulated
these demands but stressed more on ‘equality’ and ‘morality’, which
meant that women, as well as men, should be responsible for the family
and should avoid any relationship outside marriage. (This is why urban
DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 93
6. The actual armed confrontation was short and it led to a period of peace negotiations up to
:oo6 when a peace treaty was signed (‘Acuerdos de San Andres’). However, the lack of respect
for these agreements from the government’s side led to an escalation of the military presence
and violence in the region, a sort of low intensity conflict with thousands of victims and refugees.
It also led to the splitting of most Indian communities in two camps: pro-Zapatistas and pro-
government, resulting in bloody internal strifes. In July .ooo a new federal government was
elected and the rni era came to an end. The new president Vicente Fox promised to put an end
to the conflict and so far some troops have left certain areas of the region and some Zapatista
sympathizers have been released from jail. However much is still to be done in order to reestab-
lish peace. The Zapatistas’ demands for autonomy and agrarian and cultural reforms demand a
long-term perspective as to the solution of the conflict.
feminist women, as we shall see in the interviews, reacted so forcefully to
the second version which they regarded as a “backlash” and concession
to men’s rules.)
All in all, the Zapatistas’ contribution to the termination of the offi-
cial party’s hegemony, to the activation of civil society and to the democ-
ratization of Mexico was fundamental. In :oo¡, hundreds of civic orga-
nizations and xoos gathered under a non-partisan umbrella coalition, the
‘Civic Alliance’, with the purpose of carrying out independent observa-
tions of the elections, through comprehensive monitoring of the entire
electoral process (Alianza Civica/Observación o¡). The organizations
that made up the Civic Alliance came from a wide range of fields in-
cluding human rights, labor, education, health, development and
women’s issues.
The leftist victory in the federal and municipal elections of :oo; pro-
vided new opportunities for women to participate, since the new Mexico
City government invited several women organizations to take part in gov-
ernment policies by working with government agencies, thus establishing
a bridge between the “institutionalized” and “autonomous” women’s
movements. However, not all organizations approved of this type of par-
ticipation and this created new conflicts in the movements.
On March 8, :oo8. :¸oo women from all states of the country came
to the Chamber of Deputies and opened the Women’s Parliament of Mex-
ico.
7
This event was the result of negotiations between a broad political
spectrum of female deputies, politicians, academics, xoos activists and
representatives of several social movements. The mission of this Parlia-
ment was to discuss and promote a national legislative agenda and pub-
lic policies to fight gender discrimination. In June the same year a national
political and feminist association, Diversa, was created with more than
6.ooo activists from different social sectors, e.g. trade unions, university
women (teachers and students), feminists, representatives of xoos and ho-
mosexual movements from all over the country. By the beginning of :ooo,
Diversa had already managed to gather the ¡o.ooo members required to
obtain its registration as a political association. Diversa’s goals were to try
to open new spaces for women and other minorities in public policies, to
achieve equality between men and women at both private and public lev-
els, to pursue politics in a different way, such as to increase the participa-
tion of citizens, to help local leaders, and to build a new political culture
that respects diversity. In a certain way, Diversa represented the turning
CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ 94
;. The Women’s National Assembly for transition to democracy took the initiative to call for a
Women’s Parliament where the National Chamber of Deputies was symbolically occupied by
women representatives from all sectors.
point for that part of the feminist movement that decided to pursue an ac-
tive political role, to build political alliances and to become an active po-
litical force in order to achieve its goals.
8
Moreover, the different parties generally accepted a quota system that
required that at least ¸o% of the candidates in public elections should be
women. However, not many parties respected this quota. Another im-
portant event was the selection of Rosario Robles to govern Mexico City,
replacing Cuauhtemoc Cardenas who left this position to become the
presidential candidate of ‘Alianza por Mexico’, the leftist coalition head-
ed by ‘Partido de la Revolución Democrática’, rnr (the Democratic Rev-
olution Party). The importance of this selection was not only symbolical
– the first woman to become the mayor of Mexico City – but also politi-
cal. Her performance during the last year of the rnr government was so
positive that rnr retained control of the city government during the elec-
tions in the year .ooo.
However, where the political presence of women during the July .ooo
elections was concerned, not everything was positive. These were the first
elections in which Diversa took part and they were a disappointment for
this organization. The small leftist party to which Diversa offered its sup-
port was not able to win any representatives. Diversa did not appear dur-
ing the political campaigns and women’s issues lost ground both during
and after the elections as a result of the rightist r\x’s (‘Partido de Acción
Nacional’) victory.
9
Summarizing, and recalling the earlier political experiences back to
the :o¸os and :o¡os, it can be noted, that even though the women’s strug-
gle to have their political rights recognized did gather a broad spectrum
of social sectors, this alliance disappeared once these rights had been for-
mally attained, i.e. when Mexican women got the right to vote in feder-
al elections in :o·¸. Afterwards, as described above, women activists lost
a common platform and there was a fragmentation of the groups that re-
flected their different social origins, interests, identities, goals and tactics.
While middle class women gave priority to demands for political partici-
pation and sexual rights, peasant women, working women, indigenous
women and urban-popular women struggled for the satisfaction of their
practical and socio-economic demands. These two groups had hardly any
DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 95
8. See: La Jornada: :¡ June :oo8. Also: interview with Patricia Mercado, Diversa’s vice-president,
December :oo8.
o. r\x, ‘Partido de Acción Nacional’ is Mexico’s Catholic and traditional right. Even though the
declarations of the elected president (Fox) favored women’s issues, one of the first consequences
of these elections was the reaction of the most conservative groups of the Catholic Church
against all kinds of abortion, even in cases of rape, of malformation or of diverse health risks for
the mother.
point of contact. In addition, there was the context of a hegemonic party-
system, authoritarian and repressive, where autonomous organizations
had little margin for action. The economic crises of the :o8os and :oo¡,
the rebirth of the citizen movement in :o88, the Zapatista uprising in :oo¡
together with the Zapatista women’s rebellion against their life situation,
their Revolutionary laws against poverty and the oppression of tradition,
transformed this context. Women’s organizations and other social move-
ments became active and, as a result of these new conditions, diversity and
heterogeneity was overcome in the form of new alliances, new ‘nodal
points’. Even the contradiction institutionalization – autonomy seemed to
be temporarily overcome through the Parliament of Women (where all
kinds of women’s groups tried to press for changes to discriminatory
laws).
10
Finally, Diversa tried to take the political initiative to attain cer-
tain goals of the feminist movements and to change the old political cul-
ture into something more democratic and respectful of diversity.
The new situation made many of the women’s groups and women ac-
tivists in all kind of groups aim to transform the Mexican political culture
through participation – defined as a social practice that wants to exert an
influence over the distribution and control of resources, mediated by the
state. This participation is part of the reactivation of an active democra-
cy in which individual citizens or groups claim their rights and express
their responsibilities vis-à-vis the institutions represented by the nation
state. However, even non-participants are aware of many of the problems
the participants want to solve. Although sometimes lacking the same kind
of experience and information possessed by the participants, non-partic-
ipants reflect on these problems and even see participation as part of the
solution, as we shall see through the empirical material.
If we define political culture as a set of beliefs, values and attitudes,
norms and practices through which the citizens relate to the state, to po-
litical institutions and to government authorities (Massolo :oo¡:¸:), we see
that women in Mexico are fighting against an authoritarian political cul-
ture born from the legitimacy of the Mexican revolution, based on the be-
CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ 96
:o. This is not the case of Chiapas, where the political conflicts have polarized positions even
among women groups. Those who collaborate with the government in any way, the so called
‘’institutionalists’, are totally rejected by those of the ’autonomous’ movements, who oppose any
collaboration with official institutions. This contradiction arose since the opportunities to partic-
ipate in government policies opened in the oos. This has created serious divisions concerning
goals, risks and strategies. For the ‘institutionalists’ (those willing to work with official-state
agencies, the goal is the feminization of the state, while the autonomous (those reluctant to
cooperate with such official agencies) regard this option as unrealistic. They point out the risk
of co-optation and mediatization of the movement and argue that can lose its long term goals
of changing not only the policies, but also the rules and the style of making politics. This con-
flict can be reflected in the ‘xooization’ of the movement, that is to say, as more xoos are creat-
ed from previous social movements. (Alvarez :oo8)
lief in the omnipotence of a presidential system that concentrated power
and provided goods and privileges. This system encouraged ‘clientelist’ re-
lations and passivity as well as a lack of information on citizens’ rights, and
punished or neutralized critical attitudes or the search of alternatives. Fur-
thermore, it inspired a general lack of credibility in its functionaries and
authorities. This political culture, apart from being nationalistic and au-
thoritarian, was also extremely paternalistic and masculine-oriented.
Moreover, its influence has permeated even the opposition parties and
several old and new social movements.
Many of the women participating in organizations aiming at the so-
lution of various social problems, including those dealing mainly with
women’s demands, have tried to find new ways of transforming the sys-
tem, of creating a new political culture that rejects most of the character-
istics mentioned above. Whether the new rightist government elected year
.ooo will change this political culture is difficult to say but most of the
women we are to present are conscious that the whole system, including
the opposition, share these authoritarian, masculine characteristics and
that it needs to be changed if any real democratization is to take place in
Mexico.
Women and Citizenship at the Urban Level:
Some Views of Both Participants and Non-Participants
Methodology
During the period between November :oo8 and the end of January :ooo,
I carried out about ¸o interviews in three cities in Mexico: Mexico City,
Puebla and Guadalajara.
11
Several organizations were identified and se-
lected. These were both women’s organizations (such as Women Citizens
in the Movement for Democracy and Diversa) and mixed organizations
(such as the Zapatista support groups and the Civic Alliance). The women
subjects of the interviews were selected with the help of the contact per-
sons in the various organizations, although I tried to choose women from
the grassroots level and not from the leadership level. Some interviews
were also conducted with leaders but mostly for the sake of obtaining in-
formation about the organization. It is also necessary to make clear that
several of the interviewees participated in several organizations at the
DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 97
::. At first my plans were to limit my interviews to two organizations only: Women in the Struggle
for Democracy, ‘Mujeres en Lucha por la Democracia’, vrr) and Women Citizens in the
Movement for Democracy, ‘Ciudadanas en Movimiento por la Democracia’, cvr). However,
this proved difficult, as contacts with these organizations were temporarily broken.
(Ciudadanas… :oo6)
same time. Their ages varied between .¸ and 6o years. Their levels of
education and social origins are also diverse, although many of them be-
long to the lower urban middle class.
In the summer of the year .ooo, I carried out a second round of in-
terviews, this time mostly with non-participants (twelve in number). The
criterion for the selection of interviewees was that their profiles should co-
incide with some of the profiles of the participants interviewed in the first
round of fieldwork – in respect of age, social class, education levels etc.
These interviews were not as extensive as those carried out during the first
round, but they were also performed in three different cities.
All the interviews carried out in both rounds of the fieldwork were
semi-structured, i.e. open with certain key themes. Starting with the in-
terviewee’s profile (age, educational level, etc.), three major themes were
covered:
– Participation by Citizens in Politics. The history of their
participation, goals of their organizations, experience of
this participation and their vision of citizenship: rights,
duties, possibilities, views on the Mexican political situa-
tion and the perspectives of change.
– Gender and Citizenship. Views on gender differences re-
garding participation, consequences for their private lives
and families of this participation, views on the relationship
between women and political power and of the Mexican
political culture in a gender perspective, and their views
on certain events such as the Zapatista Women’s Revolu-
tionary Law, the Women’s Parliament and the creation of
Diversa.
– The External Context. Points of view on Mexico’s situa-
tion in the global context, on the relations of their organi-
zations with other international organizations or women’s
movements, on regional economic integration and the
effects of this integration in their daily lives, etc.
As in other types of qualitative studies, it is necessary to bear in mind
that the aim is not to present a representative study of the views or situa-
tion of women. I do not pretend to generalize but to offer a glimpse, a
sample of perceptions, views, and experiences from a diverse group of
women whose only common denominator is their participatory activities
or non-participatory activities. And I try to interpret these views, percep-
tions and experiences in relation to the concept of citizenship as these
women understand it in Mexico at the end of the century.
CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ 98
In this article I present just a sample of this material in the form of four
interviews with participant women and five with non-participants. I focus
on the aspects of citizenship, participation, the specificity of women’s con-
tributions to the changes needed in the Mexican political system, and
their views on the Zapatista women’s movement.
The Interviewees
The profiles of the persons interviewed are as follows: two of the partici-
pants are young women, .¸-.6 years old, both with a university education
although their social origins are different. Neither of them is married or
has children. Both of them participate in young women’s organizations:
one in a group called ‘Las Brujas’ (The Witches), a cultural group of
young women critical of the established culture as well as many feminist
currents, and the other in the ‘Red de Jovenes por los Derechos Sexuales
y Reproductivos’ (Young people’s network for sexual and reproductive
rights). They also belong to other organizations: one is a member of a
mixed (men and women) organization, ‘La Guillotina’ (the Guillotine), a
cultural group based on a journal of the same name, and the other is a
member of one of the women’s citizen organizations we have already de-
scribed: Women Citizens in the Movement for Democracy.
The other two participant women presented here come from the
urban popular movement, ‘Asamblea de Barrios’ (Slumquarters Assem-
bly) and from ‘Alianza Civica’ (Civic Alliance). One of them also belongs
to ‘Caravana todo para todos’ (the Chiapas support movement). Neither
of these interviewees has a higher education, one is ¸8 years old and the
other is ·8. One of them has school-age children and the other adult chil-
dren.
From the group of non-participants, two are middle-class, middle-aged
housewives (¡¸ and ¸8 years old) with university studies and secondary
studies respectively. Only one of them has children (of school age). Both
live in Colima, an industrial and university city with about ;oo.ooo in-
habitants. The other three are young women (.o. .: and .8 years old),
two are students and one a working woman with secondary education.
None of these young women is married or has children and they all live
in Mexico City.
Regarding the group of participants we will start with their history of
participation. Even though this varies from one to another, it can be seen
that the young ones were influenced by their university environment. One
of them also had a special family background. Her parents have partici-
pated in one way or another in popular movements since the :o68 stu-
dent movement in Mexico. The ·8 year-old woman started to participate
DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 99
at a fairly young age as a result of her interest in social issues. Where the
¸8 year-old woman is concerned, her reason for participation had to do
with concrete needs: the lack of a house. However, her parents also ex-
erted an influence on her. They started to participate in the urban-pop-
ular housing movement long before her.
All these women give very positive accounts of their participation ex-
periences, of an increase in their self-confidence, of personal development,
of the establishment of friendship and solidarity links, of increasing en-
gagement in a social project that tries to open “new spaces”. However,
they also describe several obstacles to this participation in the form of fam-
ily conflicts (one of the women is in the process of obtaining a divorce) or
even conflicts in their organizations. Some of these conflicts had to do
with ‘gendered reactions’, ‘paternalistic attitudes’ or ‘masculine protago-
nism’.
The non-participants agree that participation is a very important as-
pect and instrument for exercising citizenship. Their reasons for their
non-participation vary. According to one of them, the ¡¸ year-old house-
wife, she never found an organization that “convinced her”, one in which
people “were decent, not selfish or just wanted to be protagonists”. Ac-
cording to another, also middle-aged, “people who become engaged grow
tired”; it is difficult to get organized “without any support”. Time is also
mentioned as an obstacle to participation. The students do not speak of
their own lack of engagement, but see in the lack of participation “a great
deal of apathy and lack of interest” perhaps, in their opinion, because the
state has not promoted it. The other young woman says that people are
not used to participating, they are apathetic and even hostile because of
their lack of understanding of what participation is. Mass media also bear
a great deal of responsibility for this lack of participation: they lie and they
identify politics with corruption and everything that is rotten in the coun-
try. And the people buy this kind of information; they do not care to make
comparisons between different sources.
Views on Citizenship
Regarding citizenship, the four participant women seem to agree that the
notion implies a number of rights and duties but they all refer to the im-
portance of participation in the exercise of citizenship. For them partici-
pation is the only way to fulfil their rights as citizens. Another common
view is the need to respect diversities and to incorporate plurality and tol-
erance.
CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ 100
For one of the young interviewees the notion of citizenship is linked
to that of a nation and community project:
“Citizenship (as a concept) implies the project one has for one’s own com-
munity, for one’s own neighborhood and in general for the nation, for ex-
ample the duty to participate, the compromise one must make to partici-
pate. For example in your neighborhood there are several needs that have
to be satisfied and the citizen has to help to solve these needs. I think that
if constant citizen participation is attained, important changes can take
place both at the level of the political structures and at that of the social
structures.” (Cid8-.¸a)
12
For non-participants citizenship is naturally associated with rights and
duties, mostly social, where the community is concerned. These rights
take into consideration the family, the working place, and the local and
national community. However, for one of the middle-aged women, these
rights should not encompass all: criminals and in particular rapists should
not benefit from “human rights”. For both students citizenship has to do
with cooperation in the community, rights and obligations, and mutual
understanding. For the .8 year-old woman, citizens formally have the
right to modify their environment but people are not aware of these rights
and the notion of citizenship is thus a myth.
“The notion of community is itself in the process of dissolution as well as
the family. The notion of citizenship should encompass social and basic
rights such as the right to food and to justice. Participation should also be
a right but in Mexico it is a duty because it is the only way to make things
change. In Mexico even the concept of fatherland has become devalued.
The notions of country, nation, region and community have lost their real
sense, everything centers round the individual.” (x.r.:o-.8a)
All non-participants in this group stress the importance of informa-
tion and awareness of the notions of political culture and citizenship. Par-
ticipation is seen as part of this political culture but, they say, it is lacking
in the Mexican political system; people are not informed, there is a lack
of awareness and of engagement, even though, as some admit, more
spaces for participation have opened up in the last few years.
Is being a woman of any significance for participation? For the young
DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 101
:.. All quotations have a code: ‘Cid’ is the name code of the project for participants and ‘x.r.’ is
the code for non-participants; the first number is the interview number and the second the age
of the person interviewed.
participants, the exercise of citizenship by women is totally linked to the
private context. They have to confront the private context before being
able to participate. For men the private-public relationship is less evident.
“…yes, I think that we girls, we try to relate our political participation
with personal processes, in contrast to the boys for whom the personal
process is completely disassociated from their political participation, for us
it is very close and I think that the experience of many girls that have
worked in The Witches project is that the personal process is always there,
you have to confront the family because, in order to participate and to be
at the meetings, you have to confront your father and mother. Moreover,
when you grow up and you have other kinds of experiences, love experi-
ences, you continue to confront the political and the personal, you want to
maintain consistency between them. This happens in all social classes and
organizations. There is a moment when we women, we question our par-
ticipation in relation to our personal life.” (Cid8-.¸a)
“In a woman… this implies a much longer process to modify all internal
things. It is not only to feel comfortable when you speak in public, it is
something else and… I don’t know, from those things that are very deep
to basic things.” (Cid6-.6a)
Besides this confrontation, participation also demands time and ener-
gy that have to be taken from family tasks, especially when nobody else
cares or wants to do them:
“Yes, it is different, the participation of women from that of men, yes
I think so because, as I was telling you before, the double day’s work,
at home and outside, implies a lot of responsibilities for women, it’s more
difficult for them to say: “I’ll soon come back”, because they have to
clean, wash dishes, make the beds etc. Even when men try to help, their
help is mostly symbolic…” (Cid;-·8a)
Thus participation finally questions the gender roles within the fami-
ly and creates conflict situations when the men see their authority at risk:
“Our husbands see that we participate that we are pressed…they feel
somehow mistreated… (for example) we have coordinating meetings on
Thursdays and we finish at about ten, eleven o’clock, at night, our hus-
bands are already at home and we arrive after them and that makes them
CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ 102
feel mistreated.”. “I’m the one who has the right to come home late, not
you, why do you do it”? (Cid¸6-¸8a)
The difficulties faced by women where participation is concerned are
not discussed by non-participant women to the same extent as they are by
the participants. This is somehow natural given the fact that these women
lack actual experience of participation. The young ones point neverthe-
less to the fact that women participate in a different way to men, that
women become engaged and involved in a much deeper way than men,
they are also more steadfast, they work more. One of the middle-aged
women also confirms that most women have not been given the oppor-
tunity to participate politically because they have been told they are infe-
rior, their self-confidence has been mutilated. But, she adds, this is most-
ly their own responsibility since they are the ones who educate the chil-
dren and who perpetuate the gendered patterns of behavior.
All the confrontations and conflicts referred to by participant women
relate to a form of participation not formally considered to be political,
but if politics includes all the areas and issues that affect citizens’ autono-
my and rights, participation becomes political and necessary for the ex-
ercise by citizens of their rights. Participation in all areas becomes politi-
cal, since it is the expression of demands; it also represents the need to
assume public responsibility.
“…For example when we, in the young people’s network for sexual and
reproductive rights, understood these rights as part of the family… as part
of our citizens’ rights, it was very nice, very important because it helped us
to integrate this issue in several places where it was previously very diffi-
cult to speak of sexual and reproductive rights..” (Cid6-.6a)
When asked to specify which rights and duties they associate with cit-
izenship, the interviewees try to refer to their own experiences in their or-
ganizations. The woman working in Asamblea de Barrios (the neighbor-
hood assemblies) associates these duties with solidarity:
“…Citizenship participation, what can I tell you, it takes many forms,
many approaches, for example, when they are on the verge of dislodging
people from their houses, let’s say in a neighboring district, we come to
give them support, we try to help them, to advise them on the alternatives
they have…” (Cid¸6-¸8a)
DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 103
Another aspect related to citizenship, that arises in all these interviews,
is the need – the duty – to be tolerant when confronting diversity, espe-
cially if participation goes from the local to the national level:
“We have responsibilities in the sense that the rights of others should be
sacred for us, we should not try to impose our points of view but try to
respect the diversity of opinions, actions and lifestyles. Our constitution
should reflect this diversity of Mexican men and women if the Indians
have a particular way of being, the Mestizos have another, and all of them
should be recognized as citizens, as people who have the same rights in
spite of the color of their skin or their social origin…” (Cid;-·8a)
“I think that when we think of participating at the local level we also have
to think of participating at the national level. Linking this to the idea of
diversity, you cannot think of local or national participation if you don’t
think about diversity, that we are different, have diverse points of view and
different forms of participation and different ways of solving problems. I
think that the issue of recognizing diversity and differences is a key point that
could make it possible to transform this authoritarian culture.” (Cid8-.¸a)
For non-participants citizenship is also associated with mutual help,
with solidarity, with giving something to the community. But where tol-
erance is concerned, one of the middle-aged women in this group is, as
we have already seen, very emphatic on the limitation of rights for rapists
and other kinds of criminals. This can be explained as being a result of
the authoritarian political environment Mexico has lived under for cen-
turies, but it may also be related to a climate of sexual violence against
which women are now reacting forcefully.
Summing up, we see that for these women (participants and non-par-
ticipants), whatever their social origin, age or educational level, political
participation is fundamental in order to exercise a form of citizenship that
aims to solve the existing social problems and even to create a new polit-
ical culture. The problems they relate to are not automatically linked to
women’s issues, they are sometimes local, sometimes of a national char-
acter and they have to do with their different identities. However, all in-
terviewees agree that participation has different implications for men and
women (they thus assume their common identity as women, although not
as feminists). Participation for women is always connected to the private
sphere as an encouragement, an obstacle or a limitation. Women, ac-
cording to participant women, always search for coherence, linking per-
sonal and public processes – something that quite often results in conflicts
CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ 104
at the level of family relations. There is also an agreement to link rights
and duties to solidarity as well as to respect for plurality and diversity.
Among non-participant women, such tolerance is not so clear where
criminals are concerned. On the whole, non-participants are very critical
of the Mexican population in general due to its lack of awareness, infor-
mation and engagement. They give participation the same importance
that the participants do and somehow justify their own lack of engage-
ment by pointing to obstacles that even the participants admit to – name-
ly lack of time, lack of good “decent” organizations, disappointment with
past experiences and even a certain lack of self-esteem.
But if more women participated, if they all became interested in the
public domain, could this change the existing power structures? What is
the image these women have of women as politicians?
Would the Political System Change if There Were More Women?
Both participants and non-participants agree that women in Mexico are
mostly tied up with the practical tasks of daily life, i.e. that they are the
ones who take care of families’ practical needs, that they are nearer to
local life realities, and that their skills and experiences would make a pos-
itive contribution to political participation that aims at solving social
needs.
“I think that (the system) would change (if there were more women) in
the sense that women are very much linked to the needs of daily life, not
to the politics of pamphlets or to that of structures and institutions. We
women, we don’t normally lose our link with daily realities.” (Cid8-.¸a)
However, only the older women among the participants seem to ide-
alize women’s virtues as superior to those of men, for example honesty,
sense of justice and sensibility. The younger women are somehow more
sceptical of this image. Nevertheless, when they speak of women’s atti-
tudes to power, all the four participants agree that being a woman is no
guarantee of totally different behavior to that of men. Moreover, some of
these women who reach power have to imitate a masculine model in
order to succeed.
“…the problem is that when I see the news or TV and I see a woman like
Maria de los Angeles Moreno and many other Congresswomen that were
in the feminist movement for some period, it would seem there is no dif-
ference (to men). Then I’m somehow confused because I’m convinced that
women relate in a different way to power, but I’m also convinced that
DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 105
women in power positions can also react like men, …it’s very difficult to
go alone against the world,…there is a whole structure and even if you
can change it in a certain moment you must be able to function in those
structures…” (Cid8-23a)
“I think it depends on which women you speak of, there are all kinds..
those that act in a “machista” way when they have power, they have all
the macho attributes, they give orders, and take decisions as such. There
are others that try not to fall into such a pattern, they try to find a bal-
ance, but it is very complicated for these women, they risk being eliminat-
ed by the men” (Cid6-.6a)
For the older participants, women who make a political career are ex-
pected to have more qualities than men, “they have to be more intelligent,
more competent” in order to succeed.
“Look, I think that when a woman comes to power, more attention is paid
to what she does, she is expected to do more, to be more honest, to be more
intelligent and to have more visions and I think that women in general, with
certain horrible exceptions, have played a very positive role, trying to have
a better government. It is true that there are few who have succeeded in
attaining important positions but they have done a good job.” (Cid;-·8a)
But, according to some of these women, in order for the massive par-
ticipation of women to have any effect in terms of changes in the politi-
cal system, one has to define what changes one is speaking about, at what
level. In brief there is a need of a new political style As some interviewees
argue, this is what many women, both in the Zapatista movement and in
different feminist groups, have been looking for:
“I think that more is required than an increase in women’s political partic-
ipation. What most women have proposed is a new form for politics…
the Zapatistas have been very clear in this matter when they ask for new
forms for politics and from my viewpoint these new forms are somehow
linked to feminist movements since one of the first movements to refer to
this was the feminist movement…” (Cid8-.¸a)
Nevertheless, participation by more women is also relevant, according
to the participants. And an increase in women’s participation will, of ne-
cessity, result in new styles of politics and other major changes, since
women have something to contribute:
CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ 106
“But anyhow it is relevant that women participate in increasing numbers
because of the experience we have and even the Zapatista experience has
been a key factor. In the transformation of community life in Chiapas, not
only have women occupied important positions in the leadership of the
Zapatista movement, in the community assemblies, but they have also
achieved important cultural transformations in the communities. I don’t
know if one can do the same at the city level but I think that women have
an advantage – our link with daily life allows us to go from our daily tasks
to formal politics. This guarantees that we can transform our local reality,
the one in which we live.” (Cid8-.¸a)
Many of the above-mentioned viewpoints are shared by non-partici-
pant women.
However, there is more idealization of women’s qualities in this group.
Both young and middle-aged interviewees agree that women do have spe-
cial qualities that could improve politics. Women, according to these
views, are more sensitive to social issues, more honest, responsible, en-
gaged and efficient – they are not looking for protagonism and leadership.
The example of the new mayor in Mexico City, Rosario Robles, is men-
tioned in a very positive way. On the other hand, women are also more
sentimental and conflictive.
“The massive participation of women would really make a difference.
Even those women who don’t participate, who are housewives, we also
think and have dreams, all women think, we are all human beings.
Women are subordinated but they have potentialities, sensibility, they are
more realistic, and more revengeful”. (x.r.:-¡¸a)
The non-participants agree that the phenomenon of ‘machismo’ is still
a major obstacle to the career of women politicians. Nevertheless, women
have become more aware and active in the last few years, women politi-
cians are more plentiful, and a massive participation of women as a group
would be very positive for the system, it could become more democratic
and human.
As we have seen both participants and non-participants stress the im-
portance of participation and even agree that a massive participation
would start changing things. Some of the women of both groups idealize
women qualities in politics – sensitivity, responsibility – realism, near to
local realities, pragmatism etc. Some of them also point to the prize
women must pay when they become politicians within the framework of
masculine rules, they become as authoritarian and sometimes as corrupt
DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 107
as men. Therefore, something else – apart from participation – is need-
ed. A new political style, a new way of doing politics, the way the Zap-
atistas have introduced. Consequently, it is necessary to see how do these
women appreciate and perceive the Zapatista movement.
Are the Zapatista Women Showing a New Way?
What do these women think of the Zapatista experience in Chiapas? It is
important to look at these views to get a glimpse of how and if this move-
ment has changed Mexican political parameters. In the first place, all of
the participant women support the Zapatista movement; they look at it
as a symbol of the new style mentioned above.
“I think that the Zapatista movement has a value, more as a form of giv-
ing expression to the people and organizations that try to build alternative
projects, than in their concrete political proposals. The Zapatista move-
ment created renewal, not only of the women’s movement, but also of
many other movements. Before :oo¡ most leftist organizations found
themselves in a kind of lethargy as a result of the blows they received from
the government. The Zapatista movement came to remind us that it was
not true that we were becoming part of the First World and that the only
alternative was wild capitalism, that there were several other alternatives
apart from capitalism -socialism, that there were possibilities for a struggle
as well as for democratic transformation.” (Cid8-.¸a)
The Zapatista women’s demands are also supported in principle by
all the participant women. The older women are the most positive to these
demands but they are also the least informed of their content. The
younger women’s support is somewhat conditional.
“The Revolutionary Law (of Women) is rather loose because women’s
participation in the communities is complicated even if they are very
strong and resolute, even if their demands are included. The ones that
participate are few, they are like an elite, they speak Spanish, they are the
ones that have already broken the household barriers, the ones that are no
longer locked in their houses”. (Cid6-.6a)
“The first version (of the Revolutionary Law of Women) provided good
encouragement for all women that have been participating in youth orga-
nizations or women’s organizations because it spoke of the need to make
women juridical subjects in the case of Indian communities and of the
need to establish equality in rights and duties. The second version was a
CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ 108
shock to us because if we imagine that movements tend to evolve, to
advance, the second version was a reverse. I have not seen it myself but
I have heard several comments of people who have seen it and made a
comparison from our viewpoint as women.” (Cid8-.¸a)
We return to the issue of heterogeneity and tolerance. What we see in
the opinions is that while the older women participants are very enthusi-
astic about the Zapatista women’s movement; they are the ones that have
less concrete information about the movement. They are aware of the
problems faced by Indian women, of the discrimination they have always
suffered, of their weaknesses, and they express an eager wish to help. The
younger participant interviewees seem to know more about the Zapatista
women’s demands, they are also supportive in principle but at the same
time they are highly critical. For them, the changes are slow or “loose”
or even reactionary – such as the second version of the Revolutionary
Law for Women was perceived to be. These views can be regarded as
urban feminist positions and they could be interpreted as a lack of toler-
ance, at least regarding ‘methods’. This would lead us to the problem of
unity and the discussion of common strategies, to the problem of the rift
between the institutionalists – those who accept to cooperate with the gov-
ernment and the autonomous – those who reject such a cooperation (see
footnote :o).
Among non-participant women there is no general support for the Za-
patistas. But it is not disapproval; it is a lack of information, of clarity
about the Zapatista demands. One of the middle-aged women says she
thought everything would change when the uprising started but then
nothing happened. The other middle-aged woman even says that the Za-
patistas do not know what they want, but she also admits she lacks infor-
mation and that most mass media channels have distorted their news on
this issue. As to the Zapatista women’s demands, none of the interviewees
has any knowledge of them and thus they have no opinion on the issue.
However, the .8 year-old interviewee makes a reflection on the enormous
differences of realities and rights between urban-mestizo and Indian
women. Her information comes from her mother who is active in an or-
ganization supporting the Zapatista struggle, and she says that when she
travelled with her mother to Chiapas she was deeply affected by the re-
ality of poverty she saw.
“I don’t know so much about the revolutionary law of the Zapatista
women but I know something about Chiapas because of my mother.
As a woman in Mexico I take some rights for granted, that is why I was
DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 109
surprised to hear their demands (the Zapatista women’s demands). When
I went to Chiapas I discovered a world totally different to mine, people
are very simple but they are good people, with their traditions, their
poverty, living in conditions that should not exist.” (x.r.:o-.8a)
As we can see, non-participant women, even more than participant
women, are affected by a lack of information that, in their case, is made
more serious by a lack of interest and engagement. However, they them-
selves seem to be aware of this lack of information, they admit that they
rarely read any newspapers, and most of the information they get is
through TV and radio, which they also admit, provide a highly distorted
picture of events. This could be an example of what they themselves call
lack of political culture, of social awareness.
On the other hand something else can be seen in these interviews. Both
the young participants and the .8 year-old non-participant underline the
difference between their perspective and the Indian women’s perspective.
For the young participant women the revolutionary laws are not what they
expected, they express a certain disappointment about the Zapatista
women’s radicalism. For the young non-participant, it was a shock to see
the difference between her world as a young urban woman and the reali-
ties of Indian women, it was a surprise to hear demands for things she takes
for granted in her urban middle class life. This would take us to the ques-
tion of whether one can speak of the same sort of citizenship for women
from such different worlds – who nevertheless share the same country.
Final Reflections
As we have seen, in Mexico as well as in many other countries, the citi-
zen struggle of women is not only about their right to vote and to be elect-
ed, or their right to be able to exercise their rights within their commu-
nity, families and the state – but also about transforming an authoritari-
an and ‘masculinist’ political culture.
Women – whether they participate or not – are aware of the existence
of this culture. And both groups agree that participation, engagement, in-
volvement, and public responsibility are essential for the exercise of citi-
zenship, for change in a system that is highly undemocratic. Participant
women – whether in their feminist movements or in popular organiza-
tions – have learned that it is only through participation, understood as a
social practice that wants to exercise an influence on the distribution and
control of resources, that they can have an impact on the system against
CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ 110
which they are struggling. This participation can be also regarded as part
of the reactivation of an active democracy where individual citizens or
groups claim their rights and express their responsibilities vis-à-vis the in-
stitutions represented by the nation state. These groups see active partic-
ipation as the only way to end their marginalization, their subordination,
and to fulfil their citizenship.
The experiences of participation of the women we have presented
here suggest that both personal development processes and family back-
ground are important in the development of this type of participation.
Their experiences of participation are also diverse although most experi-
ences are very positive. However, these experiences have implied a cost in
terms of time, energy taken away from family tasks and life, and even fam-
ily conflicts. According to their own views, participation demands much
more of women. Their private life is intimately linked to any public ac-
tions and if they start asking for equality as citizens, their search for co-
herence will soon bring them to ask for equality at home.
Both participant and non-participant women in this sample agree that,
apart from increasing women’s participation it is necessary to impact the
system by changing the political style. There should be a search for alter-
native political methods, for an alternative political culture. This alternative
style for politics is not necessarily feminist – although feminists have
claimed such a renewal as a need – but can also come from such a move-
ment as the Zapatista movement. In any case, it has to break with the au-
thoritarian ‘masculist’, ‘machista’ model that exists today. And according
to the interviewees, women have special skills to contribute: they are more
in contact with daily realities, they have more sensibility, they are more
honest, they work more and carry out what they undertake to do, al-
though they can be more conflictive and revengeful. If the political style
and the political culture changed, women who became politicians would
not have to pay the price of having to become like men in order to suc-
ceed. This would also result in a real tolerance of diversity.
This is a somewhat idealized picture of women’s contribution to pol-
itics that not many feminists in the Western world would agree with if we
look at the criticism leveled at the maternalist models. Women’s special
experiences, caring skills, contact with local realities and needs, are these
qualities associated with traditional societies such as that in Mexico? Is the
identity of women as traditional caring beings in Mexico so strong as to
claim a generalization of such qualities beyond class, age and education-
al level? I don’t think this is the case but the private situation of each of
them (the famous private-public dichotomy) is certainly relevant to ex-
plain these women’s views and possibilities of participation.
DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 111
Participation is certainly linked to citizenship – participation in gen-
eral, not only that traditionally linked to public affairs, to politics. Public
responsibility and political participation are both needed to change a political
culture considered highly undemocratic (even after the recent election re-
sults). Public responsibility is linked to the idea of a community project at
both the local and national level. Citizenship is engagement and engage-
ment is participation. But – as the non-participant group shows – it also
requires information, interest, awareness, personal development and
strong self-confidence. Is this a challenge these women are prepared to
meet? As I noted in the beginning, this work should be regarded as one
of the partial results of a research project that hopes to explore empiri-
cally, in two diverse contexts, a much debated notion that has lost its con-
crete meaning for many people, but which is the basic element for the
construction of any real democracy, namely citizenship.
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Debate. Paper presented at the seminary “Mujeres, Cultura Civica y Democracia”, organized by
the Programa Universitario de Estudios de Género, rtro, México, July.
Pateman, Carole (:o88) The Sexual Contract. Stanford: University Press.
Phillips, Anne (:o8;) Divided Loyalties, Dilemmas of Sex and Class. Virago Press.
– (:oo:) Engendering Democracy. The Pennsylvania State University Press.
Rojas Rosa, comp. (:oo¡) and (:oo6) Chiapas y las mujeres que?, Centro de Investigación y
Capacitación de la Mujer, (vol.:-.) \.c. México.
DOMÍNGUEZ • REFERENCES 113
Introduction
This paper is mainly dedicated to offering a descriptive and analytical in-
troduction to mechanisms of gender and power in Muslim Societies,
whilst also discussing the problematic framework for development prac-
titioners. Thus the first section of the paper mainly deals with the most
important elements affecting and shaping the status of women in Muslim
societies. These include the role of factors such as Islam as a religion and
faith, Islamic and historical memory, the development of Islamic resur-
gence and emergence of political Islam-Fundamentalism, the process of
Islamization at the societal level, and also the pertinent, intrinsic com-
pounds and dynamics of patriarchy. The second section of the paper is
dedicated to policy level recommendations that may assist development
practitioners in undertaking gender-targeted development projects as part
of overall social development in such societies.
The uneven status of men and women in Muslim societies has at-
tracted considerable attention. It has been suggested both at academic,
developmental and layman levels that the unequal relationship between
the sexes and the non-amelioration of gender inequality are products of
Islam as a religion. This hypothesis is questioned within the thematic evo-
lution of this work, which emphasizes that it may be a culmination of fac-
tors which exert an effect on the stratagems of society and its workings in
a Muslim societal organization. The restriction or use of Islam as a scape-
goat to blame or legitimize injustices against women is a shortsighted ap-
proach, that consolidates these injustices rather than contributes to alle-
viating them. Hence, it is important to address the situation from a mul-
tifaceted, multidisciplinary level of inquiry to try to reach optimum un-
derstanding, albeit at a minimal level, as a prerequisite to reach a struc-
Gender and Power in Muslim Societies:
Issues for Development Practice
SHERIN SAADALLAH
tured, efficient developmental policy.
Some of the most basic questions that we may raise at this point are:
What role does Islam actually play in defining the role and status of
women in Muslim societies? Is it the religion, or a variant of male, patri-
archal-based interpretations that affects women’s place in society? What
other related factors affect and reinforce this status? How do we deal with
the prerogatives for change and social development aiming at a gender-
just society, within the delineated context?
Religion and the Dialectics of Interpretation:
Gender and Power in Islam
Islam as a religion has laid the foundations of the relationship between the
sexes in the Koran, the Sunna
1
, and the body of Islamic Jurisprudence or
Fiqh, built up over the centuries. When we explore the dynamics of gen-
der in Islam as a religion, we have to do it at two levels:
– the level of ‘Text’ comprising the Koran and
the Hadiths
2
.
– the level of interpretation, comprising the influx of histori-
cal/cultural influences that are external to Islam.
Considering the first level, as Bodman (:oo8, p. ·) reiterates “the
Koran makes it unmistakably clear that in the eyes of God women are the
equal of men”. This equality, however, is limited to the relationship of
men and women to God, and the carrying out of religious duties and rit-
uals. There are also certain exceptions in certain circumstantial situations
(ibid., :oo8, p. ·). Stowasser (:o8¡, p. .:) further confirms that “both men
and women have their full humanity and bear the burden of equal moral
responsibility”.
Within human relationships the picture becomes even more complex.
A specification of roles is delineated where women are portrayed as being
under the protection of males, be they husbands or next of kin. The hi-
erarchical role
3
of men is mentioned in Surah ¡ (Women, verse ¸¡): “Men
SAADALLAH • GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES 115
:. Sunna is the traditions and sayings (also known as Hadiths) of the Prophet.
.. The Hadiths were recorded across different epochs of Islamic history. They have numbered in
the thousands. Some have been discovered to be forgeries, whereby they were used as a tool to
legitimize certain matters of issue across Islamic empires, in trying to consolidate the position of
Muslim rulers, and patriarchal tendencies and traits that were assimilated cross culturally from
conquered territories.
¸. Here I stress the use of the subjective ’role’ rather than status in the light of a more liberal inter-
pretation of the verses, where hierarchy stems from the nature of responsibilities accrued upon
men, and hence from a specific form of division of labor and role-assignations.
GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES • SAADALLAH 116
are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made
one of them excel the other, and because they spend (to support their
women) from their means.”
4
(See also Mernissi, :oo6, p. 68).
Different verses proceed to regulate the relations between the sexes in
the area of marriage, divorce and family. The Koran also regulates in-
heritance and testimonial leverage by explicit verses. Our first impression
when analyzing the verses that denote the rights and duties of men unto
women and vice versa in marriage, family and divorce, is that they are
based on a patriarchal reproduction of gender roles. Hence, according to
the text:
– “Marriage is regarded as a sacred institution where men
are economically responsible for the maintenance of
their wives.
– Men are able to take up to four wives.
– Men are the natural initiators of divorce, except under
specific circumstances.
– Men are allowed to marry women of other heavenly
religions, while women are restricted to monogamy and
are only allowed to marry Muslims.
– The testimony of one man is equivalent to the testimony
of two women. While women are entitled to inheritance,
this right is distinctly regulated not to equal men”
(Stowasser, :o8¡, pp.:·-..).
These are only a few examples presented for the benefit of our pre-
sent analysis. However, as Stowasser (:o8¡, p. :¡) confirms, it is important
to study the Koran against the background of pre-Islamic society – i.e.
Jahiliyya
5
society. Hence one may make some further clarifications to the
above-cited regulations:
– The inferior status of women in pre-Islamic society made
the abuse of women an accepted aspect of life, where
women were treated as property, and even inherited
along the male line in the tribe, or clan. The sanctity of
marriage according to the Koran has come to re-instate
the institution of marriage as a “contract between a man
and a woman” (ibid., p. :·).
¡. The Koran is cited from the translation by Dr. Mohammed Taqi-ud-Din Al Hilali and
Dr.Mohammed Muhsen Khan. Medinah:King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy
Qu’ran, p. ::¸.
·. Name denoted to pre-Islamic society, which means ignorance reflecting the state of ignorance
that prevailed before the advent of Islam.
– The ability of men to take up to four wives was checked
by the same verse that allowed it. Thus, “a verse allows (a
man) to have four wives, provided he treats them equally,
but a later passage casts divine doubt: ‘Ye are never able
to be fair and just as between women even if it is your
ardent desire’” (Bodman, :oo8, pp. ·-6).
– Men are the natural initiators of divorce, but women are
allowed to request the right to initiate divorce by stating
in the marriage contract their possession of ‘Isma’a
6
.
Women can further opt for divorce under more general
circumstances if they ransom themselves, by forfeiting all
economic rights they are entitled to after divorce, accord-
ing to the principle of Khul’a
7
.
– The monogamy of women and the restriction to their marry-
ing a Muslim derives from the patrilineal social system where
the children inherit the name and religion of the father.
– The regulation of inheritance on an unequal basis
between men and women derives from the regulation of
roles, whereby men are declared as economically
responsible for providing for the women. This emulates in
essence a patriarchal division of labor, and role definition.
But taken against the background of pre-Islamic society,
where “women were not allowed the holding, or in any
case the uncontrolled disposal, of their possession”
(Stowasser, :o8¡, p. :·; Levy, :o6o, pp. o·-o6), it may be
viewed from a different perspective, if reminiscent in our
analysis of a level of historical determinism.
It is thus evident that when studying the Koran against the back-
ground of pre-Islamic society, both the social status and the legal rights
of Muslim women were improved through Koranic legislation (Stowass-
er, :o8¡, p. :·). Stowasser further argues that in spite of the different vers-
es overseeing a level of difference between men and women in the con-
duct of their relationships within a social unit, “woman’s essential equal-
ity with man is more complete in Islam than it is in Judaism and Chris-
SAADALLAH • GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES 117
6. Right to initiate divorce.
;. Egypt has just passed an amendment to the personal Status Law, which establishes this principle
as a legal ground for women to obtain divorce (Law No. 1 for the year .ooo). This is considered
a breakthrough in legal reform at the level of Muslim societies, aimed at relieving women and
ordering their unfulfilled legitimate rights (according to Islamic text). This trend has long been
fought by the more conservative, traditional clergy who resolve to the active limitation of
women’s space in Muslim societies.
tianity”. In this regard she explains that this level of diminished equality
stems from the treatment by the two religions of Eve as transgressor, curs-
ing her before Adam, while according to the Koran Adam and Eve were
portrayed as transgressors jointly held responsible for mortal sin (ibid., p.
..).
In spite of this argument about women’s essential equality with men in
the Koran, we are witnesses of strong conservatism within Islam today
that has superseded, in some of its aspects, the legitimate rights bestowed
upon women according to the sources
8
. This regression in the status of
women, and the further unequal treatment and confinement of her space
did not evolve solely due to source texts. Interpretation (which had been
historically restricted to males), has contributed greatly in solidifying the
patriarchal status quo in Muslim societies rather than dismantling it.
Thus, in the light of religious commentaries, or interpretation (known as
Tafseer) or super commentaries
9
(known as Hawashi) – a trend has devel-
oped through history, whereby confinement and inequality have been fur-
ther reinforced. Hence Stowasser confirms that “the process of progres-
sive exclusion and increasing restrictions imposed on women (was clear-
ly) visible through comparison of the original Koranic legislation with the
series of commentaries which later ages produced” (ibid., p. .8). The same
can be argued for the Hadiths which prove in their compilation that “the
later the source, the more abundant, detailed and normative-restrictive
the information on women (which) it contains” (ibid., p. ¸:).
One may conclude that the Koran has improved the status of women
compared with pre-Islamic times, in spite of its tendency towards a pa-
triarchal model of role-play. However, the unequal role-play between men
and women is clearly more defined in contemporary Muslim societies.
The Koran is, as mentioned above, based on the ‘man as breadwinner’
model (to use a modern connotation in analyzing a classical Text), where
the division of labor specified reflects a society where women are depen-
dants, and the weaker sex. This does not, however, negate the equality be-
tween men and women unto God, and hence equal gender entitlements
to opportunity.
Islam (and more specifically the Koran), in spite of starting from a level
above other scripture religions (Ahl al-Kitab, ‘People of the Book’, is the
name given by the Koran to the Jewish and Christian communities) in its
treatment of women, has been relegated to becoming more conservative
and static towards their emancipation even within the boundaries of the
GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES • SAADALLAH 118
8. That is the Koran and the Sunna.
o. Extra commentaries on interpretation that are built on the practice of what is known as Iqtias
or interpretation of implicit meaning through the use of dialectic analogy.
basic Text. Male-dominated interpretation and jurisprudence
10
have con-
tributed in part to this. I will now move on to discuss other factors con-
tributing to the distinct institutionalization of patriarchy and gender in-
equality encountered in Muslim society.
Shaping the Status of Women: Islamic Historical Memory
The effect of Islamic and historical memory on shaping the status of
women is an important aspect for understanding the present social reali-
ties present in most Muslim countries today. Mernissi states that the
Koran, in similarity with the other holy texts of the scripture religions,
Christianity and Judaism, “proffers a model of hierarchical relationships
and sexual inequality” (Mernissi, :oo6, p. :¡). This is reinforced by the his-
torical legacy of Islam whereby the “concept of Jawari
11
(or highly accom-
plished, learned, exquisite female pleasure slaves) came into being … these
sacred and secular models
12
of woman had enormous influence on the cre-
ation and maintenance of sex roles in Muslim civilization” (ibid., p. :¡).
Thus, counter to the developments in other scripture religions, Islam-
ic historical memory has contributed to the reinforcement of the patriar-
chal foundations already existent in the Arab society where Islam first ap-
peared. It has also integrated other exogenous cultural aspects, and in-
fluences that came to be assimilated during the spread of the Islamic Em-
pire allowing for “sexual inequality to reassert itself” (ibid., p. 6o). Thus
the Golden Age of Islam
13
is directly associated with an extreme form of
patriarchal social and ruling order. As Mernissi (:oo6) elaborates, this has
been depicted in works of fiction produced throughout Islamic History,
centuries after the passage of the Golden Age, such as Arabian Nights,
and also in non-fictional accounts by historians such as Al-Asfahani, Al-
Massoudi and others (ibid., pp. ;o-;:). Mernissi proceeds to confirm that
those directly contesting and resisting women’s entitlements to their rights,
and an ameliorated form of gender inequality (let alone complete gender
equality), have selected the most absolutist period of Islamic memory as
embodied in and symbolized by the figure of ‘the Jariya’ or female slave
(ibid., p. 8o).
SAADALLAH • GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES 119
:o. Body of Islamic Law and regulations.
::. Described by Mernissi as a fabricated archetype.
:.. Mernissi denotes the sacred Model as ’the Houri’ mentioned in the Koran, and the secular as
the concept of Jariya assimilated during the Abbasid Empire. For a more detailed account,
refer to Mernissi (:oo6), chapter yii.
:¸. The age of the spread of the Islamic Empire and its consolidation.
In addition to Mernissi’s argument offered above, one finds the picture
deficient if no mention is made of the role and interplay of the modern
historical experience of Muslim societies. Particular emphasis is to be
placed here on the colonial and nationalist experience. This in many as-
pects confirms the conclusion made by Kandiyoti that “an adequate
analysis of the position of women in Muslim societies must be grounded
in a detailed examination of the political projects of contemporary states
and of their historical transformations” (Kandiyoti, :oo:, p. .). As Muslim
nations resorted to build their ‘imaginary communities’ of post colonial,
independent nation states in the first half of the Twentieth Century, a dis-
tinct cultural nationalism came to the fore. This new cultural nationalism
called for a return to authenticity and the question of women’s position
within society became an integrated part of the discourse (ibid., pp. .-;).
Two main trends appeared when dealing with the issue of women in
a transforming society, namely a liberal, modernizing force, and a con-
servative, ultra-nationalist force. The first wave was represented by a
group of feminists who sought to modernize the existing ideology on
women’s space and options for emancipation in accordance with the
Western-oriented discourse on women’s rights. The resisting group con-
sidered these modernizers as serving to the West and considered their at-
tempts as a colonial production, hitting at the essence of the cultural par-
ticularism of the indigenous society. The resisting group resorted to a re-
gression to authenticity through stressing Islamic values, and using
women’s demarcation to private space as a tool and a symbol of this new,
evolving form of nationalism. Hence, “colonial domination and continu-
ing ties of dependence with the West created an area of cultural resistance
around women and the family” (ibid., p. ;). The parameters of class were
also of relevance in this formula, where the upper and upper-middle ad-
vantaged classes composed the former group, while the second derived
its membership from a grassroots base, at the top of which was a grow-
ing petite bourgeoisie. Thus it is safe to say that “the issue of gender over-
laps nationalism, colonialism, class, and even (in some cases) ethnic
boundaries” (Gerami, :oo6, p. ;6) in Muslim societies
14
.
Gender and Fundamentalism: The Discourse for Regression
Deriving from the forces of cultural nationalism, movements advocating
a return to an Islamic ethos developed. One of these movements was ‘Is-
GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES • SAADALLAH 120
:¡. For a discussion along the same lines also refer to Kandiyoti, Introduction, pp.;-o.
lamic Fundamentalism’. The term ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’ has been
used throughout the literature interchangeably with ‘Islamism’ and ‘Po-
litical Islam’, Islamic Fundamentalism being a category of Islamism, and
a concrete embodiment of the ideological, and activist characteristics of
modern Political Islam (Ciment, :oo;, p. ;8).
Islamic Fundamentalism should, however, be distinguished from any
connotations that may derive similarities between it as a phenomenon,
and other forms of religious fundamentalism, especially Christian Fun-
damentalist movements. In many ways Islamic Fundamentalism is not
comparable to its Christian counterpart, since the difference between the
two phenomena is as real as the difference between Islam and Christian-
ity (ibid., pp. ¸-¡).
As Ciment ( p. 6.) further confirms, “Fundamentalism is a problem-
atic concept when applied to Islam as a religion and Islamism as a polit-
ical ideology”. And in spite of being originally a concept emanating with-
in the West to label such trends in twentieth-century Christianity, it is “ap-
plied cross-culturally to a religion that shares much with, and differs much
from, Christianity” (ibid., p. 6.). The difference between the two types of
‘Fundamentalism’ emanates predominantly from the assumption that
“Islam possesses an elaborate historical body of religion-inspired law and
state theory, and a tradition of applying them, that has no precise coun-
terpart in the development of Christianity” (ibid., p. 6.).
Furthermore, within the argument presented by Emara (:oo8) in his
book Fundamentalism between Islam and the West, a clear distinction is made
between Islamic and Christian fundamentalism. He emphasizes the rev-
olutionary characteristics of the Islamic hybrid, in its return to, and use
of, the original sources and religious texts, represented by the Koran and
the Shari’a
15
. It is a modernizing trend, in spite of its calls for regression
to the original texts. In the same vein, Ciment (:oo;, p. ;o) claims that
Islamic Fundamentalism “while seemingly a return to Islamic roots, is, in
fact, inherently modern in its outlook .. it tries to modernize authentic Is-
lamic sources” (Ciment, :oo;, p. ;o).
But this “modernizing activity” is, as Gerami (:oo6, p. ¸¡) confirms, a
selective one. He presents an alternative, more holistic image, departing
from the distinctly discursive analysis presented above. He reiterates that
Fundamentalism in general (including the Islamic hybrid) is defined as
“an all-encompassing social phenomenon responding to and rejecting
modernism” (ibid., p. ¸¡). Attempts to limit issues concerning women to
the private sphere is partly connected to a conservative stance against
SAADALLAH • GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES 121
:·. Shari’a is the body of Islamic Law or guiding principles.
modernism
16
. Due to the practical difficulties of doing away completely
with modernism, “the goal (becomes) the selective adaptation of mod-
ernism… It is in this selective adaptation of modernism to Islam that the
private domain is singled out to be the bastion of incorruptible Islam”
(ibid., p. ¸;).
This argument may entail what I choose to denote as the ‘fallacy of
Islamic Fundamentalists as modernizers’. In spite of their call for new in-
terpretation, the direction is more conservative and regressive than that
of the traditionalists
17
themselves, affecting directly women as a vulnera-
ble group within the parameters of the absolutist patriarchal delineation
their ideology represents.
Categories of Feminism
Karam (:oo8, pp.o-:¸) has divided feminism developing in contemporary
Muslim societies, taking Egypt as an example, into three categories.
• Secular Feminists, grounding their discourse outside
religion, and stressing in their activism the international
discourse on human rights.
• Muslim Feminists, who resort to use Islamic sources such as
the Koran and the Sunna to validate their discourse on
equality between the sexes in an attempt to reconcile
Islam and the human rights discourse.
• Islamist Feminists, who comprise women from the rank and
file of Islamic Fundamentalists/Islamists, who are con-
scious of a level of oppression directed against women:
in their resistance they resort to Islamic principles.
Karam herself recognizes in her analysis that ‘Islamist Feminists’ as a
label is meant to categorize this group of women, but may not imply struc-
turally and ideologically a level of authentic feminism, but an ameliorat-
ed level of confined struggle. One tends, however, to reiterate that the la-
beling of this group as ‘Islamist Feminists’ may cause a degree of am-
biguousness due to the confinement of women’s struggle within this group.
Furthermore, the Islamist Feminists’ voiced opinion that “women are op-
pressed precisely because they try to be ‘equal’ to men and are therefore
GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES • SAADALLAH 122
:6. A distinction should be made here between the connotation of the process of Fundamentalism
as ’modernizing’ within a restricted approach to interpretation per se, and ’modernism’ as
exemplified by the paradigm of modernity.
:;. Those calling for the closure of the door of interpretation, and restricting it to Islamic
Jurisprudence as represented in the Four Schools of Islamic Law also known as madahheb.
being placed in unnatural settings and unfair situations, which denigrate
them and take away their integrity and dignity as women” (ibid., p. :o) is
a distinctly gendered outlook.
In spite of this ambiguity, Karam upholds that their activism and mis-
sion of ‘structured Jihad’ or struggle aiming at the Islamization of society,
has allowed them to “enhance and reconceptualize women’s roles within
the family (as mothers and wives), and gives women a sense of value, po-
litical purpose and confidence” (ibid., p. :o). They are thus equal in im-
portance to men, but in different ways (ibid., p. :o). Whether this level of
activism is denoted as feminist or emancipatory is clearly debatable. The
role of women as domestic agents is hereby reinforced, rather than their
aptitude for acting as economic agents (Mernissi, :oo6, p. 66)
18
.
The discussion presented above is crucial in delineating the realities
being shaped in Muslim societies today. The calls for regarding Is-
lamist/Fundamentalist activists as a new breed of feminists does little to
limit the injustices and power imbalances resulting from gender inequal-
ity between the sexes. Furthermore, it acts to reinforce the hierarchical
power relations that have become rooted between men and women in
Muslim societies. The Islamist feminists’ argument is very much in line
with the gender role ‘functional paradigm’ presented by Gerami (:oo6,
pp. o-:o) where “the functional differentiation of the sexes is (regarded)
as a natural truism, man the provider and woman as the nurturer”. The
result, he maintains, is a “hierarchical dichotomy delineating the feminine
and masculine functions of the sexes” (ibid., p. :o).
Another Shaping Influence: Societal Islamization
In addition to the above discursive attempt to delineate the nature of gen-
der and power in Muslim societies, one may add an additional factor that
has come to constitute an indirect but strong influence. The development
of a level of societal Islamization in Muslim countries has gained mo-
mentum in the last two decades. By this we mean a process of popu-
lar/grassroots level of transition towards a more religiously devout style of
life in Muslim society, independent of Fundamentalism/Islamism. It is
hence basically a popular trend that lacks the organized framework of Is-
lamic Fundamentalism and its political, resistance discourse. It is basical-
ly a grassroots phenomenon attributing a higher level of conservatism and
strengthening of the traditional value system within society as a whole. In
SAADALLAH • GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES 123
:8. For a discussion on role of women as domestic versus economic agents refer to Mernissi,
Women’s rebellion…, p. 66.
spite of being an independent process it has, however, been affected and
accelerated in many ways by the factors presented above, the most of
prominent of which has been Islamic Fundamentalism. This Islamization
of societies has resulted in a milieu that is less sympathetic to women’s is-
sues, and to equality between the sexes.
‘Non-class Actors’ and the Effects on Development
Casting our eyes, albeit extremely briefly, to new trends in perceiving de-
velopment at the academic and practical levels, we see that e.g. disen-
chantment with the modernization theory, the depleted influence of the
dependency paradigm, and globalization of the political economy has led
to renewed foundations for development analysis and implementation
(e.g. Hettne, :oo:; Mittleman and Pasha, :oo;). An example of a variable,
not limited to earlier paradigms, is Mittleman and Pasha’s (:oo;) analysis
of the elements of cultural determinism and social transformation. In their
critique of the modernization theory and its reliance on the replication of
a Western model of development, which is taken as universal (but not nec-
essarily so), the authors resort to delineating the important role of capital
accumulation (within a national and global perspective). They underline
the importance of new dynamics of interaction based on the materialist
paradigm (class actors), but extend such a vision of development to in-
clude ‘non-class actors’ (such as gender activists, environmentalists, reli-
gious and ethnic groups) and the role of social transformation (ibid., ch.
. and ¡). Non-class actors/forces may be further defined as “those groups
in society that transcend class lines. Most important among them are re-
ligious, ethnic or gender-based groups as well as the single-issue social
movements” (ibid., p. :oo)
The importance given to social transformation in the development
process, and the role of these non-class actors is pertinent to our analysis.
This framework gives prominence to the interactive nature of relations be-
tween class and non-class actors, where the latter have come to play an
active role in development, and especially so in contexts pertaining to
Western-oriented models and methodologies. The assertion that “the ide-
ological orientations of non-class forces help set the parameters of politi-
cal discourse with real effects on development” (ibid., p. o.) indicates that
we – as practitioners and theorists – need to pay close attention to the
power of such groups in the development process, and hence in the adap-
tation and design of development projects as such. The Islamist instigat-
ed judicial debates over the legality of capital interest in Muslim society
GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES • SAADALLAH 124
“leading to the creation of regulatory mechanisms that have rendered an
effect on the pace and magnitude of investment, and more indirectly, de-
velopment” (ibid., p. o.) is just an example that illustrates this point. Sim-
ilar conclusions can be drawn when referring to gender and gender-tar-
geted development projects.
Concluding Remarks
Islamists, as has been analyzed in this paper, have created a maze of so-
cietal resistance to the ‘woman question’ and issues of gender equality.
This resistance has been the product of various factors, including histor-
ical, cultural and societal transformation. To adapt development to these
realities is a growing necessity, notwithstanding the maintenance of a level
of active parameters for change and transformation. Hence, the transfor-
mation should not only tackle the traditional society, but also the grow-
ing effect of non-class actors, their role and conservatism, as in the case
of Muslim Islamists, or Islamizing societies
19
. As Mittleman and Pasha
(:oo;, p. o·) conclude “Islamists are active in ‘development’”.
What is suggested here is a development practice that is sensitive to
the indigenous reality of third world countries and, particularly in this
case, of Muslim societies. The incapacity to achieve an accountable level
of success in the practice of gender-targeted development in Muslim so-
cieties sometimes emanates from a disregard of the important realities that
exert a direct effect on this typology and level of development. Accord-
ingly, it is important to consider indigenous and cultural realities while de-
velopment projects are designed and implemented.
Muslim societies present a framework of hierarchical gender role di-
vision between the sexes. In addition to this, gender inequalities, and per-
tinent power interplay between men and women are grounded in impor-
tant factors that are intrinsic to the religion, Islamic and historical mem-
ory, Islamic resurgence, and the Islamization of society. It is a most diffi-
cult context for the realization of projects aiming at social development,
and gender-targeted goals. The most important point of departure is the
awareness of the role played by the factors cited above (in addition to their
role in enhancing non-class forces). Any strategy and policy for change
have therefore to be accountable to these factors and forces within a cul-
tural-sensitive approach.
SAADALLAH • GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES 125
:o. Islamizing societies refers particularly to the the ’Islamization’ process mentioned earlier in our
analysis affecting the gender and power dynamics in Muslim societies per se.
Another vital point of departure is the recognition that – as Oxaal and
Baden state “adopting women’s empowerment (or gender equality)
20
as a
policy goal in development organizations (and projects) implies a com-
mitment to encouraging a process of more equitable distribution of power
on personal, economic, and political levels” (:oo;, p. .¡). Strategies that
aim at dismantling some long-standing traditional manifestations in Mus-
lim societies, and the institutional frameworks that reinforce them thus
need to be focused on alleviating gender inequality and power imbalances
within a holistic, offensive yet accommodative framework. They may in-
clude a gender component in all development projects to ensure the tack-
ling of traditional constructs and non-class forces that reinforce gender in-
equality. The concept of ‘Community Involvement’, is necessarily com-
plemented by a new concept, namely that of ‘Women Involvement’ in de-
velopment practices. Women and Development (v\r) and Women in De-
velopment (vir) are to be complemented by Women Development (vr)
per se. This would highlight the necessity to focus on women’s develop-
ment, in particular in relation to ceding opportunities for the rational use
of resources (equally between the sexes) to reach gender equality. Male in-
volvement is a requirement in this process, as promoters of women’s de-
velopment and participants in attitudinal change that would enhance gen-
der equality in the particular context of Muslim societies. Furthermore, a
deeper involvement of civic society is needed especially women xoo
groups advocating a woman-friendly change (this is accentuated due to
the existence of several forces in civic society that advocate the unequal
treatment of women as a means of alleviating oppression, e.g. Islamist
feminists/non-class actors).
The recognition of the role of non-class forces – especially religion and
religion-related constructs – is vital within the framework of development
strategy and policy. As instruments for analysis and action, country-spe-
cific profiles for development projects, specifically dealing with a gender
approach in Muslim societies, need to be elaborated. (This translates as a
total disassociation with the ‘prescription’ model, with modernization the-
ory overtones, applied by International Financing Organizations, such as
the ivr and the World Bank in the :o;os, :o8os and early :ooos in deal-
ing with structural and economic adjustment. It is worth repeating what
many others have already said, that the prescription for development has
to be context-specific, and culturally sensitive – to ensure a minimum level
of success.)
GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES • SAADALLAH 126
20.I choose to add gender equality here, as similarities are implicit and exist between it and
women’s empowerment on the level of aggregate effects on social development, and the society
as a whole.
In the same vein, projects targeting research in the area of gender and
Islam need to be expanded with country-specific, comparative studies to
illuminate levels of similarity or differences in social development experi-
ences. Action-targeted research may be used a complementary process.
Finally, a focus on institutional reform and on capacity building, train-
ing, and adult education projects that may cede a level of grassroots in-
volvement and awareness-raising in the area of gender, may facilitate a
bottom-up cycle of change.
References
Bodman, Herbert L. Introduction, in H.L. Bodman and Nayerah Tohidi (ed.) Women in Muslim
Societies: Diversity within Unity. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Reinner, :oo8.
Ciment, James. Algeria: The Fundamentalist Challenge. New York: Facts on File Inc., :oo;.
Emara, Mohammed. Al-Usuliyya Byn Al-Garb Wal Islam (Fundamentalism between Islam and
the West). Cairo: Dar El Shorouk, :oo8.
Germani, Shahin. Women and Fundamentalism: Islam and Christianity. New York and London: Garland
Publishing, :oo6.
Hettne, Björn. The Voice of the Third World. Budapest: Publication series of the Institute of World
Economics, :oo:.
Hussein, Freda (ed.) Muslim Women. New York: St. Martin’s Press, :o8¡.
Kandiyoti, Deniz. Introduction. In D.Kandiyoti (ed.) Women, Islam and the State. London:
Macmillan Press, :oo:.
Karam, Azza. Women Islamisms and the State: Contemporary Feminisms in Egypt. London: Macmillan
Press, :oo8.
The Holy Koran. The translation by Dr. Mohammed Taqi-ud-Din Al Hilali and Dr.Mohammed
Muhsen Khan. Medinah:King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qu’ran, :¡:; Hijra.
Levy, Reuben. The Social Structure of Islam. Cambridge: :o6o.
Mernissi, Fatima. Women’s Rebellion and Islamic Memory. London and New Jersey: Zed Books,
:oo6.
Mittelman, James H. and Pasha, Mustafa Kamal. Out from Underdevelopment Revisited: Changing Global
Structures and the Remaking of the Third World. London: Macmillan Press, :oo;.
Oxaal, Zoe and Baden, Sally. Gender and Empowerment: definitions, approaches and
implications for policy (A Report). Brighton: Institute for Development Studies, :oo;.
Stowasser, Barbara Freyer. The Status of Women in Early Islam, in Freda Hussein (ed.) Muslim
Women. New York: St. Martin’s Press, :o8¡.
SAADALLAH • REFERENCES 127
Dr. Naila Kabeer has been a Fellow at the Institute of Development Stud-
ies, United Kingdom, since :o86. She is a social economist who has done
research, training and advisory work on a range of gender and develop-
ment issues as well as on poverty, household livelihoods, microfinance,
population and fertility behaviour and social policy issues. She has also
been involved in developing analytical frameworks and training in gen-
der-aware planning, both at irs and with various donor agencies, non-
governmental organisations and governments. Her main research has
been conducted in Vietnam, Bangladesh and India.
She is currently manager of the Social Policy Programme and team
at the Institute of Development Studies as well as team manager for a pro-
ject to mainstream gender and poverty in policy and planning in the
Gambia. She is author of ‘Reversed Realities: Gender hierarchies in de-
velopment thought’ and more recently, ‘The power to choose:
Bangladeshi women and labour market decisions in London and Dhaka’,
both published by Verso in London. She has also co-edited two collections
of essays: ‘Institutions, relations and outcomes: A framework and case
studies on gender aware planning’, published by Kali for women and Zed
Press and ‘Needs versus rights: child labour and the right to education in
south Asia’ to be published by Sage, India.
Dr. Patricia McFadden is a radical African feminist activist/scholar living
in Zimbabwe and working in the southern African region. Her main areas
of work are in sexuality, health and rights. However, more recently she
has developed an interest in the emergence of new forms of citizenship
among African women and the centrality of the African Women’s Move-
ment in providing the continent with a conceptual and political alterna-
tive, given the collapse of nationalism and pan-African politics in gener-
Notes on the Authors
al. She is also drawn to the issues of violation and militarisation and how
they undermine the realisation of political and human rights entitlements
and will be working more in these areas in the future.
She works internationally as a human rights/women’s rights activist,
and teaches feminism on the Southern African Research Institute for
Policy Studies, s\nirs Masters Course. She has also served as an adjunct
professor on the Syracuse University programme in Harare for the last
seven years.
Between :oo8 and .ooo she worked as a co-dean with a German pro-
fessor and participated in the implementation of the first International
Women’s University (irt) which was held in Germany from July to Oc-
tober, .ooo. The total project brought together over one thousand stu-
dents and staff from all over the world.
For the last six years Patricia McFadden has edited s\rrnr (Southern
African Feminist Review) published by s\rrs/s\nirs. She writes for local,
regional and international feminist journals and newsletters. She also
trains journalists in feminist analysis in the region and young women in
conceptual and writing skills as feminists.
She currently lives with the younger of her two sons in Harare, is ac-
tive in the cultural and social life of the city, and loves living in Zimbab-
we – her country of choice in the region.
Signe Arnfred is Associate Professor in International Development Stud-
ies at the University of Roskilde, Denmark. She is also a feminist, having
published – from the :o;os onwards – in the fields of gender studies and
feminist theory. Her contact with southern Africa dates back to the early
:o8os when she lived in Mozambique, working as a sociologist/social an-
thropologist in the National Women’s Organization. Since then much of
her writing has been concerned with understanding changes in gender re-
lations in southern Africa, including analyses of different discourses on
gender. In the :o8os and :ooos she worked intermittently in southern
Africa as a short-term consultant, in :oo8-oo conducting anthropological
fieldwork in Mozambique. In October .ooo she took up a three-year as-
signment at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden, as the pro-
gramme coordinator of a new research programme on Sexuality, Gen-
der and Society in Africa.
Edmé Domínguez is Associate Professor in Peace and Development Stud-
ies. She is a part-time researcher at the Iberoamerican Institute, Univer-
sity of Göteborg and a part-time lecturer in Political Science at the De-
partment of Political Science and Economics, University of Linköping.
NOTES ON THE AUTHORS 129
For several years she worked and published on the issue of Soviet for-
eign policy towards Latin America, but since the beginning of the :ooos
she has been working on the social implications of x\r+\ for Mexico and
on gender issues relating to academics, citizenship and transnational net-
works.
Sherin Saadallah is currently concluding a third Master’s Degree at the
Political Science Department at Stockholm University, specialising in the
area of Gender/Women and Islam. She has completed a second Master’s
degree in the Social Sciences in the field of Political Science (June .ooo)
at Stockholm University with special focus on the Islamic presence in Eu-
rope, in addition to her first Master’s degree in International Develop-
ment Policy which she took in :oo. from Duke University in the United
States.
Ms. Saadallah is currently working as a consultant in the area of so-
cial development in Muslim and Arab societies, providing expertise in the
areas of gender/women and development, gender/women and Islam,
modern Islamic political thought and movements, and issues pertaining
to the implementation of development projects in Muslim and Arab so-
cieties. She is currently engaged in a project targeting Social and Eco-
nomic Development: Gender Awareness and Institutional Strengthening
in Egypt, implemented by Kvinnoforum/Qlara Management \n with the
Egyptian Ministry of Social Affairs. This project is being sponsored by
Sida. Prior to this Ms. Saadallah worked as a diplomat for eleven years,
which enabled her to develop her insight, experience and depth of knowl-
edge in respect of the Middle East, development issues, and the interna-
tional system of organisations including the tx.
NOTES ON THE AUTHORS 130
Sida would like to sincerely thank the Authors for their contributions.
Sida also owes gratitude to the Collegium for Development Studies
(previously Council for Development and Assistance Studies), Uppsala
University, Sweden for their arrangement and achievements in relation to
the conference ‘Power, Resources and Culture in a Gender Perspective:
Towards a Dialogue Between Gender Research and Development Prac-
tice’, which inspired this very study. Ian Christoplos, Anna Liljelund and
Mia Melin have also in various ways been important in shaping the study.
The editor would like to thank Jan Lundius, Sarec, for his support and
encouragement in the editorial process.
Acknowledgements
No 1 Moldova’s Transition to Destitution, Per Ronnås and Nina Orlova,
Art. nr. D 0708
No 2 Beneficiary, Consumer, Citizen: Perspectives on Participation for Poverty
Reduction, Andrea Cornwall, Art. nr. D 0718
Previous issues in the Sidastudies series:
“Mind the gap please”, warns a well-articulated, friend-
ly although somewhat metallic sounding voice when
passengers are about to leave or enter the trains on the
London Underground. The expression could be used to
illustrate the gap that often divides development theo-
reticians and practitioners – a divide that can be bridged
by a conscious dialogue.
Sidastudies no. 
This volume represents a search for analysis that may influence and inspire
the work of practitioners and theoreticians aiming to address the core of the
issue of women’s empowerment. The authors shed light on questions such as:
Does the conceptualisation and rhetoric concerning ‘empowerment’ signal a
genuine and meaningful transformation? Will a real power balance be struck
between the sexes by the way ‘empowerment’, ‘gender’ and ‘mainstreaming’
are addressed in development agencies? How do sociological, academic and
economic patterns related to culture and religion exclude women from exercis-
ing power – and ultimately from development? Do women seek new approach-
es to politics and citizenship?
Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
Address: SE–105 25 Stockholm, Sweden.
Visiting address: Sveavägen 20, Stockholm.
Tel +46 8 698 50 00, e-mail: info@sida.se.
www.sida.se
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Discussing Women’s Empowerment
– Theory and Practice
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THE SIDA STUDIES-SERIES OFFERS A SELECTION OF THE REPORTS AND STUDIES COMMISSIONED BY DIFFERENT
DEPARTMENTS AT SIDA. THE SELECTION IS MADE TO REFLECT ISSUES OF RELEVANCE TO SIDA’S POLICIES AND PRACTICES,
BUT EACH REPORT EXPRESSES THE VIEWS AND FINDINGS OF ITS WRITER(S).
Clockwise from the
upper left corner:
Naila Kabeer
Patricia McFadden
Signe Arnfred
Edmé Dominguez
Sherin Sadallaah

Discussing Women’s Empowerment
– Theory and Practice

  .  Copyright: Sida and the authors. Kabeer). Series editor: Anne Sisask Graphic design: Johan Nilsson/Kombinera Layout: Ninni Oljemark/Kombinera Cover Photo: Thomas Raupach/Phoenix Printed by Novum Grafiska . Stockholm  ISSN - ISBN --- Art.se Sida studies can also be ordered from Sida’s information centre. +     The Sida Studies-series offers a selection of the reports and studies recently commissioned by different departments at Sida. nr. E-mail: info@sida. The selection is made to reflect issues of relevance to Sida’s policies and practices. but each report expresses the views and findings of its writer(s). Sida studies no. for exceptions see individual contributions (N.sida.se Tel.Sida studies can be ordered by visiting Sida’s website: www.

Discussing Women’s Empowerment – Theory and Practice AN ANTHOLOGY Sidastudies .

.

while others are written by theorists already well established in the international discussions on women and development. Sida Berit Olsson Director. intended to encourage and inspire both practitioners and researchers. ongoing dialogue between researchers and practitioners is required. Birgitta Sevefjord Gender Equality Adviser. Sarec. relevant to the reassessment of development cooperation. Rather. are a small selection from the conference. chosen for their policy and methodological implications and their variety of perspectives. for those who cross the line and participate in the dialogue there is little doubt as to the value and need of this kind of encounter. a close. formed and implemented in developing countries. Uppsala University. arranged by the Council for Development and Assistance Studies. to the issue of women’s empowerment.Foreword This volume offers a selection of papers presented at the conference ‘Power. a new relationship is needed between researchers – with their theoretical tools for understanding and their empirical knowledge of local contexts – and development practitioners – with their tacit knowledge of the nature of how policies are generated. However. as the debates of the conference proved. It was hoped that the conference would put in place the parameters for a vital. The objective of the conference was to create a forum for dialogue. Sweden in cooperation with Sida. Resources and Culture in a Gender Perspective: Towards a Dialogue Between Gender Research and Development Practice’. Department for Research Cooperation. Probably. They are strongly related. in their various ways. one-way relationship between research and implementation in policy formation. There is some hesitation on both sides. Recent research in the field was presented in order to introduce new theoretical points of departure. To achieve this. Sida . The papers. October . constructive dialogue of this type. Most development cooperation today has gender equality as one of its objectives. Some papers represent research in progress. Whether this will be so remains to be seen. where development practitioners and researchers could meet to focus on gender and power. there is no linear.

.................................................................................40 Section 3: Measuring empowerment: the problem of values...................................................28 Measuring ‘resources’ ......................................................17 Section 1: Conceptualising empowerment ..................18 Qualifying choice: difference versus inequality .............................................. agency and achievement.........74 .....................................................31 Measuring achievement...........................Table of Contents SUMMARY .....................................................................................54 Patricia McFadden: CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION: EXPERIENCES FROM SOUTHERN AFRICA......................................73 Section 1: Inequalities of power..................... autonomy and the relevance of context...............................................64 ‘Customary System’ – Used as A Weapon Against Women ...............................................................................................................................44 Outsider values and women’s empowerment: between altruism and autonomy....................................................................26 Section 2: Measuring empowerment: the problem of meaning ........................................17 Conceptualising empowerment: resources.......................23 Empowerment: dimensions.52 References ...........................................................................................................................................................70 Signe Arnfred QUESTIONS OF POWER: WOMEN’S MOVEMENTS.....17 Introduction..................................10 Gender Issues in Development Practices: Two Perspectives from a Development Coopeeration Agency Naila Kabeer: REFLECTIONS ON THE MEASUREMENT OF WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT ............................ .......................................................................................74 Power contexts of change in terminology from women to gender ...................................................................35 Triangulation and meaning: the indivisibility of resources..........................................28 Measuring ‘agency’ .....49 Conclusion................58 Colonial Stereotypes – Reinforced by Researchers Today .......................................................67 References ..............62 Restricting Women’s Rights to Property and to Mobility...............................................44 Status......... agency and achievements ..........8 INTRODUCTION............................................................................22 Qualifying choice: ‘choosing not to choose’ .................................................................................. levels and processes of change ..................... FEMINIST THEORY AND DEVELOPMENT AID .........................

.............................................................................................................97 Methodology ........79 Section 2: Critique of dominant gender policies..Further adjustments of GAD discourse: Gender mainstreaming ........................122 Another Shaping Influence: Societal Islamization ..........89 The Political Participation of Mexican Women ....................................................................................................88 Theoretical Questions ...............................................................................................84 Taking advantage of cracks and contradictions...............................................92 Women and Citizenship at the Urban Level: Some Views of Both Participants and Non-Participants .......................... ...........................................................................................................88 Introduction................................81 Gender mainstreaming – limitations and pitfalls..............110 References ..............76 De-politicising of feminist theory?.........................................114 Religion and the Dialectics of Interpretation: Gender and Power in Islam ..................................83 Section 3: Challenges for the women’s movements.......................................................................................................................................................115 Shaping the Status of Women: Islamic Historical Memory ......................................................100 Would the Political System Change if There Were More Women? ......................................114 Introduction........123 ‘Non-class Actors’ and the Effects on Development .........................................125 References ..................................85 References ...................................................................................................................................................................................86 Edmé Dominguez CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO: SEARCHING FOR A NEW POLITICAL CULTURE? VIEWS AND EXPERIENCES OF PARTICIPANTS AND NON-PARTICIPANTS IN POLITICAL ACTION ...............................................................................128 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .........................................................................................78 WID/GAD and women’s movements..............................108 Final Reflections ........................................................... .........99 Views on Citizenship ..............119 Gender and Fundamentalism: The Discourse for Regression ..............................................................................................120 Categories of Feminism ......................................112 Sherin Saadallah GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES: ISSUES FOR DEVELOPMENT PRACTICE..........................................................................81 The gender bias of market economy.....................................................................................105 Are the Zapatista Women Showing a New Way?.......................127 NOTES ON THE AUTHORS....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................84 Reversals of learning.........................131 .124 Concluding Remarks ...........................................97 The Interviewees ............................................

discuss various experiences in trying to implement gender policies in development and research cooperation. Furthermore. Kabeer reviews and evaluates various measures of women’s empowerment. leads the way towards setting critical. ‘Customs’ and ‘customary law’ have been used as a way to give a stamp of cultural authenticity on to what is in effect a denial of rights to property and land for many African women – a matter of central importance in the current tensions and debates within Zimbabwe. in Harare. In the same vein of inviting critical thought and discussion. She argues that colonial stereotypes about of Africans today are perpetuated through academic disciplines in the North and that they work hand in hand with strategies to control women’s mobility in African patriarchal societies – both to prevent women’s spatial mobility and ultimately from moving into modern times. Zimbabwe discusses culture as a gendered practice which excludes women from sites and statuses related to power.Summary In the introductory chapter. she discusses methodological implications flowing from the analysis. analytical standards as she discusses how prescribed processes of empowerment may violate the essence of the concept. Sweden. Signe Arnfred from the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala. . United Kingdom. Dr. Furthermore. Naila Kabeer. Birgitta Sevefjord and Berit Olsson. Dr. she discusses exclusionary practices in the state and in the rural spaces of the continent to maintain a cultural authenticity through the denial of rights and entitlements to women in terms of material property. Sida. Patricia McFadden from Southern African Research Institute for Policy Studies . the values they embody and the appropriateness of these values in capturing the idea of empowerment. from the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex. Dr.

She discusses prerogatives for change and social development in Muslim societies and suggests policies and strategies for development that would focus on alleviating gender inequality and power imbalances in the delineated context. By using recent political developments in Mexico. whilst differentiating between the texts and the interpretations. currently working as a consultant in a project targeting Social and Economic Development in Egypt. . The use of the terms ‘gender’ and ‘mainstreaming’ have come to impede global solidarity/sisterhood and to obscure power relationships and a need for transformatory processes at a time when feminist struggle is needed more than ever – in the era of a neo-liberal agenda world wide. In the interviews that Dominguez presents. Inspired by ideas developed by e. Finally. and also the Zapatista women’s rebellion against their life situation. Arnfred discusses subversive ways in which to make gender mainstreaming meaningful from women’s points of view.g. they discuss the need for women to change the political culture and whether the Zapatista women are showing a new way in political style for women. with their ‘Revolutionary laws against poverty’. both women who have participated in organisations for change and also non-participants give their views on what citizenship implies.SUMMARY 9 calls current development concepts into question by arguing that the language in which to address women’s issues on global scale is not the language of political struggle. . Sherin Saadallah. stressing the need to draw sociological and economic pattens related to religion to the attention of development practitioners. indicates that women may show the way to a new political culture. She encourages feminists in the North to listen more to feminists in the South and encourages all feminists to develop an astute critique of prevailing trends of marketisation and of the institutions that promote it. Edmé Dominguez. at the Universities of Gothenburg and Linköping. She argues that women’s participation in the awakening of civil society in Mexico. Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era. explores the dynamics of gender in Islam. imply a serious transformation in the political culture and in related gender relationships.

There is a growing awareness of the importance of shifting the focus from the symptoms of inequality towards efforts to address the structural factors that cause it. Gender Equality Adviser Gender Equality: Sida’s Efforts in a Global Context The promotion of equality between women and men has been a consistent feature of Swedish international development cooperation. the formal distribution of power in society. Progress has been slow and strenuous. When the potential of both women and men is utilised in development.Introduction Gender Issues in Development Practice: Two Perspectives from a Development Cooperation Agency BIRGITTA SEVEFJORD AND BERIT OLSSON Birgitta Sevefjord. Around  per cent of the world’s parliamentarians are women. heedful of the ongoing dialogue between theoreticians and practitioners. However. thus stressing the fact that gender issues are intimately related to. Sida’s mandate requires a keen ear to the demands. needs and critique formulated by its partners in development. To ensure effective and sustainable results it is necessary that both women and men participate in. Many positive results have been achieved. and furthermore. Measures that specifically target women have been emphasised for quite a few years. when judging the achievements in a broad perspective. it becomes clear that most of them have remained isolated and development has not been affected at all to a desirable degree. and benefit from. and even determined by. this figure is very unequally distributed. development co-operation. The conference ‘Power Resources and Culture in a Gender Per- . The relationship between gender equality and sound economic development is becoming visible. Sida finds itself at the centre of this process. on a global scale. Any organisation working with development co-operation has to be constantly attentive and observant. there is less need for special compensatory support for women.

It is Sida’s hope that some of the lively debate at the conference will be made visible through the contributions we have chosen for this publication. has been a part in this endeavour. Anders (). Ulf and Rönquist. For most of them. a considerable development of strategies and methodologies has taken place. Padrigu. At the present time Sida is crossing both the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean in its search for researchers and consultants. The need for such an endeavour has been repeatedly expressed in the organisation. We do not have enough time and resources to discharge the responsibility given us by Parliament. in cooperation with Sida. Uppsala University. Färnsveden. In . all are women. arranged by the Council for Development and Assistance Studies. The late s saw a change of focus from separate. Sida’s objective of promoting equality between women and men has remained unchanged over the years. The dialogue continues. i. support and constructive critique to strengthen the ongoing work with gender equality at Sida. Sida is trying to maximise its efforts to mobilise and utilise existing knowledge and experience related to the promotion of equality between women and men.e. More than five hundred employees are stationed at Sida’s headquarters. This situation was one of Sida’s main reasons for organising the conference. to mainstream gender in all areas of development co-operation. ‘Why men – a pilot study of the existing attitudes among Sida’s staff towards male participation in the promotion of gender equality in development’. s and researchers from the South. while a hundred more are active in the field. With a few exceptions. special efforts for women to a ‘main. their work as gender focal points is additional to their ordinary workload. However. University of Gothenburg. However. In the following I intend to highlight some of the guidelines that govern Sida’s contributions to the promotion of equality between women and men and how the organisation tries to apply these policies in its activities.INTRODUCTION 11 spective: Towards a Dialogue between Gender Research and Development Practice’. We are in great need of the expertise of various practitioners and theoreticians. an  thesis1 concluded that the entire staff of Sida is of the opinion that there is a need to increase gender knowledge in the organisation and that more active male involvement in this process would give this particular issue higher priority and status in the organisation. Peace and Development Research Institute. Of all these persons. while others have ten to twenty-five per cent of their working time set aside for this particular work. one woman is working full-time as the gender equality adviser – myself – while twenty persons act as gender focal points in the various departments. We need their competence. we increasingly need to reach out to Swedish universities. .

critical areas of concern. information about violations of women’s rights has increased over the years and bears witness to serious denials of access by women to human resources. stipulated that specific emphasis was to be placed on the empowerment of women to participate . particularly since it is not easy to translate to people who are unaware of its meaning and implications. Accordingly. while  per cent did not focus at all on gender. There is a need of systematic monitoring and reporting systems. However. progress has been slow and uneven: a state of affairs that is reflected by a stubborn continuation of the limited access of women to political power. Incidentally. power. In . Sida is in need of an efficient methodology to deal with gender issues. as well as increasing violence against women. armed conflict. including poverty. However. in spite of the fact that gender equality continues to be one of Sida’s overriding goals. In . she answered ‘like some kind of a big river’. the Swedish Parliament decided that gender equality should be one of the main goals of development cooperation and accordingly Sida adopted a policy that. The support of both theoreticians and practitioners is crucial for the development of an efficient gender policy in the organisation. Despite all international efforts to put gender issues on the agenda for development policies in all countries of the world. In . health. when the translator was asked how she translated ‘mainstreaming’ to Lao. monitoring and reporting on gender take place on an ad hoc basis. among other things. the ’s Human Development Report established that there is no country in the world where gender equality has been achieved. The final report stated that the mainstreaming effort by Sweden to pay attention to gender issues is commendable. Afterwards. Just one example – during a conference in Laos some members of staff from Sida tried to shed light on the concept. In . and the situation of female children. ⁄ presented a peer review of Sweden’s development co-operation programme. education. ‘mainstreaming’ is an exceptionally difficult concept to work with. The same year the women’s conference in Beijing endorsed an Action Programme for the promotion of equality between women and men. environment. violence. Personally I am convinced that violence against women is more widespread than ever before and that it is a major obstacle to economic development. it was estimated that approximately ten per cent of Sida’s disbursements were allocated to projects with a direct gender focus. The Beijing Platform for Action identified twelve common. decision-making.12 INTRODUCTION streaming strategy’ that was intended to address ‘relationships between men and women’.

According to . the economic gap between women and men is widening. adviser to Kofi Anan. . knowledge. I hope that this study will be a small contribution to this constant struggle. The overall picture continues to be gloomy. It is our hope that the ongoing efforts to achieve gender equality are not halted or slowed down. infanticide. but that this extremely important endeavour grows in strength and importance. a follow-up of the Beijing conference was held in New York (Beijing+). It was as a part of Sida’s search for expertise. In view of this bleak picture it is easy to give in and yield to overwhelmingly bad odds. pointed out that every year hundreds of thousands.INTRODUCTION 13 more fully in political decision-making. In June . The outcome document established that. Five thousand delegates from one hundred and eightyeight countries participated. Due to sex-selective abortions. However. malnutrition and other gender-based malpractice and injustices. although recognition of the gender dimension of poverty is increasing. At the same time as globalisation is bringing opportunities and autonomy to some women. Sida is committed to supporting and promoting gender equality. it has marginalised others. constructive critique and sincere engagement that the organisation’s gender unit funded the conference. since this is a precondition for advancement in other areas. there are  million less women in the world today than could be expected from demographic trends. we have to continue to remain dedicated to our cause. maybe even millions of women and girls are sold world-wide into slavery and prostitution. domestic violence against women and girls has reached epidemic proportions. One particularly sinister illustration of this sorry state of affairs was when Angela King.

useful instruments. Sida’s Department for Research Cooperation. However. Sarec Addressing Gender Issues: In Search of a Research Agenda Discussions on women in development have had a far-reaching impact on development cooperation. and they constitute a recognised field of knowledge. However. When we planned our participation in the conference. We need to find better ways of communicating across different types of skills. visible activist-oriented programme with a clear focus. An understanding of the importance is nowadays reflected in policies. But what have been the results of mainstreaming? Well.14 INTRODUCTION Berit Olsson. strategies and action programmes and gender is constantly present in discussions concerned with development. working uphill. I dare to state that gender inequalities are more commonly discussed than inequalities in general. It was often considered to be a dangerous. a member of staff drew up a list that summarised what Sida is supporting when it comes to gender-related research. This may be contrary to what is aften argued. I believe there is an ‘uneasy relationship’ between research and practice that needs to be analysed further. activity. We still lack adequate knowledge and we need further access to articulated experience. rather than looking for means and ways to address their underlying mechanisms. My experience as a director at a development oriented research-funding agency has convinced me that few people are unaware of the need to address gender issues. experience and knowledge can be gained from both sides and their different approaches. If this is good or bad is an open question. Director of Department for Research Cooperation. it has become legitimate to address these issues. ‘the phase of mainstreaming’. ‘invisibility’ seems to be a characteristic of the present state of affairs. Five years ago. even threatening. I would like to briefly mention some of our own experiences in supporting gender research. funded through special arrangements rather than through regular channels. Sarec has supported women’s studies for many years. in the current phase. gender research tends to describe existing injustices. why. the promotion of equality between men and women became one of the main goals of Swedish international development cooperation. or evaluating attempts to correct them. awareness is just a start. We need to compare what works. Women studies were something you did in resistance. We need to learn from viable and successful solutions. thus gaining some hope for the future. I was positively surprised by the number of re- . when and under what circumstances. In general. In the early days. New skills have to be produced and we need tools. this was a subversive type of support: a small.

and containing less dynamite. The insistence made me reflect on particularly two sets of questions. almost invisible?’ The discussions also inspired me to reflect on the potential political implications in the wider context. Has gender research ceased to constitute a threat? The aforementioned conference repeatedly addressed the issue of power. A great deal of statistical information does not distinguish between men and women. such as the one we were engaged in during the conference. One of them is: ‘What happens when gender researchers or gender activists who have been in opposition for a long time. and the debate on the findings. or indeed in development at large? I believe there is a seed in the discourse exposed during this particular conference. Gender studies are being supported as part of university support and as part of bilateral programmes. regional networks. within special parameters. All address gender issues in various ways. were adapted to the issue of development cooperation in general? We need to ask whether the radical gender discussion is kept alive and vivid because it is held by a very special group. exclusive to a certain group of people. The fact that all this research is not supported in the form of a special programme may render visibility lower than before – but it does not mean that nothing is being done. networks could be encouraged and many research efforts could be co-ordinated and made more visible. In other words. What would happen if a radical discussion on access to power and influence.INTRODUCTION 15 search activities that are actually taking place. clearly there is a scope for doing more. We know that this is particularly serious in health . when it comes to gender. set apart for the purpose of addressing a specific topic. I would like to mention some issues particularly related to my area of expertise. less political. is focusing on gender inequalities a way of deflecting the debate away from inequalities in general. Furthermore. is that sometimes we do not even know who is being studied. we need to ask if some of the difficulties in discerning gender research could have something to do with it being low key. Finally. Special research efforts could be promoted to enhance the mainstreaming activities. organisations and social science studies in a wider context. One problem we are facing. namely research funding. Many studies do not make a separate breakdown of men and women. a far more controversial subject? Are there then any possibilities for power analysis in the area of gender to ignite an overall debate on power in development cooperation. actually gain power? Does anything happen at all? Is the power gained used to address problems that formerly were assumed to be of highest priority? Is this problem actually being studied and researched? If this is the case – why are the findings. Nevertheless.

and it is probably very serious in many other contexts as well. I would say that the Southern universities supported by Sida are often more gender sensitive than their Swedish counterparts. and we are rather surprised at the findings. engineering etc. they are doing it. only  per cent were women. they were contested and even dragged into court at the European level. We find it embarrassing that. Are we refuting research that does not consider such issues? We are trying to address the problem of integrating gender issues in all the research initiatives we are involved in. How do these studies and their outcome affect men and women? We need to consider whether we are evaluating research properly. are coaching them into doing so. When these facts were attacked by some bold and determined critics. Swedish universities and research bodies have not been very sensitive to gender issues and should not be too proud of themselves. Gender does matter to the issues that are being addressed in research and other vital questions in development cooperation are: How relevant are the studied issues for whom and in what context? Who formulate the problems? Are they men or women? Do they come from North or South? Are they old or young? We also need to pay increasing attention to how gender is reflected in research. their lively debates and the experience they gain. Of course. we. They are actively engaged in formulating programmes and activities to address the issue of gender at different levels in their activities. health.16 INTRODUCTION research. just a few years ago. and they have programmes. we may still have a way to go. This has been studied in Sweden. A completely different set of questions concerns how researchers are evaluated. but the steps they are taking. but admittedly we are not yet sufficiently good at it. In this context. are certainly worth noting and learning from in our mutual search for a research agenda. but research that addresses agriculture. the development funders. Southern universities also show resistance. However. I do not mean gender research exclusively. Swedish universities have a massive resistance to overcome in these issues. . among the full professors in Sweden. When we talk about partnership and about the importance of learning from each other.

. There is also a political logic in that those who stand to gain most from such advocacy viz. There is an understandable logic to this. women. advocacy for feminist goals in intrinsic terms takes policymakers out of their familiar conceptual territory of welfare. particularly women from poorer households. Consequently. The persuasiveness of claims that women’s empowerment has important policy payoffs in the field of fertility behaviour and demographic transition. including the World Bank. children’s welfare and infant mortality. albeit by unfamiliar means. instrumentalist forms of advocacy which combine the argument for gender equality/women’s empowerment with demonstrations of a broad set of desirable multiplier effects offer policymakers the possibility of achieving familiar and approved goals. as long as women’s empowerment was argued for as an end in itself. the major  agencies and the - group. poverty and efficiency into the nebulous territory of power and social injustice. In a situation of limited resources.Resources. ). it tended to be heard in policy circles as a ‘zero-sum’ game with politically weak winners and powerful losers. carry little clout with those who set the agendas in major policy making institutions. where policymakers have to adjudicate between competing claims (Razavi. economic growth and poverty alleviation has given rise to some unlikely advocates for women’s empowerment in the field of international development. By contrast. Agency. Achievements: Reflections on the Measurement of Women’s Empowerment NAILA KABEER Section 1: Conceptualising Empowerment Introduction Advocacy on behalf of women which builds on claimed synergies between feminist goals and official development priorities has made greater inroads into the mainstream development agenda than advocacy which argues for these goals on intrinsic grounds.

ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER However. reflecting a justifiable concern with the cost/benefit calculus of competing claims for scarce resources in the policy domain. so it gives us a breathing space to work it out in action terms before we have to pin outselves down to what it means. let alone measured. since this will influence how the various measurement attempts are evaluated. a major preoccupation in the policy domain. I hope that » .’ This paper offers a critical assessment of the various measures of women’s empowerment evident in the burgeoning literature on this topic. However. the value of the concept lies precisely in its ‘fuzziness’. not everyone accepts that empowerment can be clearly defined. I will continue using it until I am sure it does not describe what we are doing. As an  activist cited in Batliwala () put it: ‘I like the term empowerment because no one has defined it clearly yet. Measurement is. It uses this assessment to reflect on the implications of attempting to measure what is not easily measureable and of replacing intrinsic arguments for feminist goals with instrumentalist ones. a process in which some of the original political edge of feminism has been sacrificed. some seeking to facilitate comparisons between locations or over time. the values they embody and the appropriateness of these values in capturing the idea of empowerment. Conceptualising empowerment: resources. For many feminists. quantifying empowerment appears to put the concept on more solid and objectively verifiable grounds. the extent to which they mean what they are intended to mean. given the contested nature of the concept. There has consequently been a proliferation of studies attempting to measure empowerment. implies to be denied choice1. therefore. It requires the translation of feminist insights into the technicist discourse of policy. In subsequent sections. My under. One way of thinking about power is in terms of the ability to make choices: to be disempowered. some to demonstrate the impact of specific interventions on women’s empowerment and others to demonstrate the implications of women’s empowerment for desired policy objectives. Quantification is one aspect of this process of translation. it is important to clarify at the outset how it will be used in this paper. However. the success of instrumentalist forms of advocacy has costs. This is attempted in the rest of this section. Choice has strong neo-liberal connotations but some notion of choice is also implicit in the Marxist distinction between the ‘realm of necessity’ and the ‘realm of freedom’.18 RESOURCES. AGENCY. And given that the very idea of women’s empowerment epitomises for many policymakers the unwarranted intrusion of metaphysical concepts into the concrete and practical world of development policy. I will be reviewing various measures of women’s empowerment. of course. agency and achievement.

the achievements of a particular moment are translated into enhanced resources or agency. how many children to have. First of all. » the qualifications offered to the concept of choice in the course of this paper will help to steer it away from its roots in methodological individualism and to give it a more post-structuralist interpretation. Empowerment thus refers to the expansion in people’s ability to make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied to them. freedom of movement and choice of friends. because they were never disempowered in the first place. Thus. There is a logical association between poverty and disempowerment because an insufficiency of the means for meeting one’s basic needs often rules out the ability to exercise meaningful choice. and achievements. However. Some choices have greater significance than others in terms of their consequences for people’s lives. However. where to live. which are critical for people to live the lives they want. These strategic life choices help to frame other. and benefits from. at a later moment in time. . People who exercise a great deal of choice in their lives may be very powerful. and hence capacity for making choices. These dimensions are inter-dependent because changes in each contributes to. AGENCY. empowerment entails a process of change. We therefore have to make a distinction between first and second order choices where first order choices are those strategic life choices. such as choice of livelihood. In other words. but they are not empowered in the sense in which I am using the word. whether to marry. who to marry whether to have children. which form the conditions under which choices are made. which are the outcomes of choices. ACHIEVEMENTS 19 standing of the notion of empowerment is that it is inescapably bound up with the condition of disempowerment and refers to the processes by which those who have been denied the ability to make choices acquire such an ability. the notion of choice has to be qualified in a number of ways. Changes in the ability to exercise choice can be thought of in terms of changes in three inter-related dimensions which make up choice: resources. agency which is at the heart of the process by which choices are made. to be made relevant to the analysis of power. choice necessarily implies alternatives. even when survival imperatives are longer dominant. the ability to have chosen otherwise. second-order and less consequential choices which may be important for the quality of one’s life but do not constitute its defining parameters.KABEER • RESOURCES. changes in the others. there is still the problem that not all choices are equally relevant to the definition of power.

social or human. Empowerment entails a change in the terms on which resources are acquired as much as an increase in access to resources. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER Figure 1. norms and practices which prevail in different institutional domains (eg. equipment. the ability to define priorities and enforce claims. on the other hand. public sector entitlements). Heads of households. directors of firms. but also to the various human and social resources which serve to enhance the ability to exercise choice. Consequently. managers of organisations. the distribution of ‘allocative’ resources tends to be embedded within the distribution of ‘authoritative resources’ (Giddens. working capital etc. chiefs of tribes. Social resources. obligations and expectations which inhere in the relationships. are made up of the claims. Access may be conditional on highly clientilist forms of dependency relationships or extremely exploitative conditions of work or it may be achieved in ways which offer dignity and a sense of self-worth. The terms on which people gain access to resources are as important as the resources themselves when the issue of empowerment is being considered. informal wage agreements.20 RESOURCES. familial norms. they refer not only to conventional economic resources. patron-client relationships. ). elites within a community are all endowed with decision-making authority within particular institutional contexts by virtue of their positioning within those institutions. imagination and so on. In other words. Human resources are embodied in the individual and encompasses his or her knowledge. such as land. Resources are distributed through a variety of different institutions and processes and access to resources will be determined by the rules. norms and practices give some actors authority over others in determining the principles of distribution and exchange within that sphere. AGENCY. finance. . Dimensions of empowerment Resources (conditions) Achievements (outcomes) Agency (process) Resources can be material. These rules. formal contractual transactions. networks and connections which prevail in different spheres of life and which enable people to improve their situation and life chances beyond what would be possible through their individual efforts alone. skills. creativity.

Agency can also be exercised in the more negative sense of ‘power over’.. AGENCY. it refers to people’s capacity to define their own life-choices and to pursue their own goals. manipulation. particularly in the mainstream economic literature. Clearly. the capacity of an actor or category of actors to over-ride the agency of others. invest parents with the authority for choosing their children’s partners. which corresponds closely to the way in which I am defining positive agency. of achieving valued ways of ‘being and doing’. coercion and threat. they testify to the exercise of power as ‘non-decision-making’ (Lukes. deception. These realised achievements. Sen uses the idea of ‘functionings’ to refer to all the possible ways of ‘being and doing’ which are valued by people in a given context and of ‘functioning achievements’ to refer to the particular ways of being and doing which are realised by different individuals. but are unlikely to be experienced as a form of power – unless such authority is questioned. or the failure to do so. where the failure to achieve valued ways of ‘being and doing’ can be traced to laziness. ). incompetence or some other reason particular to an individual. The concepts of positive and negative agency echoes the distinction between positive and negative freedom made by Sen. Positive freedom. motivation and purpose which individuals bring to their activity. ).KABEER • RESOURCES. it also encompasses the meaning. ACHIEVEMENTS 21 The second dimension of power relates to agency. While agency often tends to be operationalised as ‘individual decisionmaking’. as well as individual. resistance and protest as well as the more intangible. power can also operate in the absence of any explicit agency. refers to the ability to live as one chooses. through the use of violence. in other words. in reality. their sense of agency. it encompasses a much wider range of purposive actions. Agency has both positive and negative meanings in relation to power2. However. subversion. or ‘the power within’. for instance. . the potential that people have for living the lives they want. to have the effective power to achieve chosen results (Sen . negotiation. The norms and rules governing social behaviour tend to ensure that certain outcomes are reproduced without any apparent exercise of agency. including bargaining. Resources and agency together constitute what Sen refers to as capabilities. Negative freedom corresponds to freedom from the effects of the negative agency of others or their use of ‘the power over’. then the issue of power . even in the face of opposition from others. Where these outcomes bear on the strategic life choices noted earlier. cognitive processes of reflection and analysis. In the positive sense of the ‘power to’. reflection and action. for instance. Agency also encompasses collective. Agency is about more than observable action. the ability to define one’s goals and act upon them. constitute our third dimension of power. The norms of marriage in South Asia..

focusing on basic needs achievements addresses one aspect of the problem but raises others. it misses forms of gender disadvantage which are more likely to characterise better-off sections of society. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER is not relevant. An observed lack of uniformity in functioning achievements cannot be automatically interpreted as evidence of inequality because it is highly unlikely that all members of a given society will give equal value to different possible ways of ‘being and doing’. but intensify other social restrictions on women’s ability to make choices . For instance. we have to disentangle differentials which reflect differences in preferences and priorities from those which embody a denial of choice3. As far as empowerment is concerned. Inequalities in basic functionings generally tend to occur in situations of extreme scarcity.22 RESOURCES. When. A discussion by Folbre offers a pithy example of the distinction I am trying to make here: she points to the very differing implications of a model of gender equality which seeks to achieve equal of participation by women and men in the labour market as its indicator of achievement and one which seeks to equalilty of leisure. Consequently. where gender differentials in functioning achievements exist. AGENCY. they can be taken as evidence of inequalities in underlying capabilities rather than differences in preferences. adequate shelter. is the strategy adopted by Sen (). If there are systematic gender differences in these very basic functioning achievements. This is misleading for two reasons. we are interested in possible inequalities in people’s capacity to make choices rather than in differences in the choices they make. good health. On the one hand. those which relate to the basic fundamentals of survival and well-being. a concern with ‘achievements’ in the measurement of empowerment draws attention to the necessity for further qualifications to our understanding of choice. it is generally agreed that proper nourishment. regardless of context. Confining the analysis of gender inequality to these achievements alone serves to convey the impression that women’s disempowerment is largely a matter of poverty. One way of getting around the problem for measurement purposes would be to focus on certain universally-shared functionings. the failure to achieve reflects asymmetries in the underlying distribution of capabilities. Qualifying choice: difference versus inequality However. however. it can be taken as a manifestation of disempowerment. This. However. reasonable clothing and clean water all constitute primary functionings which tend to be universally valued. . Prosperity within a society may help to reduce gender inequalities in basic well-being. for instance.

However. we have to keep in mind that such measurements. This is the strategy adopted in the ’s gender-disaggregated Human Development Index as well as its Gender Empowerment Measure. A second way out of the problem might be to go beyond the concern with basic survival-related achievements to certain other functioning achievements which would be considered to be of social value in most contexts. found little evidence of income or consumption disadvantage between male. entail the movement away from the criteria of women’s choices. two widely used indicators of gender discrimination in basic wellbeing. this does not rule out the possibility that gender disadvantage can take other forms in these contexts. marked gender differentials in life expectancy and children’s nutrition. for instance. AGENCY.and female-headed households in Guinea. drawing attention to problematic disparities. ). We will return at a later section to the problems that external values can raise in the analysis of women’s empowerment. However. while there are sound reasons to move the measurement of achievements beyond very basic functionings. quite apart from their empirical shortcomings. such as life expectancy and nutritional status. to a definition of ‘achievement’ which represents the values of those who are doing the measuring. or even the values of the communities in which they live. do not appear to be as widespread in the context of sub-Saharan Africa as they do in South Asia. to more complex achievements. both men and women in his study recognised women’s far heavier workloads as well as male domination in private and public decision-making as manifestations of gender inequality within their community. However. In situations where we find evidence of striking gender inequalities in basic well-being . Such aggregated measures play a useful role in monitoring differences in achievements across regions and over time. Qualifying choice: ‘choosing not to choose’ The use of achievements to measure empowerment draws attention to a second problem of interpretation deriving from the central place given to choice in our definition of power. such as education and political representation. Shaffer ().KABEER • RESOURCES. it misses out on those dimensions of gender disadvantage among the poor which do not take the form of basic functioning failures. ACHIEVEMENTS 23 (Razavi. There is an intuitive plausibility to the equation between power and choice as long as what is chosen appears to contribute to the welfare of those making the choice. On the other. For instance. This is usually attributed to the greater economic contributions that women are able to make in the former context compared to the latter and to the cultural rules and norms which have evolved in recognition of their contribution.

AGENCY. that in Shaffer’s study from West Africa cited earlier. since how people perceive their . While these forms of behaviour could be said to reflect ‘choice’. but neither considered these inequalities unjust. they are also choices which stem from. women’s subordinate status. both women and men recognised the existence of gender inequalities in terms of women’s heavier workloads and men’s dominance in decision-making. women’s adherence to social norms and practices associated with son preference. implying as it does the need to distinguish between false and authentic consciousness. a problem often identified in the South Asian context. They remind us that power relations are expressed not only through the exercise of agency and choice. Such behaviour can have adverse implications for their own wellbeing as well as for the wellbeing for other female members of the family.24 RESOURCES. are all examples of behaviour by women which undermine their own wellbeing. Women’s acceptance of their secondary claims on household resources. but also through the kinds of choices people make. the equation between power and choice finds it far more difficult to accommodate forms of gender inequality when these appear to have been chosen by women themselves. and serve to reinforce. promotion of the practice of female circumcision. It is worth noting. This notion of power is a controversial one because it allows for the possibility that power and dominance can operate through consent and complicity as well as through coercion and conflict. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER achievements. their willingness to bear children to the detriment of their own health and survival to satisfy their own or their husband’s preference for sons. the equation between choice and power would suggest quite plausibly that such inequalities signal the operation of power: either as an absence of choice on the part of women as the subordinate group or as active discrimination by men as the dominant group. the oppressive exercise of authority by mothers-in-law over their daughters-in-law. for instance. discriminating against daughters in the allocation of food and basic health care to the extent to compromising the survival chances of the girl child. The consciousness we are talking about is not ‘false’ as such. The vocabulory of false consciousness is not a particularly useful description here. In addition. are examples of behaviour in which women’s internalisation of their own lesser status in society leads them to discriminate against other females in that society. However. This problem plays out in the literature on gender and wellbeing in the form of behaviour on the part of women which suggests that they have internalised their social status as persons of lesser value. their acquiescence to violence at the hands of their husbands. between illusion and reality.

However. emerging out of the routine practices of daily life and differentiated by gender in as much as the responsibilities and routines of daily life are gender differentiated. However. one which is not evident in everyday life because it is inscribed in the taken-for-granted rules. only becomes possible when competing ways of ‘being and doing’ become available as material and cultural possibilities. of being able to at least imagine the possibility of having chosen differently. AGENCY. a more critical consciousness. In any situation. As I pointed out. unnamed. ). ‘undiscussed. the aspects of tradition and culture which are so taken-for-granted that they have become naturalised. by the material and social context of their experiences and by the vantage point for reflexivity which this provides. some needs and interests are self-evident. so that ‘common sense’ propositions of culture begin to lose their ‘naturalised’ character. there are other needs and interests which do not have this self-evident nature because they derive from a ‘deeper’ level of reality. The idea of doxa is helpful here because it shifts our attention away from the dichotomy between false and authentic consciousness to a concern with differing levels of reality and the practical and strategic interests which they give rise to. One way of conceptualising this deeper reality is to be found in Bourdieu’s idea of ‘doxa’.KABEER • RESOURCES. ACHIEVEMENTS 25 needs and interests is shaped by their individual histories and everyday realities. we have to ask ourselves whether other choices were not only . the process by which people move from a position of unquestioning acceptance of the social order to a critical perspective on it. Bourdieu suggests that as long as the subjective assessments of social actors are largely congruent with the objectively organised possibilities available to them. norms and customs within which everyday life is conducted. In other words. appeared to pose a serious challenge to the basic equation made in this paper between power and choice. admitted without argument or scrutiny’ (Bourdieu. the possibility that power operates not only through constraints on people’s ability to make choices. but also through their preferences and values and hence the choices that they may make. Doxa refers to traditions and belief which exist beyond discourse or argumentation. The availability of alternatives at the discursive level. the world of doxa remains intact. This has an obvious bearing to our earlier discussion about functioning achievements as an aspect of empowerment. in assessing whether or not an achievement embodies meaningful choice. revealing the underlying arbitrariness of the given social order. The passage from ‘doxa’ to discourse. extending the idea of alternatives to encompass discursive alternatives. is thus crucial to the emergence of a critical consciousness. it is possible to retain the equation by a further qualification to our notion of ‘choice’.

These qualifications represent an attempt to incorporate the structural dimensions of choice into our analysis. Empowerment: dimensions. (. Choices which express the fundamental inequalities of a society. the extent to which the choices made have the potential for challenging and destabilising social inequalities and the extent to which they merely express and reproduce these inequalities. of trying out alternatives. Geuss () suggests that knowledge about social life and the self requires not only freedom from basic want but also the material and cultural possibility of experimentation. The importance of alternatives. agency and achievement possibilities available to different groups of individuals in a society: our criteria of ‘alternatives’ (could they have chosen otherwise?) recognises these larger constraints. However. Qualifications relating to the consequences of choice reflect the need to distinguish between strategic life choices. . which infringe the rights of others or which systematically devalue the self. Such a conceptualisation of empowerment suggests that it can reflect change at a number of different possible levels (Figure ). choice has been qualified in a number of ways to make it relevant to the analysis. are not compatible with the notion of ‘empowerment’ being put forward in this paper. levels and processes of change To sum up. and the other more mundane choices which follow once these first-order choices have been made. Structures operate through the rules. reinforcing. norms and practices of different institutions to determine the resources. the freedom to experience and to discuss the results of that experience. we have no way of knowing whether they really enjoy their chains…’ . AGENCY. Lukes refers to the absence of actual or imagined alternatives as a factor explaining the absence of protest to the injustices of an unequal order. The consequences of choice can be further evaluated in terms of their transformatory significance. . the ability to choose has been made central to the concept of power which informs the analysis in this paper. modifying and transforming them: our criteria of ‘consequences’ draws attention to these possibilities. Qualifications regarding the conditions of choice point to the need to distinguish between choices made from the vantage point of real alternatives and choices which reflect their absence or punishingly high costs. Shklar puts the question of alternatives eloquently when she declares. ‘Unless and until we can offer the injured and insulted victims of the most of the world’s traditional as well as revolutionary governments a genuine and practicable alternative to their present condition. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER materially possible but whether they were conceived to be within the realms of possibility 4.26 RESOURCES. material as well as discursive. is common to a number of analyses of power. However. those which represent valued ways of ‘being and doing’. the actions and choices of individuals and groups can in turn act on structural constraints. Legalism).

if indirect. Others adopt a linear cause-and-effect logic to model the relationship between changes in different dimensions or levels of empowerment. And it can occur in the deeper. changes in the resources that individuals enjoy. but which leave intact the structures of inequality and discrimination may help to improve their economic welfare without necessarily empowering them. However. They differ in the dimensions of empowerment which they choose to focus on and in whether they treat power as an attribute of individuals or a property of structures. Equally. The ’s Gender Empowerment Measure which focuses on women’s political representation or percentages of women in managerial posts is an example of this approach. It is assumed that such indicators tell us something important. agency and achievements It can reflect change at the level of individuals and groups. in how they perceive their interests and in their capacity to act. ACHIEVEMENTS 27 Figure 2. It can occur at the intermediate level. Levels of empowerment ‘Deeper’ levels: Structural relations of class/caste/gender Intermediate levels Institutional rules and resources Immediate levels Individual resources. AGENCY. These tend to confine themselves to changes at the individual level. or be symptomatic of. for in- . In the rest of this paper. hidden structures which shape the distribution of resources and power in a society and reproduce it over time. the population and the gender literature in development studies. change in one dimension or level is presumed to lead to. in the rules and relationships which prevail in the personal. They also differ in how social change is conceptualised. in their sense of selfhood and identity.KABEER • RESOURCES. economic and political spheres of life. I will be reviewing a selection of studies which attempt to measure women’s empowerment drawn largely from the economic. there are some important differences in how these various studies deal with the idea of empowerment. about women’s ability to make strategic choices in other aspects of their lives. for any such change to translate into meaningful and sustainable processes of empowerment. it must ultimately encompass both individual and structural levels. As we will see. In some cases. social. The institution of rights within the legal framework of a society is meaningless unless these rights have a real impact on the range of possibilities available to all individuals in that society. changes in others so that they confine themselves to indicators of that change.

While it may identify certain key elements of structure and agency as having a catalytic potential. however. How changes in women’s resources will translate into changes in the choices . resources are at one remove from choice. There is a widespread tendency in the empowerment literature to talk about ‘access to resources’ in a generic way. What is understandably missing from the measurement literature are examples of the more processual model of social change subscribed to by many feminists and exemplified in the following quotes from Batliwala: …the exercise of informed choice within an expanding framework of information. However. It is premised on the unpredictability of human agency and on the diversity of circumstances under which such agency is exercised. The study by Hodinott et al.28 RESOURCES. a critical reading of attempts at measurement suggest that the task is less simple than it appears. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER stance. knowledge and analysis…a process which must enable women to discover new possibilites. Consequently. empowerment is seen as a form of social change which is not easily captured by quantitative data. as if indicating some relationship between women and resources automatically specifies the choices it makes possible. A processual understanding of social change tends to treat it as openended. new options…a growing repertoire of choices…to independently struggle for changes in their material conditions of existence. . on the reduction in married women’s suicide rates apparently as a result of changes in the divorce law in Canada is an example. and of gaining greater control over the sources of power… (Batliwala  and ). between changes in women’s access to income earning opportunities and their decision-making power within the household although a few have also sought to model the effects of changes at the structural level for individual choice5. even when resources are defined in narrow material terms as they generally tend to be. AGENCY. their personal lives and their treatment in the public sphere…The process of challenging existing power relations. Section 2: Measuring Empowerment: the Problem of Meaning Measuring ‘resources’ The ‘resource’ dimension of empowerment would appear at first sight to be the most easy to measure. In reality. it does not attempt to determine in advance how this potential will play out in practice. a measure of potential rather than actualised choice.

Dyson and Moore. there is little difference in the Hindu and Muslim community. in part. Joint family property is generally held in a coparcenary system by men. generally prefer. . absolute but unequal rights to property: men tend to inherit twice the share of women. despite these differences in the customary and legal positions of women in the two communities. Muslim inheritance principles have been left untouched.g. to the total exclusion of women (Mukhopadhyay. ). It has. AGENCY. on the other hand. usually fathers and sons.KABEER • RESOURCES. let us take women’s ‘access’ to land. Muslim women. on the other hand. Thus the critical measure of women’s access to land which characterises the Indian literature is de facto rather than de jure entitlement and by this measure. to waive their rights to parental property in favour of their brothers with the result that they too are treated as effectively propertyless. Hindu law has been reformed after Indian independence to give men and women equal rights of inheritance. However. for instance. on other aspects of the conditions in which they are making their choices. ACHIEVEMENTS 29 they are able to make will depend. Among Muslims. At the systemic level. However. ). women have always enjoyed the right to inherit property and to inherit as individuals. both Muslim and Hindu women tend to be treated as effectively propertyless in the literature. Boserup. for instance. compared for instance. Among Hindus. older norms and customs remain powerful and Agarwal () provides evidence of the difficulties they face they seek to assert legal over customary practices around land inheritance. . joint family property is a central tenet shaping inheritance practices with some local variation in how this is interpreted. Yet it is by no means evident that de facto ownership tells us all we need to know about the potential domain of choice. land inheritance rules are by no means uniform within this region. or are encouraged to prefer. this is often captured by distinguishing between different categories of land rights with the assumption that women are likely to exercise a greater degree of autonomy in those regions where they enjoy some rights to land (e. Muslim women and men consequently enjoy individual. Yet studies which use measures of women’s access to land as an indicator of empowerment seldom reflect on the pathways by which such ‘access’ translates into agency and achievement. with the south. that a causal connection is often made between patrilineal principles of descent and inheritance in the northern plains of the Indian sub-continent compared to the south and the lower levels of female autonomy beli in the northern plains of the Indian sub-continent. By way of example. For Hindu women. let alone seeking to understand these pathways empirically. It is noteworthy.

These are potentials which are not easily available to women in communities where such rights were not recognised by customary law and tradition. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER been pointed out that although Muslim women do waive their land rights to their brothers (and may be under considerable pressure to do so). although sometimes under pressure from their husbands (Kabeer. ) while Razavi also notes evidence from in rural Iran of a greater willingness of women to press for their property rights in court. ). even if they have. the power of customary constructions of rights over recently introduced legalistic ones noted in these studies also raises a question about processes of social change which has yet to be satisfactorily answered in the empowerment literature: how do attempts to change deeply entrenched structures. she would stand a good chance of being murdered’. pitting the law against rules legitimised by custom and religion. subsequently been brought into existence by legislative action. they may begin to press their claims on such a resource. I found evidence of women beginning to claim their inheritance rights in rural Bangladesh. Das Gupta () has pointed out in the context of her study in the jat kinship system in Punjab that there was no question of women owning land: ‘If she should insist on her right to inherit land equally under civil law. Moreover. this time to compensate for their diminishing employment opportunities (Razavi. AGENCY. The necessity for such an exchange may reflect women’s subordinate status within the community but the fact that women’s land rights are in principle recognised by their community gives them a resource to bargain with in a situation in which they have few other resources. The main methodological point to take from this discussion therefore is that the ‘resource’ dimension has to be defined in ways which spell out their potential for human agency and valued achievements more clearly than simple ‘access’ indicators generally do if it is to be useful as a measure of empowerment. they thereby strengthen their future claim on their brothers. While brothers have a duty under Islam to look after their sisters. Indeed. translate into changes in individual agency and choice? The recognition by many analysts of the need to go beyond simple ‘access’ indicators in order to grasp how ‘resources’ translate into the realisation of choice has led to variety of concepts seeking to bridge the gap . the waiving of land rights by sisters in favour of brothers gives a material basis to a moral entitlement. in this case. should their marriage break down. as in India.30 RESOURCES. In addition. One of the limitation of de facto measures of land entitlements discussed here is that they ignore the diverse processes by which the de facto possession or dispossession occurs and hence fail to appreciate possible differences in women’s choices implied by differences in the de jure position. as the situation changes.

the focus on control in relation to the resource dimension of empowerment reflects a recognition on the part of analysts that ‘access’ to resources will only translate into empowerment if women are able to act on. such as women’s mobility in the public . usually operationalised in terms of having a say in relation to the resource in question. AGENCY. ownership. In Jeejheboy’s analysis (). equate both ‘access’ and ‘control’ with having a say in decisions related to particular resources within the household.KABEER • RESOURCES. cash to spend on household expenses and freedom to purchase clothes. and control as ‘choice’ (choosing own spouse or being consulted in the choice of marriage partner). The most frequently used of these bridging concepts is that of ‘control’. Nevertheless. what we find in the literature is a tendency to use concepts such as access. concepts of ‘access’. However. while the focus on ‘control’ is an important conceptual step forward. Instead. ACHIEVEMENTS 31 between formal and effective entitlement to resources. these resources in some definitive way. control defined in terms of self reliance (can women support themselves without their husband’s support). including negative forms of agency such as male violence as well as positive forms. Sathar and Kazi (). Measuring ‘agency’ There are a variety of ways of measuring women’s agency in the development studies literature. for instance. or because of. Their measure of ‘access to resources’ is based on whether women had a say in household expenses. despite lack of clarity or consensus about what exactly ‘control’ might mean and how it can be measured. Kishor defines empowerment as ‘women’s control over key aspects of their lives’ but her attempts to measure this ‘control’ varies between decision-making in relation to earnings and expenditures. entitlement and control interchangeably so that there is considerable confusion about what ‘control’ actually means. jewellery and gifts for their relatives while ‘control over resources’ is measured by asking who kept household earnings and who had a say in household expenditure. with ‘control’ sometimes referring to ownership and sometimes to decision-making. one criteria for evaluating the validity of a resource-based measure as an indicator of women’s empowerment is the validity of its implicit or explicit assumptions about the kinds of agency or entitlement that women are able to exercise as a result of their ‘access’ to the resource in question. control as decision-making (who has final say in making decisions about a variety of issues). generally by introducing some aspect of agency into the measure. it does not necessarily make the question of what to measure any easier to answer. Thus. ‘control’ and ‘decision-making’ are all used in relation to resources.

sale and purchase of livestock. I will restrict my discussion of measures of agency in relation to women’s empowerment to the form which features most widely in the literature which is ‘decision-making’ agency. • Zimbabwe: Wife working outside. • Nepal: What food to buy. use of family planning methods (Kishor. decisions about children’s education and type of school (Jejeebhoy. purchase of major asset (Hashemi et al. Measures of such agency are usually based on responses to questions asking women about their roles in relation to specific decisions. jewellery and gifts for wife’s relatives (Sathar and Kazi. to send children to school. However. the decision by women to work outside. ). whether to take sick children to doctor and how to rear children. health care matters (Cleland et al. purchase of clothes. food cooked. with answers sometimes combined into a single index and sometimes presented separately. • Iran: Types and quantities of food. ). house repair. purchase of small items of jewellery. labour and sale in agricultural production (Razavi. and the number of children to have (Morgan and Niraula. making a major purchase. taking in livestock for raising. household purchases. household expenses. ) • India: Purchase of food. ). purchase of major household goods. how to spend husband’s income. . whether to use family planning. whether wife works. whether to buy and sell land. (Kritz. AGENCY. schooling of children. inputs. visits. ). • Nigeria: Household purchases. ). number of children. • Bangladesh: Children’s education. ). visits to friends and relatives. ).32 RESOURCES. how much education. disciplining the child. . children’s health. Makinwa and Gurak. ). • Bangladesh: Ability to make small consumer purchases: ability to make large consumer purchases. These are discussed in the longer version of this paper published by  (). major market transaction. when sons and when daughters marry. children’s marriage. the number of children (Becker. women’s work outside the home. course of action if child falls ill. children’s education. major household purchases. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER domain in regions where female seclusion is the norm 6. Examples of decisions which typically apppear in measurement efforts and the geographical context covered are summarised below: Typical decisions in decision-making indicators • Egypt: Household budget. • Pakistan: Purchase of food. leasing in of land. number of children to have.

ACHIEVEMENTS 33 Even a preliminary reading of these different decisions suggests that they are not all equally persuasive as indicators of women’s empowerment because they do not all have same consequential significance for women’s lives. by the pre-existing gender division of roles and responsibilities tell us far less about their power to choose than evidence on decisions which relate to strategic life choices or to choices which had been denied to them in the past. within the family. for instance. which reserves certain key areas of decision-making for men in their capacity as household heads while assigning others to women in their capacity as mothers. such distinctions suggest the need for greater care in selecting and quantifying the decisions which are to serve as indicators of empowerment. They participated. schooling of children (% and %) and the marriage of children (% and %). The evidence from South Asia. wives. More commonly we find a hierarchy of decision-making responsibilities recognised by the family and community. with attention given to consequential significance of different categories of decisions or of different stages in the decisionmaking process. In methodological terms. They found on the basis of data from Pakistan that the only area of decision-making in which women reported both participating (%) as well as playing a major decision-making role (%) was in relation to the purchase of food. We could also distinguish between various critical ‘control points’ within the decision-making process itself where such control is defined in terms of the consequential significance of influencing outcomes at these . but did not play a major role in number of children to have (% and % respectively).KABEER • RESOURCES. They had lower levels of participation and even less likelihood of playing a major role in decisions relating to major household purchases (% and %) and livestock transactions (% and %). daughters and so on. anyway. Thus major economic decisions were largely reserved for men while women played a more significant role in minor economic decisions. suggests that. Evidence that women played a role in making decisions which were of little consequence or else were assigned to women. Few cultures operate with starkly dichotomous distributions of power with men making all the decisions and women making none. but did not have a major role. AGENCY. They participated. the purchase of food and other items of household consumption and decisions related to children’s health appear to fall within women’s arena of decision-making while decisions related to the education and marriage of children and the market transactions in major assets tend to be more clearly male. in decisions relating to numbers of children and their schooling and even less of a role when it came to children’s marriage. This is clearly illustrated in Sathar and Kazi ().

There is an important body of research from the South Asian context which suggests that the the renegotiation of power relations. she will apologise but explain that because the seeds did not germinate they had to be replanted in a different manner/spot’. Their accounts of ‘actual’ decision-making. since the land belongs to the man. it has conceptual implications. for instance.34 RESOURCES. is often precisely about changes in informal decision- . This can be illustrated by comparing Silberschmidt’s () account of formal and informal decision-making among the Kisii in Kenya. ) that men were dominant in the decision to adopt contraceptives. ‘statistical’ perspectives on decision-making should also be remembered for what they are: simple windows on complex realities. but they tell us very little about the subtle negotiations that go on between women and men in their private lives. distinguishes between the ‘control’ or policy making function in making decisions about resource allocation and the ‘management’ function. They may provide a brief glimpse of processes of decision-making. Finally. Their most common practice was to avoid open confrontation while still getting their own way… There is no doubt that many women do often manipulate their menfolk and make decisions independently. gave a very different picture: ‘(Women) admitted that men should be consulted on all sorts of issues. (p. and that they were supposed to determine various actions that must be taken. they may underestimate the informal decision-making agency which women often exercise. The inability of a purely statistical approach to capture this informal aspect is not simply a measurement failure. If he finds out that she has not followed his instructions. For example. AGENCY. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER different points (Beneria and Roldan. In reality. however. Pahl (). but simply plant in what she feels is a better way. ). particularly within the family. The formal account of decision-making given by women ascribed most of the power to men: ‘The husbands were said to be ‘heads’ of households and their ‘owners’ – as an afterthought the wives might add. the policy decision. decisions which pertain to implementation. Consequently. he is expected to decide where the various crops are to be planted. however. many women took such decisions themselves. she would seldom say so. however. If his wife disagrees. “they can buy us just like cattle”. but tended to leave the choice of contraception largely to women (although Ali’s qualitative study found men’s continuing involvement in women’s choice of contraceptives as well). ). This distinction may explain the finding by the Egyptian Male Survey in  (cited in Ali.

AGENCY. or the interests of those who depend on them (p. Since women bore primary responsibility for children’s health.). with women opting for private forms of empowerment. Measuring achievement As with the other dimensions of empowerment. Such strategies reflect a certain degree of caution on the part of women. Kishor () has used national Egyptian data to explore the effects of direct. ACHIEVEMENTS 35 making. of the traditional decision-maker but which nevertheless increases their ‘backstage’ influence in decisionmaking processes (Chen. and honour. Basu. together with the variables which had greatest weight in each indicator: 1) Direct evidence of empowerment i) Devaluation of women: reports of domestic violence. measures of women’s empowerment on two valued functioning achievements: infant survival rates and infant immunisation. strategic virtues in situations where they may have as much to lose from the disruption of social relationships as they have to gain. . . and act in their own interests. ). take decisions. Her analysis relied on three categories of composite indicators to measure empowerment: ‘direct evidence of empowerment’. These achievements were selected on the basis of her conceptualisation of women’s empowerment in terms of ‘control’ which she defined as the ability to ‘access information. as well as indirect. the critical methodological point to be made in relation to achievement indicators relates once again to the need for analytical clarity in the selection of what is to be measured. freedom of movement iii) Reported sharing of roles and decision making: egalitarian gender roles. Kabeer. which retain intact the public image. ‘sources of empowerment’ and ‘the setting for empowerment’.KABEER • RESOURCES. she hypothesised that their empowerment would be associated with positive achievements in terms of the health and survival of their children. An examination of some of the studies which have included indicators of achievement in their analysis of women’s empowerment will help to throw up other criteria for the selection of such indicators. egalitarian decision-making . I have summarised these below. dowry paid at marriage ii) Women’s emancipation: belief in daughters’ education. I have already pointed out the need to make a distinction between gender-differentiated achievements which signal differences in values and preferences and those which draw attention to inequalities in the ability to make choices.

female education ii) Lifetime exposure to employment: worked before marriage. other more factual direct indicators (eg. whether husband and wife were justified in seeking divorce on the same grounds. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER iv) Equality in marriage: fewer grounds reported for justified divorce by husbands. One is that her direct indicators of empowerment did not in fact succeed in capturing empowerment particularly well. the grounds on which women believed that a husband was justified in divorcing his wife. AGENCY. did not choose husband The results of a multivariate analysis found that the indirect source/setting indicators of women’s empowerment had far more influence in determining the value of her achievement variables than the direct measures. ‘financial autonomy’ and ‘freedom of movement’) also proved insignificant. in residence with their parents-in-law as well as in households where there was a large difference in the age and education levels of husband and wife. chose husband iii) Traditional marriage: large educational difference with husband. her earnings as share household income 2) Sources of empowerment i) Participation in the modern sector: index of assets owned. A further ‘deconstruction’ of Kishor’s findings suggests that child mortality was higher in households where women were currently. and whether women should speak up if they disagreed with their husbands. Child mortality were lower if the mother had been in employment prior to her marriage. This is quite plausible given that many entailed highly value-laden information about attitudes and relationships within marriage eg. or had previously been. The other possible explanation was that the achievements in question did not in fact depend on whether or not women were directly ‘empowered’ but on other factors which were better captured by the ‘source’ and ‘setting’ variables.36 RESOURCES. equality of grounds reported for divorce by husband or wife v) Financial autonomy: currently controls her earnings. There are two possible and mutually compatible explanations for this finding. controlled earnings before marriage 3) Setting indicators i) Family structure amenable to empowerment: does not now or previously live with in-laws ii) Marital advantage: small age difference between spouses. However. As far as the im- .

AGENCY. if. Female education influenced children’s survival chances indirectly through its association with improved standards of household water and sanitation but had a direct influence on the likelihood of child immunisation. where they were educated and where they were not under the authority of in-laws as a result of joint residence. competent or authoritative in taking the necessary actions to ensure their children’s health. as is likely. children were more likely to have been immunised in households where their mothers had extended experience of employment. were more likely to have been subordinate to the authority of a senior female. where they reported exposure to the media. The fact that women’s education and employment as well as ‘equality in marriage’ all had a direct influence on the likelihood of child immunization but only women’s employment affected their survival chances. ACHIEVEMENTS 37 munisation was concerned. women who lived. Thus the only direct measure of empowerment which proved significant in the analysis was her ‘equality of marriage’ indicator and it proved significant only in relation to child immunization. In addition. the care of infants came within women’s pre-assigned sphere of jurisdiction. For instance. Returning to a point made earlier. proved insignificant in explaining the achievement variables. In other words. Female education and employment both had a role in explaining child welfare outcomes but with slight variations. The differences in the determinants of the two achievement variables are worth noting. Women who were less educated than their husbands or much younger were also likely have been less confident. it was variables which captured women’s ability to take effective action in relation to the welfare of their children which played the significant explanatory role. Instead. This is why the direct measures of empowerment. or had lived. then improvements in functioning achievements in this sphere should be seen as increased efficacy in pre-assigned roles rather than as evidence of their empowerment. which dealt largely with equality in conjugal relationships.KABEER • RESOURCES. where the age difference between husband and wife was small and where women expressed a belief in equality in marriage. . children’s survival chances were likely to be higher. Lifetime experience of employment by women had a direct positive effect on their children’s chances of survival as well as the likelihood of child immunisation. what mattered for achievements in relation to children’s wellbeing was women’s agency as mothers rather than as wives. with less likelihood of exercising effective agency at a time when such agency was critical to children’s health outcomes. with their in-laws . suggests that the former activity may have required a more active agency on the part of mothers than did the more routine forms of health-seeking behaviour through which child survival is generally assured.

Becker pointed out that. In the second stage. women who lived in rural areas and who had polygamous husbands were less likely to use contraception. Adding the empowerment indicator did little to improve the fit of the equation in relation to contraceptive use. contraceptive services were widely available through communitybased distribution systems and contraceptive prevalence was correspondingly high. were also more likely to be assertive when it came to active and non-routine healthseeking behaviour on their own behalf. In both the studies discussed here. education and employment and husband’s education. suggesting that it may have required far greater assertiveness on the part of women than contraceptive use. Over % of the women in his sample used it. He found that contraceptive use appeared to be positively related to household wealth. as measured by a possessions index. it did not appear to require any great assertiveness on the part of women to access the necessary services. Empowerment was measured by an index of women’s role in decision-making in three key areas: the purchase of household items. and had also become a relatively routine form of behaviour. Regression analysis was carried out in two stages. The likelihood that women received prenatal care was positively related to household possessions. By contrast. women who were assertive in other areas of household decision-making. who were educated and employed. the decision to work outside and number of children to have. Older women. women’s age. First of all. In other words. the wife’s employment and husband’s education. In a context where contraception was both easily available. rural residence. Becker added a measure of women’s empowerment to his equations to see what difference it made. given the commitment of the Zimbabwean government to family planning.38 RESOURCES. but significantly improved the fit as far as take up of pre-natal care was concerned. the number of surviving children. AGENCY. but otherwise. women’s employment status increased the likelihood of use. Speculating on the meaning of these findings. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER The case for analytical clarity in the selection of ‘empowerment-related’ measures of achievement can also be illustrated with reference to a study by Becker () which used data from Zimbabwe to explore the implications of women’s empowerment on a different set of functioning achievements: the use of contraception and the take-up of pre-natal health care. women’s take up of pre-natal care was more closely related to their role in intra-household decision-making as well as to both their education levels and their employment status. direct measures of women’s agency were far more significant in determining outcomes when women were required to step out of routine forms of behaviour – getting their children . he explored the effects of some likely determinants of these outcomes.

The fact that this may. apart from the extent to which outcomes require women to go against the grain of established custom. entail agency on their own behalf is not intended to . women’s ability to access pre-natal health care is more indicative of the kind of transformative agency we are talking about. by itself. of the family and. The reduction in under-five mortality associated with women’s access to education can be taken as evidence of more effective agency on the part of women but does not. While accepting this interpretation. Our discussion therefore suggests that in situations of gender discrimination. and pre-natal health visits in the other – than outcomes which allowed them to conform to prevailing practice. of women themselves – and while both were quite evidently the product of women’s greater effectiveness as agents. above all. in one case. A similar distinction between achievements which testify to women’s greater efficacy as agents within prescribed gender roles and those which are indicative of women as agents of transformation would apply to the determinants of under-five child mortality and gender differentials in child mortality in India reported by Dreze and Sen (). ACHIEVEMENTS 39 immunised. While both child survival and immunisation are highly valued achievements from a number of variety of perspectives – of policy makers. as in Becker’s study.KABEER • RESOURCES. evidence that the enhancement of women’s agency led to a reduction in prevailing gender inequalities in functioning achievements can be taken as evidence of women’s empowerment. testify to a transformatory agency on their part. They interpreted these effects as evidence that women’s access to education and employment enhanced their ability to exercise agency. the reductions in excess female mortality associated with higher levels of female education and employment does suggest something more than greater efficacy of agency. They found that female literacy reduced under-five child mortality while both female labour force participation as well as female literacy reduced excess female mortality in the under-five age group. AGENCY. In this sense. I would nevertheless argue that the meanings conveyed by the two functioning achievements carried rather different implications in terms of women’s empowerment. neither achievement by itself necessarily implied a shift in underlying power relations. However. On the other hand. it suggests that women who have some education and are economically active are more likely than others to give equal value to sons and daughters and to exercise equal effort on their behalf. Given that the reduction in excess female mortality represented an increase in the survival chances of the girl child rather than a decrease in the survival chances of boys. achievements also have to be assessed for their transformatory implications in relation to the gender inequalities frequently embedded in these customs.

40 RESOURCES. gender inequalities in education. but as acknowledgement that. whereas improvements in the wellbeing of other family members do not necessarily imply improvements in women’s wellbeing. In other words. gender inequalities often take the form of women’s well-being being given a secondary place to that of men7. Triangulation and meaning: the indivisibility of resources. However. it would be a reasonable hypothesis to assume that improvements in women’s wellbeing are likely to also imply improvements in the wellbeing of other family members. it should be noted that unlike South Asia. In most contexts. . or can make a reasonable guess. In others. AGENCY. sub-Saharan Africa is not characterised by marked gender inequalities in mortality and life expectancy. whatever dimension of empowerment it is intended to measure. for instance. As far as the Becker study is concerned. their ability to realise valued ways of being and doing. It is similarly difficult to judge the validity of an achievement measure unless we have evidence. Obviously we would need to take account of the terms on which such contraceptives were offered before taking evidence of take up as evidence of empowerment. in as much as it has higher rates of fertility than many other parts of the world. without reference to the other dimensions of empowerment. What the discussion has thrown up very clearly is that it is not possible to establish the meaning of an indicator. and correspondingly higher rates of maternal mortality. this secondary place results in extreme and life-threatening forms of gender inequality. as to whose agency was involved and the extent to which the achievement in question transformed prevailing inequalities in resources and agency rather than reinforcing them or leaving them unchallenged. the three dimensions are indivisible in determining the meaning of an indicator and hence its validity as a measure of empowerment. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER equate empowerment with self-interest. . it may take less life-threatening forms. and the extent to which their agency transforms the conditions under which it is exercised. exacerbated by the absence of good health services. In some contexts. Specifying ‘access’ to a resource tells us about potential rather than actual choice and the validity of a ‘resource’ measure as an indicator of empowerment largely rests on the validity of the assumptions made about the potential agency or entitlement embodied in that resource. by and large. women’s ability to access both ante-natal health care and contraceptive services can be taken as helping to redress a gender-specific form of functioning failure. agency and achievements The review so far of the ‘fit’ between the different dimensions of empowerment and the indicators used to measure them has essentially been a review about the ‘fit’ between the meanings attributed to a measure and the meanings empirically revealed by it. Similar considerations apply to evidence on agency: we have to know about its consequential significance in terms of women’s strategic life choices.

they were seeking to make assumptions about agency on the basis of evidence on the relationship between resources and achievements. and probably more time on leisure. Indicators not only compress a great deal of information into a single statistic but make assumptions. . ). men’s greater leisure as a result of loans to their household. . often implicit. about what this information means. However. As I have argued elsewhere. In terms of the terminology of this paper. the increase in women’s market-related work as a result of their access to credit has been given a much more negative interpretation by others who have suggested that increases in women’s loan-generated labour may simply add to their increased work burdens. Ackerly. these conflicting conclusions reflected very different understandings of empowerment rather than contradictory sets of evidence (see Kabeer.. AGENCY.KABEER • RESOURCES. nor was it always clear whether these outcomes constituted achievements of some valued goal or a failure to realise a valued goal. overwork.  and  for a more detailed analysis of these evaluations). Let me illustrate the importance of triangulation by analysing the very conflicting conclusions regarding the empowerment potential of loans to women which were reported by a number of evaluations of the same sub-set of credit programmes in Bangladesh. regardless of whether the loan in question had been a male or a female. could quite plausibly be interpreted as evidence of male privilege and power rather than (or as well as) an ‘income effect’. the value of their analysis was undermined by the fact that no rationale was offered for the selection of the particular decision-making outcomes in question. ACHIEVEMENTS 41 The methodological implication flowing from this is the critical need to triangulate. to cross check through other sources and methods the evidence provided by an indicator in order to establish that it means what it is believed to mean. The more evidence there is to support these assumptions. However. Pitt and Khandker () attempted to infer gender differences in bargaining power within the household from the extent to which a set of preselected decision-making outcomes varied according to the gender of the loanee. fatigue and malnutrition (Montgomery et al. Further information on what their findings actually meant would have helped to distinguish between these alternative hypotheses. regardless of who actually received the loan. the more faith we are likely to have in the validity of the indicator in question. Goetz and Sen Gupta. the authors themselves interpret their finding that women loanees spent more time on market-related work than did women in male loanee households as evidence of women’s empowerment but explained as an ‘income effect’ the finding that men in households that had received credit spent less time on market-related work. For instance. Similarly.

did it represent their greater role in household decision-making about the distribution of household resources. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER A similar absence of information on the agency involved in the achievement of particular decision-making outcomes also characterises a study by Rahman (). as evidence on women’s empowerment. If there are problems with inferring agency on the basis of inadequate information about achievements. having participated in all stages of the enterprise. The large numbers of women found to be exercising ‘little’ or ‘no control’ over their loans according to this criteria led the authors to extremely pessimistic conclusions about the empowerment potential of credit programmes for women. including marketing of their products. She found that women who had received loans enjoyed higher levels of welfare (food. or did it represent the greater weight given by the household head to women’s wellbeing in recognition of women’s role in bringing in economic resources? Clearly each of these possibilities throws a different light on the issue of power and agency within the household so that while we can arrive at some firm conclusions about the effects of their access to credit on women’s welfare. there is still a question mark about its implications for their empowerment. This is evident in a study by Goetz and Sen Gupta () in which they used an index of ‘managerial control’ as their indicator of women’s empowerment. gender differentials in intra-household welfare. but did not fully eliminate. AGENCY. attempts to infer achievement possibilities on the basis of restricted understandings of agency are equally problematic. Her findings would lead us to conclude that women’s access to credit reduced. This index classified women who had no knowledge of how their loans had been utilised or else had played no part in the enterprise funded by their loans as having ‘little or no control’ over their loans at one end of the spectrum while at the other end of the spectrum were those who were described as exercising ‘full control’ over their loans. if we return to our earlier point about the hierarchy of decisions within decision-making processes. Did increased expenditures on women’s wellbeing represent the more active and direct exercise of purchasing power by women. However. her selection of outcomes at least had a plausible bearing on women’s empowerment since they relate to basic welfare achievements in a context characterised by considerable gender discrimination. However.42 RESOURCES. However. they would have been strengthened by information on whose agency was involved in translating loans into impact. a major problem with their . clothing and medical expenditure) compared to women in households where men had received the loans or in economically equivalent households which had not received any loans at all.

been prevented visiting her natal home or from working outside. then certainly ‘managerial control’ can serve as an indicator of empowerment. in principle. the remaining % of women in their sample could. In particular. then apart from the unknown proportion of the % women in their ‘no control’ category who reported that they did not even know how their loans were used. as Goetz and Sen Gupta apppear to be hypothesizing. Putting this point to one side. control over the loan-funded activity is in fact a critical ‘control’ point in the process by which access to loans translates into a range of valued achievements. involvement in major areas of economic decision-making. The indicators they used were: mobility in a number of public locations. AGENCY. including purchases for women themselves. and the management decisions by which decision regarding loan use were implemented. it conflated ‘control’ and ‘management’. The results of their analysis suggested that women’s access to credit contributed significantly to the magnitude of the economic contributions reported by women. in . () classified all the women loanees in their sample according to the categories of ‘managerial control’ spelt out by Goetz and Sen Gupta. if. the magnitude of women’s economic contribution to the family. land-related decisions or purchase of major assets. By then going on to examine the relationship between women’s access to loans and a range of empowerment indicators. Hashemi et al were essentially asking whether women’s access to credit could have any transformatory significance for their lives. If this distinction had been taken into account. whether women had suffered appropriation of their money or any other asset. political and legal awareness. have exercised much greater control over their loans than allowed for by the authors. While the results varied considerably according to both the length of women’s membership of credit organisation as well as by credit organisation. Hashemi et al. they confirmed that large percentage of women in certain villages did indeed ‘lose’ control over their loans by Goetz and Sen Gupta’s criteria. making no distinction between the policy decision as to how loans were to be utilised and repaid. ACHIEVEMENTS 43 index of ‘managerial control’ was that it conflated quite distinct moments in the decision-making processes by which access to loans translates into impact on women’s lives. regardless of who exercised ‘managerial control’. and participation in public protests and campaigns. this hypothesis is directly contradicted by yet another evaluation of a similar set of credit programmes in rural Bangladesh. However. to the likelihood of an increase in asset holdings in their own names.KABEER • RESOURCES. the ability to make small purchases as well as larger purchases. to an increase in their exercise of purchasing power. economic security viz. assets and savings in their own names.

access to credit and the size of reported economic contributions were each sufficient but not necessary for the achievement of empowerment-related outcomes. it could be argued that each manifestation of agency measured also constituted a valued achievement in itself. political participation and involvement in ‘major decision-making’ for particular credit organisations. rather than being derived from a priori assumptions. Let me start with the question of emic or ‘insider values’ before going on to consider the complications introduced by outsider values. AGENCY. It should be noted that the indicators used by Hashemi et al. were devised on the basis of a prior ethnographic study. While their indicators focused largely on different aspects of women’s agency. the study explored the separate effects of women’s economic contribution to the household budget and their access to credit on the various empowerment indicators and found that separating out women’s economic contribution reduced the impact of women’s access to credit. Triangulation requires that multiple sources of information are brought to bear on the interpretation of an indicator thereby guarding against the interpretative bias of the analyst. methodological or political leanings rather than the realities they are seeking to portray. Together. access to credit was also associated with higher levels of mobility. Section 3: Measuring Empowerment: the Problem of Values Status. and explains their greater persuasiveness as measures of what they sought to measure. autonomy and the relevance of context I have so far focused on the problem of meaning in the selection of indicators of empowerment: do indicators mean what they are supposed to mean? I want to turn now to the question of values and how they complicate attempts to conceptualise and measure women’s empowerment. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER their political and legal awareness as well as in the composite empowerment index. The main way in which ‘insider values’ have been captured in studies dealing with . Finally. This comparison of different approaches to the quantification of empowerment in the context of the same set of credit programmes highlights very clearly the need for the triangulation of evidence in order to ensure that indicators mean what they are intended to mean. The absence of such supportive evidence carries the danger that analysts will load meanings onto their indicators which reflect their own disciplinary. their effects were mutually reinforcing. In other words. but the independent impact of access to credit on the empowerment indicators remained significant. Furthermore.44 RESOURCES.

offers some lower-level insights into the relationship between cultural context and individual preference. one of the southern states of India. Measures of women’s autonomy included their role in decision-making. agency and achievements. some of which reflected factors traditionally associated with female status (e. we have already noted the findings reported by Dreze and Sen that women’s literacy and employment status helped to explain variations in overall child mortality and in excess female mortality among children across India. In Uttar Pradesh. These regional dummy variables can be seen as compressing information about a whole range of inter-related norms and practices related to marriage.. co-residence with mother-in-law and size of dowry) as well as education and waged employment. who lived in nuclear families and who . If we accept that investments in the survival and well-being of a family member tells us something important about the value attached to that member. mobility. access to economic resources and control over economic resources. then the analysis by Dreze and Sen tells us that the structural variables which make up gender relations in different parts of India were far more important in determining the extent to which the girl child is valued within the family than the individual characteristics of her parents. the size of their dowry and nuclear family residence – were more closely linked with the autonomy indicators in the restrictive context of Uttar Pradesh than they were in the more egalitarian context of Tamil Nadu. women who had brought large dowries to their marriages. mobility and inheritance which make up gender relations in different parts of India. one of its northern states. In general. variables associated with the modernisation paradigm. with Uttar Pradesh. incidence of domestic violence. number of sons. Her study explores the effects of a range of variables on women’s autonomy. However. the traditional factors conferring status on women – the number of sons they bore. Such studies tend to be comparative in nature and explore how differences in cultural context influence resources. which compares Tamil Nadu. women in Tamil Nadu fared better on most indicators of autonomy than women in Uttar Pradesh.KABEER • RESOURCES. number of children and more specifically. Predictably. Jejheeboy’s study (). For instance. the single most important variable in their study explaining excess female mortality was a dummy variable standing for geographical location: gender differentials in mortality rates were far less striking in the southern states of India than in the northern and western states. However. she also found that the determinants of women’s ‘autonomy’ varied in the two regions. ACHIEVEMENTS 45 women’s empowerment has been through variables measuring ‘cultural context’.g. AGENCY.

the effects of these more traditional ‘status’-related variables were far weaker and female employment and. norms and practices which shape social relations in different parts of India and which help to influence behaviour. then having sons and bringing in a large dowry would be considered conducive to women‘s’ empowerment. Both dowry and son preference are central to the values and practices through which women are socially defined as a subordinate category in a state which is associated with some of the starkest indicators of gender discrimination on the Indian subcontinent. are a shorthand for the deeply-entrenched rules.46 RESOURCES.  and ). The apparently ‘voluntary’ nature of such choices should not detract our attention from their consequences. female education were both more consistently related to women’s autonomy. and to be penalised if they do not. Jeehheboy’s study points to the strong rationale that women are likely to have in certain contexts for making choices which are essentially disempowering. Yet dowry is a practice which simultaneously expresses and reinforces son preference and transforms daughters into financial liabilities for their parents. ‘Context’ was captured in these studies through the comparison between a village located in a tarai or plains setting (and sharing many of the social characteristics of Hindu culture in northern India. The contextual variables in her study. as in Sen and Dreze’s. AGENCY. define values and shape choice. that women in the northern states like the Uttar Pradesh are far more likely to express strong son preference than those in southern states like Tamil Nadu (Dyson and Moore. While female employment also had significant and positive implications for most of the autonomy indicators in the Uttar Pradesh. If empowerment is simply equated with role in decision-making and ‘control’ over household resources. education had a far weaker and less significant impact. Since women are likely to be given greater respect within their communities for conforming to its norms. even more strongly. Two related studies from rural Nepal offer further interesting insights into the relationship between contextual and individual factors in shaping women’s choices (Morgan and Niraula. . In Tamil Nadu. their own values and behaviour are likely to reflect those of the wider community and to reproduce its injustices. including its rigid caste and gender relationships) and a village located in the hills (and characterised by a less orthodox Hinduism which incorporated aspects of tribal and Buddhist beliefs and practices and a generally more relaxed caste and gender regime). ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER produced sons were far more likely to report a greater role in household decision-making and greater freedom from domestic violence than others. for instance. There is evidence. ). however.

there was a marked reduction in the association between individual aspects of behaviour and the indicators of women’s autonomy. once context was controlled for through the introduction of a village dummy. willingness to let children choose their own spouses. ACHIEVEMENTS 47 The analysis contained three sets of variables. the ability to leave unsatisfactory marriages and enter new ones. In terms of our discussion of empowerment. was made up of measures of individual agency: their role in household decision-making and their freedom of movement in the public domain. related to a number of marriage-related behavioural variables: the likelihood of ‘choice’. were less likely to use contraception and also less likely to have educated children. wanted larger numbers of childen. which captured the degree of agency and choice permitted by local social practices. while individual agency did increase women’s ability to implement reproductive choice. For instance. such agency itself was largely shaped by social context rather by individual characteristics of women. to maintain contact with one’s natal family after marriage. which explored the relationship between ‘social’ and ‘individual’ agency. Context not only helped to explain variations in women’s autonomy between the two villages. The second set.KABEER • RESOURCES. the village dummy and measure of women’s autonomy had the expected effects. The third related to measures of reproductive choice: family size preferences. When the effects of both individual autonomy and village setting were explored together. rather than ‘arrangement’ in women’s selection of their marriage partners. which related to ‘women’s autonomy’. the influence of social context. they remained significant but in a reduced form. but also mediated the effects of women’s autonomy on their apparent preferences. The relationship between individual autonomy and reproductive choice was also predictable: women with greater freedom of movement were more likely to use contraception when they did not want any more children. It reminds us that while individual women may play an important role in challenging these . ‘the structures of constraint’. The first set. However. the strong association between women who had exercised choice in relation to their marriage partner and mobility in the public domain disappeared once context was factored in. The first stage of the analysis. Explored in separate equations. particularly educated daughters. son preference and use of contraception. Women in the more restrictive tarai village expressed stronger son preference. on individual behaviour and capacity for choice raises a number of important issues. found not unexpectedly that women who exercised greater choice in marriage-related behaviour also enjoyed a greater role in household decision-making and freedom of movement. The authors concluded that. AGENCY.

thereby acting as agents in the transmission of gender discrimination over generations. the discussion in this section reminds us why empowerment cannot be conceptualised simply in terms of choice. . It goes back to the point made earlier that individual empowerment is a fragile gain if it cannot be mobilised in the interests of collective empowerment. When such considerations set up a trade-off for women between their ability to make independent choices in critical arenas of their lives – such as marriage. whether these communities are hierarchical or egalitarian. in such contexts. status is also likely to be antithetical to empowerment. reproduction. . As Sen comments in relation to reproductive choice: “The point is especially apparent in gender hierarchies where. ). status considerations in cultures of son-preference require women to give birth to a certain number of sons. In methodological terms. It points. friendship and so on – and their ability to enjoy status within the family and community. and do. p. but must incorporate an assessment of the values embedded in agency and choice. The need to bear the approved number of children in order to secure social status and family approval takes its toll on women’s bodies and on their lives as they bear children beyond their capacity.48 RESOURCES. Bearing the approved number of children will grant a woman the rights and privileges accorded to a fertile woman. . to the need make a distinction between ‘status’ and ‘autonomy’ as criteria in evaluating agency and choice from an empowerment perspective. Rowland.. a woman’s status may be linked to her fertility. AGENCY. Furthermore. Individual women can. difficulty to measure but testified to eloquently by women all over the world (Kabeer. act against the norm. Status considerations also lead to the more hidden costs of dependency. The project of women’s empowerment is dependent on collective action in the public arena as well as individual assertiveness in the private. to favour their sons over their daughters in ways which help to reinforce social discrimination against women and to bring their daughters up to devalue themselves. but do not necessarily give her greater autonomy in decision-making’ (Sen G. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER constraints. ‘Status’ considerations relate to the values of the community. in other words. but they may have to pay a high price for exercising such autonomy and their impact on the situation of women in general remains limited. values which reflect the wider context. and they draw attention to the influence of the larger collectivity in ascribing greater value to certain kinds of individual choices over others and hence in giving greater value to those who abide by these choices. for example. status becomes antithetical to autonomy. structural inequalities cannot be addressed by individuals alone. More strongly. . Silber- . Villareal.

widow immolation all become ‘rational’ responses to social norms. There is always the danger that when we assess ‘choice’ from a standpoint other than that of the person making the choice. particular in texts coming out of the field of women and development: ‘This average third world woman leads an essentially truncated life based on her feminine gender (read: sexually constrained) and her being third world (read: ignorant. Although this portrayal of the ‘average’ disempowered third world woman was intended to evoke sympathy and action on their behalf. domestic. after all. as the basis for assessing the meaning of their choices. ). in the extreme. uneducated. The same distances help to explain why attempts to define and measure women’s empowerment have given rise to similarly ‘averaging’ tendencies in the portrayal of the empowered woman. these qualifications entail an external normative standpoint. its reductionism reflected the fact that the social distances of location. The problem that this raises is not one of a normative standpoint per se – the whole idea of development is. It draws on various examples of gender scholarship which document the . nationality and language which often separate researcher and ‘researched’ in the social sciences are particularly large in the field of development studies. coming out of quite different forms of scholarship and advocacy. ). female circumcision. Finally. class. The tendency to re-present ‘the self’ in representing ‘the other’ has been noted by Mohanty () who describes the way in which third world women from a variety of contexts tend to get reduced and universalised. However.)’ (p. both containing some elements of truth but large elements of simplification. AGENCY. based on some kind of normative standpoint – but in determining the extent to which this normative standpoint expresses values which are relevant to the reality it seeks to evaluate. Outsider values and women’s empowerment: between altruism and autonomy I have spelt out in greater detail the rationale for the various qualifications on the notion of choice which informs my understanding of empowerment by pointing to the significance of social values in justifying the subordinate status of women and to the internalisation of these values by women themselves. One model promotes what could be called ‘the virtuous model of the empowered woman’ and is associated with the instrumentalist forms of gender advocacy that we noted before. status considerations can lead to cultures where female infanticide and foeticide. poor.KABEER • RESOURCES. I want to point to two distinct examples of these tendencies. we will be led back to ourselves and to our own norms and values. ACHIEVEMENTS 49 schmidt. a set of values other than women’s own. family-oriented. tradition-bound. victimized etc.

governments and international development agencies who have little interest in empowering women beyond whether or not it is capable of ‘delivering the goods’. if efforts to channel resources to women succeed in empowering them. Instead of an open-ended process of social transformation. a response to their restricted options rather than a ‘natural’ female attribute. after all. they may empower women but not in intended ways. a game that two can play and studies suggest that not only have women benefited from such interventions which have ensured them access to a range of development benefits that had previously been withheld from them but that they have also drawn on this policy discourse in instrumental ways to promote their own interests (Harrison. The fact that many of these interventions are justified on instrumentalist grounds does not mean that women do not obtain any benefits from them. they will also succeed in bringing a number of op- . Women’s empowerment as a central element of social justice and as a valued goal in itself has had to take second place to the demonstration of its synergy with official development goals. thrift and risk-aversion. we find a notion of empowerment as a form of electric shock therapy to be applied at intervals to ensure the right responses: ‘empowerment appears to be best ‘learned’ early and needs reinforcement through constant exposure to empowering circumstances’ (Kishor. Agencies who seek to delivering resources for women’s empowerment on instrumentalist grounds may fail to realise their full transformatory potential because empowerment was never really on their agenda. Alternatively. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER greater connectedness of women’s sense of selfhood in order to endow them with various traits which form the basis of policy advocacy on their behalf: altruism. These presumed traits have given rise to a range of interventions which seek to exploit their pay-off in terms of policy. . a sense of civic responsibility. of course. However. AGENCY. p.50 RESOURCES. ). While there may be sound reasons why women are likely to see their interests better served by investing effort and resources in the collective welfare of the household. industriousness in the form of long hours of work and in little need for leisure. ). instrumentalism has its costs. . and the dedication to the collective family welfare . Consequently. Villareal. manifested in their willingness to take on unpaid community work and so on. ‘altruism’ may often be a manifestation of their disempowerment. exemplified in the now familiar ‘win-win’ format asserting that ‘gender equality/women’s empowerment is both an important end in itself and also essential to the achievement of efficiency/fertility decline/environmental sustainability/family welfare/poverty alleviation/good governance’. Instrumentalism is. The language of empowerment has been co-opted by scholars.

but there is a sense in which one might wish women to be a little less selfless and self-sacrificing’ (. Thailand (Moore. ) and Bangladesh (Kabeer. ) . p. In such contexts it may make sense to ask. argues that women would be much more likely to expand their ability to make choices if they were to view themselves as individuals rather than members of a social group (p. their tendency to put the needs of others in the family before their own. In some cases. some degree of separation within the family. Not all women will choose options which are likely to receive the official stamp of approval. Mexico. ). It is certainly the case that in contexts where the separation of resources within the family.KABEER • RESOURCES. ). as Lloyd (. an alternative model of empowerment is also evident in the literature which focuses on the conflictual element of gender relations and hence favours a more individualised model of the empowered woman. wouldn’t a mother-child unit prefer to form a separate household with its own decision-making autonomy rather than join a more complex household under other (most likely male or older female) authority?’ However. ) does: ‘If income permits. In other cases. England and Farkas suggest that the rising access to employment by women since the s and the rise of single motherhood. ACHIEVEMENTS 51 tions within the realms of possibility options which had previously been denied to them. their greater ‘voice’ within the household can lead to greater conflict within the household. and possible intensification of male violence. ) while Jackson () comments: ‘It may well be true that women prioritise children’s needs. Philippines and Costa Rica (Chant. has cultural sanction. where a powerful ideology of ‘togetherness’ binds the activities and resources of family together under the control of . is not coincidental: ‘the short version of the story is probably that employment gave women the freedom to leave unhappy marriages’ (England. in contexts where households are organised along more corporate lines. and indeed. particularly within marriage. Fierlbeck. as a result of divorce or nonmarital births. There is similar evidence from Ghana (Roberts.  and ) that access to independent resources allowed many women the ability to walk out of unsatisfactory marriages. ) Zimbabwe (Hoogenboezem. AGENCY. ). () for instance. p. In the  context. What is valued as evidence of altruism by some is interpreted by others as evidence of women’s internalisation of their own subordinate status. they may choose the ‘exit’ option. women may view greater autonomy as a desirable goal for themselves and we have noted some examples of this already. While the instrumentalist notions of empowerment tend to emphasise women’s greater altruism and ‘connected’ sense of self.

lend themselves to a variety of different meanings.52 RESOURCES. they invest considerable time and effort in maintaining their marriages. In such contexts. To attempt to predict at the outset of an intervention precisely how it will change women’s lives. runs into the danger of prescribing process of empowerment and thereby violating its essence. however. AGENCY. there are problems of measurement associated with capturing a particular kind of social change. This suggests that there is no single linear model of change by which a ‘cause’ can be identified for women’s disempowerment and altered to create the desired ‘effect’. which is to enhance women’s capacity for self-determination. such a question would have very little resonance. women do not actively seek the opportunity to set up separate units from men because such autonomous units are neither socially acceptable nor individually desired. We have also noted how notions of women’s empowerment is a field of struggle between protagonists who subscribe to very different values about development itself and their own place within it. even in the situations of rising female employment and wages cited earlier. Many of the resources. without some knowledge of ways of ‘being and doing’ which are realisable and valued by women in that context. However. We have seen how single measures. there are two general practical points to make on the basis of the discussion in this paper. in strengthening the ‘co-operative’ dimension of ‘co-operative-conflict’. Any change in the structure of opportunities and constraints in which individuals make choice can bring into existence a variety of different responses. Many of the indicators discussed here provide one-off ‘snapshot’ accounts. seeking separation only in exceptional circumstances. which can have quite different impacts and meanings in different contexts. often using cross-sectional variations to capture change. Finally. Instead. There is an implicit assumption underlying many of these measurements that we can somehow predict the processes of change involved in empowerment whereas human agency is indeterminate and hence unpredictable. there are various reasons why they may prove inaccurate and even misleading. ACHIEVEMENTS • KABEER the male head. disembedded from their context. Conclusion Indicators of empowerment need merely ‘indicate’ the direction of change rather than provide an accurate measurement of it. forms of agency and achievements which feature in the empowerment literature are integral to the broader developmental agenda. Despite these caveats. The arguments .

livelihoods and employment opportunities (as well as equality in the wider political domain which has not been dealt with in this paper) rest solidly on grounds of gender equity and social justice. than the subtle and open-ended negotiations that may go on within culturally-differentiated families as a result of such improvements in access. Different earlier versions of this paper has been published in Development and Change . ). regardless of context.   (August ). They are also indicative of changes in the conditions of choice. (July ). the paper suggests that both official development agencies as well as social movements have important contributions to make to the project of women’s empowerment. . credit. equity requires that poorer women and other excluded groups are not just able to gain access to valued goods but to do so on terms which respect and promote their ability to define their own priorities and make their own choices. greater evidence that they participate in the political processes of their communities in situations where they were previously disenfranchised are all critical dimensions in changing the conditions of choice. and . ACHIEVEMENTS 53 for equalising access to health. Greater investments in women’s health and well-being in contexts where they previously suffered deprivation. greater access to paid activities in contexts where they were previously denied such opportunities.KABEER • RESOURCES. Discussion Paper. - and in United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (). regardless of their implications for intrahousehold relationships and female autonomy. pp. They would would have to be monitored through methodologically pluralist approaches combining quantitative and qualitative data. Changes in access to the kinds of goods we are talking about here are far simpler to measure. Geneva. Reprinted with permission of the copyright holders. Such achievements are less easy to quantify since they deal more directly with the renegotiation of power relations and have to be far more sensitive to local cultural nuances. Creating equality of access to these various valued resources for sections of society who are otherwise excluded from them is clearly a vital and legitimate area for public policy interventions. land. AGENCY. The Hague. preferably by grassroots-based organisations whose greater embeddedness in local realities and commitment to long term places them in a better situation to combine ‘emic’ understandings with ‘etic’ analysis (Harriss. education. based on their comparative advantage in these different fields. Whatever the specific priorities in different contexts. the Institute of Social Studies. At the same time.

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Cultural Practice as Gendered Exclusion:
Experiences from Southern Africa
PATRICIA McFADDEN

Summary: I will attempt a definition of culture as gendered practice which excludes women from sites and statuses related to power ( in both social and material senses), as it interacts with notions of citizenship, nation and development. I will speak to culture as a ‘re-invented’ and heavily contested phenomenon and terrain, especially in relation to issues of identity, belonging and authenticity in the context of Africa ( as a broad geopolitical and historical space) and in particular reference to the struggles of African women for rights and new statuses in Southern Africa as it becomes ‘post-colonial’.

I want to begin this brief intervention by locating my use of the notion of culture in a resistance discourse that reflects a development of the meaning and uses of culture beyond its traditional definition as an expression of past human creativity and interaction, “…all those practices, like the arts of description, communication and representation, that have relative autonomy from the economic, social, and political realms and that often exist in aesthetic forms, one of whose principal aims is pleasure” (Said, ). That is only one multi-faceted side of culture as a phenomenon. However, as Said goes on to say, culture is “a source of identity, and a rather combative one at that, as we see in recent ‘returns’ to culture and tradition… In this second sense culture is a sort of theatre where various political and ideological causes engage one another” (ibid.). Drawing particularly from the work of both Amina Mama (), Kum Kum Bhavnani () and the work edited by Filomena Steady (), among an array of feminist scholars who have engaged with notions of culture in relation to the struggles by women of color for inclusion into the conceptual and territorial spaces of Africa and Europe respec-

Having made reference to the attempts by national liberation movements to “…articulate and define what they understood to be national cultures in the hope of unifying the emerging (African) nation states”. I would like to take up some of these questions as a means of continuing a discourse which African feminists have launched in response to several conceptual and historical discrepancies within what is now commonly. Mama poses the following questions: Are men and women culturally different in Africa? What are the conditions under which women become the bearers and men the articulators of culture? Where are women in African political cultures?” (Mama. and to persisting African political and cultural discourses which are deeply marked by androcentricity and nationalist ideological rhetoric. However. from the onset. albeit intellectual. adventure. and here I am referring particularly to Western feminist colonial and ‘post-colonial’ discourses.  and Chikwenyi.McFADDEN • CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION 59 tively. ideologically as a feminist. which is located in the historical struggles against colonialism and racism on the African continent. Mama () argues that “In post-colonial African states culture is a heavily contested terrain. The first of these strands is a discursive and deeply political stance that is represented by the work of a growing number of indigenous African anthropologists/ethnographers. I would like to distance myself. Through reference to the Gramscian notion of hegemony (Munck ) which I too find interesting in its ability to explicate the experience of power by those who are excluded from it.  in particular). from two strands of what I would refer to as ‘feminine’ claims in relation to culture as a gendered concern. This contestation has been going on within the African women’s . In the following pages. based on the claim that it is epistemologically Western and therefore inapplicable to African societies. and as an exotic. particularly in relation to the state and issues of property and citizenship. because of the widespread disruption of the continent’s cultural fabric and the dynamics of its cultural production”. but problematically referred to as ‘Western’ discourses of colonialism and culture. as it is emerging in the countries of South Africa in particular. ). who dismiss the notion of gender as it is widely used within feminist discourse. I will be arguing that culture is best understood as a heavily contested source of identity (in gendered and ethnic terms) and power (in a political and material sense). pre-dominantly West African female scholars based in the North (see Oyewumi. and in the more recent struggles by women for rights of inclusion into that space called ‘the nation’.

and more directly to the ethnic communities that they have focused upon in each respective study. ). a tradition within which I position myself most proudly and essentially in political and cultural terms. However. their common dismissal of the notion of gender as ‘Western’ comes from a peculiar reliance upon the very intellectual traditions that underpin the disciplines of social anthropology and ethnography. albeit casual. . control and violation. Miles. . In making this claim. Mogwe. Palla-Okeyo. from the stock of traditional ethnographical and anthropological sense making. and notions of hierarchy and status are drawn largely. ) – definitively inclusive of African women’s struggles for rights. sexuality and rights. McFadden. to me. on the one hand (including issues of female genital mutilation and child marriage) and rights as a notion which comes into its own largely through the public struggles of Northern women during the th century (Steady. The academic language of lineage. . I cannot afford the intellectual luxury of pretending that I live in an African society without gendered relationships and structures that are directly linked to systems of power. . especially about the intersections between health.60 CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION • McFADDEN movement for a while and various positions and arguments have been made over the past two decades as African women began to actively participate in global feminist discourses. in methodological and conceptual terms. life-taking but often life changing struggles of women across the world (Mies. it therefore assumes a different meaning and implies different and previously unknown features and characteristics about those societies and communities (Epprecht. Parpart (undated). . seems new only in its claims to African authenticity. eye upon an intellectual practice which. the family. I am casting a critical. common entitlements and a dignity – all of which are not dependent upon idiosyncratic notions of ethnic and or cultural locality in any way. ). they refer specifically to the particular empirical realities of Nigeria as a country. but which resonates with a well known white. different only in that it is applied via a claim that because it is an African female academic who is using the language. Mannathoko. Ethnic and cultural localities obviously impact directly and in intimate ways upon the lives . . Hendricks & Lewis. intellectual practice in epistemological and political terms. Interestingly. which are part of a long and very crucial Africanist tradition of resistance discourse to the hegemonic interpretations of who Africans were and are. largely male. Here I am not dismissing the attempts by these African scholars. Nor can I even imagine that the notion of gender could be anything but a product of the difficult. From where I am positioned.

leaving us without a political means of responding to patriarchal exclusion. ). Given the limited time and space of this text. because this is not only a typically Northern anthropological gimmick of re-inventing African societies as ‘unchanged and static’. then feminist resistance politics is also displaced. European appropriational practices of studying Africa as an exotic landscape. This compatibility of interests is further reflected in the replacement of feminism with the notion of ‘Womanism’. especially in relation to ongoing rights and entitlement discourses. but it also allows for the insertion of a conservative nationalist politics which locks African women into the past. on the one hand. especially in societies that still treat women in basically feudal and undemocratic ways. but they go on to extrapolate that ‘women’ as a construct is also Western (Oyewumi. inhabited by pre-capitalist natives. ) and feminism is therefore also a ‘Western’ invention. However. This is where the interface between old. ) which is a plausible anthropological claim. and therefore largely dependent upon some fancy notion of cultural complimentarity that is somehow supposed to authenticate the uniqueness of such societies. are based on a notion of culture as the ‘preservative’ of Otherness and Difference. a notion that supposedly speaks more realistically to the realities of African women it is argued (Arndt.McFADDEN • CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION 61 and realities of each and every woman. but ethnic and cultural location cannot be used as the sole or even major basis for the definition of gender as a heuristic construct within the African context. the really problematical features of such claims are that they not only assert that the notion of gender as currently applied in nonAfrican societies did not exist in certain African societies (Amadiume. I wanted only to make reference to the political implications of the above claims. what would they do as anthropologists if they no longer had an ‘Other’ to study and scrutinize) and the claims of difference by indigenous African female scholars which attempt to assert an authentic gaze (supposedly in response to these very colonial anthropological practices they seek to counter). and the claims of indigenous African anthropologists meet in rather strange consonance. . It is the extrapolation from an anthropological claim onto the current realities of Africa which causes me most discomfort as a social scientist and feminist activist. The interesting coincidence of claims by white anthropologist and essentialist feminists that Africa is different and must stay different (otherwise. When gender and women disappear from the conceptual landscape.

). armed with ‘scientific’ jargon and claims of ‘objectivity’ as well as the currency of Northern economies which remain dependent on the cheap labour and vast mineral resources of these ‘backward’ societies. What is it that is so intriguing about the mutilated vaginas of poor peasant women in a remote village of the Sudan or the Casamance and why is it a matter of ‘scholarly curiosity’ rather than a violation of a woman’s fundamental right to bodily and sexual integrity? The fascination by Europeans. Christian. The colonial narrative is replete with texts which claimed to have ‘understood and dissected the native’ as part of the civilizing mission within the colonial project of the past four hundred years. with the sexuality of Africans. the practice of appropriation persists. for the entertainment of and study by white men who were fascinated by her ‘large buttocks’ (Mama. . in the same way that Sarah Baartman was paraded semi-nude across Europe at the turn of the nineteenth century. Evidence of this is replete in numerous anthropological and literary texts and this issue has become a source of tremendous tensions between white and Black women on the continent and in the Diaspora. declaring herself a ‘white African Queen’ (Boisseau. as the colonized and exoticised ‘Other’ of white scholarship (duCille. In terms of the feminine. because after all they are illiterate and very remotely located? It seems to me that it is long past the moment when Europeans should . the Caribbean and Latin America) as though there were no anthropological subjects in Europe. wherever they live. Hill Collins. . (and other colonial subjects in Asia. Rooks. and not have to be accountable to anyone for whatever text one produces. ) is an expression of colonial arrogance and racism. Lewis. Abraham. . McFadden. and I wonder if maybe it is per-chance due to the fact that racially and socially privileged individuals can enter such communities wearing the colour of privilege and the nationality of a former colonizer. . for that matter (Chaudhuri & Strobel. p. Nevertheless. is as old as the colonial idea itself. . male and female. Black women have consistently rejected the construction of Africans. ).62 CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION • McFADDEN Colonial Stereotypes – Reinforced by Researchers Today The insistence that African women remain a ‘Cultural Other’. such insistence that Africa remain an anthropological play ground is deeply embedded in the arrogant and racist traditions of women like Mary French Sheldon who strode across Africa on the backs of semi-nude Black men. in a cage. ). . Very few European feminists researchers take the time to ask why it is that they continue the colonial traditions of studying Africans.

That is Western and we must be ‘copying’ such radical ideas from Northern feminists. ). In terms of the practices of European women in the academy. heterosexual. nurturing and caring – but we most certainly cannot articulate a feminism which encourage and facilitates the autonomous presence of an individual with a consciousness of rights and entitlements. this is a claim made by both Black men (who are usually radical nationalists located in the state. by white essentialist feminists whose only claim to fame is that they study something about the lives of African women). I felt wounded by the narratives of continuing colonial scrutiny as I sat listening. then the concession is that we can only be ‘Third World’ feminists – i.e. ). Underlying these cautions is an incipiently arrogant assumption that African feminists cannot construct radical feminist theory to free themselves from the patriarchal bondage which provides such interesting anthropological practices as ‘female genital cutting’ (the revised naming for Female Gen- . colonial stereotypes about Africans by acknowledging that Africans have a dignity and a presence which demands respect and recognition (see Kuster. and who have a stake in preventing the development of a feminist consciousness among African women. narratives which represent African societies as untouched and unchanged by the dramatic transformations of the th century just past. to how individuals have carved little personal colonial spaces where they return year in and year out.McFADDEN • CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION 63 have come to terms with their colonial academic practices and transformed those discipline which perpetuate racist. analyzing the sexual and ritual practices of ‘backward’ villagers (in comparison to the implicit assumption that such behaviour is peculiarly African and native). and if we do persist in this self-naming. Interestingly. and people sit in a room and do not feel disturbed by such objectionable rhetoric? For me. How could it be that a discipline such as anthropology continues to produce texts that are carbon copies of the very colonial claims made by white men over a hundred years ago. For years I have been locked in arguments with essentialist white feminists who claim that even the notion of patriarchy is Western and therefore we as African women who ‘aspire’ to be radical must be cautious of such notions because they are ‘foreign’ to the cultural landscape of the continent. this ‘culturalisation of the native’ is also perpetuated through claims that African women cannot possibly be feminist. it is only explicable in relation to privilege and the lack of a critical consciousness which buttress privileging ideologies and structures so effectively as to inhibit critical new thinking about anthropology as a discipline and Africa as a place in transition to modernity and change (Minh-ha.

because culture is so easily constructed as untouchable and sacrosanct. South Africa. But that is what it looks like from where I am positioned as an African feminist scholar engaged in the struggle for my rights and the rights and dignity of my sisters. Restricting Women’s Rights to Property and to Mobility Through the re-invention of culture as the central trope of nationalist discourse. Such academic practices not only perpetuate the ‘colonial gaze’ within the North. political and economic institutions in both colonial and neo-colonial societies (Barnes & Win. women themselves become trapped in an unchanging phenomenal reality which allows for their exclusion in structural. ) – and all sorts of fascinating expressions of sexual exotica. anti-racist ideology. I would like to move on and look at some of the exclusionary practices used by men in the state and in the rural spaces of the continent to maintain a ‘cultural authenticity’ through the denial of rights and entitlements. and by positioning women as the custodians of these sacred cultural texts. and it’s deployment as the authentic expression of anti-colonial. . Who would have imagined that essentialist white feminists and Black ‘womanist’ anthropologists would become intellectual and political bed-fellows with myopic white male anthropologists and Black male nationalists who occupy a neo-colonial state on that tragic continent I call home. I will reply on examples drawn mainly from Zimbabwe. to African women. but they reinforce the exclusionary practices used by Black men who occupy the neo-colonial state and who have a vested interest in keeping African women outside the most critical sites of power in those societies. African men were able to position women outside the most critical social.64 CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION • McFADDEN ital Mutilation. One of the earliest expressions of cultural exclusion as a gendered expression of women’s ‘Outsiderness’ can be seen in the manner through which African and white men colluded to keep African women outside the emerging urban spaces of the colonial town and city (Barnes. . especially from external influences and pollution. especially in terms of bodily integrity and material property. by presenting it as merely the ‘cutting of the genitals’ – for a typical example of this de-politicized re-naming see Masterson and Hanson Swanson. ). . The notion of exclusionary practice is useful to an understanding of how this was done. as something which must be guarded and protected. ideological and other terms. Prinsloo.

arguing that this is what they fought for. Black and white men colluded in keeping most Black women in the rural spaces under the surveillance and control of older patriarchal males who ensured that they reproduced cheap Black labour for the emerging capitalist industries even as they maintain the cultural and sexual sites of authentication for Black men. professionals and or heirs (Gaidzanwa. in the neo-colonial period. except as users for the purpose of reproducing the African heterosexual family. There is a vast literature on Southern Africa which substantiates the commonalties in colonial land appropriation and labour extraction for all the societies of the region. ). ). Zigorno. . a changed division of labour. and so-called communal tenure systems were preserved. and the only Black women who own land are those who have had access by virtue of their class status as educated women. because such a relationship clearly disrupts certain structural and ideological relationships of power between women and men and between women and the state (McFadden. Traditional land tenure systems were maintained. most of whom were forced to sell their labour power as migrant workers in the urban and mining areas of the colony. albeit in the limited spaces where Africans were pushed by white settlers and African women were denied any relationship with the land as a critical resources. However. once again resorting to ‘custom and tradition’ as an excuse for the denial of women’s property rights (see Magaya versus Magaya. ). For Black women in Zimbabwe. remains a heavily contested. I shall return to this point below because it is of central importance in the current tensions and debates within Zimbabwe at the present time. whether intellectual property or material property in the form of land and housing. farcical though it had become – given that limited land space. a relationship with property. Hassim. For the majority of Black women. and the absence of many of the social and ecological elements which define communal tenure as a specific form – had been disrupted by colonization and the extraction of male migrant labour for white commercial farms. culturalized issue. for example. although the latter is very rare as the Zimbabwean courts have been used most efficiently by Black males to exclude women from property ownership. African men were also denied a propertied relationship with land in those circumstances. ). business women.  in e. The terms of the relationship between women and the creation of civic . this has not been so automatic.McFADDEN • CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION 65 Schmidt. Through colonial legal interventions and the deployment of what became known as ‘customary law and practice’.g. Black men have engaged in intense battles with white men over the ownership of land as private property on an individual basis.

These became the ‘culture-less’ women who had positioned themselves outside the control and definition of ancient African patriarchy. and any man (usually a Black man) was licensed to ‘arrest’ such women and return them to the custody of their chiefs or head-men (McFadden. Therefore. often having to resort to prostitution as a means of survival while they sold food and provided entertainment to Black men who worked in the homes and industries of colonial capitalism. although Black women left the rural spaces in defiance of such restrictions. Colonial law constructed them as ‘interlopers’ who had entered the urban civic space illegally. All in the name of protecting the integrity of Black women in the face of modernization and the cultural vacuum which the city represented. Raftopoulos. who had already been constructed as the ultimate sexual Other within dominant colonial discourses. Most women simply disappeared into what became the informal economy of the countries of the region. often enlisting the support of Black men who agreed to ‘make them decent’ by claiming that they were wives. . aimed at keeping women outside those civic spaces that offer the possibility of autonomy and independence from male control and dependence. a sexuality which needed to be contained and controlled. cooking. . they had ceased being African women in the sense that they did not accept the authority and dominion of Black men. This is an old ‘Othering’ strategy in patriarchal societies. . ). cleaning and providing the man with sexual services. Jeater. these arrangements often turned into ‘live-in’ arrangements whereby the woman became a ‘wife’. Mire. served to inscribe a rampant sexual identity on the bodies of all Black women.66 CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION • McFADDEN spaces where rights and entitlements become a realistic possibility and such engagements provide the possibility for a change in the gender relations between women and men. the restriction of women’s mobility was directly linked to cultural claims that women who left the authentic rural spaces – khumusa/ekaya – were loose. and whose struggles for . and whose bodies had been conflated in sexual terms with the dangers and mysteries which Africa as a continent presented to the colonizer. and polluted by Westerism. The demonization of women’s sexuality as an expression of exclusion worked particularly well in relation to Black women. ). without the couple having actually married in either the traditional or civic sense (Barnes. and or did not have a man to legitimize their presence in the city. The novels of Rider Haggard in particular. ). kept under close surveillance in the safe and distance spaces of rural Africa (Mama. who entertained European audiences with his novels about the hazards of Southern Africa in novels like ‘King Solomons Mines’ and ‘Sheba’s Breasts’. de-culturalised.

They became the repositories of supposedly centuries old untouchable rules and regulations which aimed mainly at regulating cheap labour for the colonial state. civil law – because they insist. and has served both the interests of Black men who feel threatened by the civic demands of Black women. ensuring that Black women remained in the backward. Few question the gendered character of such a system. has become a powerful weapon against women’s demands for equal rights within their societies.al. ). which is a misnomer because if something is ‘law’ then it must apply to everyone. Armstrong. Most laws in the region continue to treat Black women as interlopers. but particularly women who are rural and poor. and several European scholars have claimed that actually these customary laws are better for African women than the modern. White colonial women were never affected by the so-called ‘customary laws’ which both White and Black men re-constituted and codified in the face of women’s resistance to patriarchal restrictions and surveillance. often located on the margins of a rapidly modernizing region (Sithole-Fundire et. What had been largely conventions and cultural practices became ‘legalised’ and entrusted to those men who occupied surveillance statuses within the traditional hierarchy as chiefs and head-men. such systems provide women with a place of belonging (Arnfred. . privatized realities of ancient patriarchal social existence. The re-invention of custom and conventions into ‘customary law’. but most importantly.McFADDEN • CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION 67 inclusion into the formal economy and the civic spaces of modern African existence continues to this day. ‘Customary System’ – Used as A Weapon Against Women Another strategy which has served to keep women outside modernity under the pretext that modernity for women is un-African. without any rights to housing as the research from the  project has clearly shown. What are the implications of maintaining a customary system that targets mainly women and which has serious consequences for the struggles of Black women in terms of the right to integrity (both bodily and sexual) as well as protection against violation and impunity? I want to touch very briefly on some of these consequences as an indication of how exclusionary they are for Black women of all classes. Greer. ). and the interests of White feminists who continue to study African women within these fossilized contexts. . outsiders in the city. . is the perpetuation of a dual system of laws which applies only to Black women.

and although Zimbabwean women have fought it for years. ). conventions which facilitate the use of girls as compensation when men kill each other or one family commits a wrong to another. they have not been able to change it yet because the Black judges (in collusion with white male judges) have used it effectively to block any attempts to break down the barriers these customs and conventions put between Black women and their civic rights. and African women participated in numerous ways and in large numbers in those struggles for justice and freedom to become citizens. a evil and dangerous. and the police and other legal practitioners do not seem to know how to eradicate the practice. ). These are the laws which make it acceptable for men to continue violating women in the home even though it has become a crime to do so. is supposed to ensure that every person in a society at least has the theoretical right to such protections and entitlements. in general. because often women find themselves outside the justice delivery systems which are constructed as ‘anti-family’ and ‘anti-custom’. . the economic and political structures. essentially because it supersedes the civic rights which a constitution guarantees to women as citizens. Africans fought against colonialism and racism. even if in reality class and gender mediate to make this assumption often more difficult to be realized for certain groups (MacKinnon. as women in need of cleansing because they are polluted and must be made clean through humiliating practices which destroy the woman’s self-esteem and mark her as a ‘husband killer’. as long as those rights and entitlements threaten the hegemony of custom and tradition (Zigomo. claiming that it is ‘cultural’ and ‘significant to the identity of the Shona as a people’. In the context of Southern Africa (and across the continent) the existence of ‘customary law’ only compounds the difficulties faced by Black women in particular in exercising their rights. and therefore applying a different standard to Black women as Africans and as citizens of their societies. It is the most ludicrous but most fiercely guarded section of the constitution. Section  of the Zimbabwean Constitution states clearly that ‘African’ custom and tradition shall supersede any rights and entitlements that women may have been granted by the Constitution. putting women outside the parameters of the law. practices which allow for widowhood rites which construct women as witches. educational institutions and other civic resources that are the products of the collective struggles of a people in any society. The law. customary practice functions through the perpetuation of rituals and systems that put Black women outside the protections and entitlements which civic spaces provide to all citizens in a modern society. We created the civic spaces that encompass the justice system.68 CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION • McFADDEN First of all.

Most African women.McFADDEN • CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION 69 In many African communities such women. why don’t they re-invent them in their European societies and enjoy them there instead of bothering us with their nonsense about ‘preserving our authentic cultures’. Why is it culturally appropriate for African women to be treated as less than human. dignified life. simply because the husband died. my position is that that is total hogwash. so to speak. with tap water and a school in close proximity. often without redress for those who are affected by such behaviour. inscribed with the status of exiles in their own societies. It is a vicious myth to claim that African women like ‘belonging’ to backward spaces. and with the right to be an autonomous individuals who can relate to other humans through systems and choices which fulfil them as persons and as part of their communities. This for me is one of the greatest challenges we face as feminists and as Africans. it is defended by certain anthropologists and ‘feminists’ like Greer () who claim that there are some good things in it and African women should not throw out the baby with the bath water. We have to find ways of removing this impediment to women’s dignity and rights. these are practices which make it possible for fathers to sexually violate and rape their daughters under the claim that they are preparing them for marriage and increasingly. Well. when they are older. aesthetically pleasing home to live in. making it possible for males to behave with impunity towards women and girls. are banished to isolated villages where they live as pariahs. Worst of all. with choices on what contraceptives to use and how many children to have. with electricity and a safe. The list of violations is seemingly endless – and it is linked to the existence of so-called customary laws which exist specifically to ensure male cultural and sexual privilege. where their worlds are so limited they never experience even a fraction of what life has to offer a modern day person. an impediment which presents itself in the garb of culture and which has become institutionalized as ‘an authentic cultural system which is appropriate to African women’. Such people do not have to live under these so-called ‘appropriate’ customs and if they did they would change them as they did when such backwardness prevailed in Europe. given the choice. where they do not know their rights because these are encoded in languages and signs that they cannot decipher because they are unable to read (and please do . with education for themselves and their children. for inhuman and barbaric patriarchal practices to be perpetuated because it applies to Black women? If white women love these customs so much. they are vulnerable to rape for purposes of ‘curing /’ and also to ritual murder. would opt for a modern. because women and girls fall outside the civic protections of their societies.

& Win. No. . () African Gender Trouble and African Womanism: an interview with Chikwenye Ogunyemi and Wanjira Muthoni. and I hope that we will choose the path of cooperation in making the world a place of dignity and justice for all human beings. Changing Laws.). Vol. Then culture can become what it was meant to be. Amadiume. Arndt. Susan. As far as I am concerned. () Resistance Innovations in African Feminist literary discourse: African women negotiating cultures of resistance. Speciss Print ’N’ Mail. Power.J. No. Spring. Lobola and Polygyny. in Reflections on Gender Issues in Africa. Harare. Through the struggles of African women for rights and justice we are moving our continent out of the backwardness that has been so ‘exciting’ and ‘profitable’ for certain groups of people. . Trends of Change. . Book. Female Husbands. . Knowledge. life-enhancing artifact in the service of all those who craft and use it as a source of pleasure. in Changing Families.  Books.. K.70 CULTURAL PRACTICE AS GENDERED EXCLUSION • McFADDEN not tell me that there is beauty in illiteracy because you know as much as I do that illiterate people remain poor and excluded in every society of the world today). in . Patricia McFadden (ed. London. Barnes. .N. Culture and Choice: Lessons from Survivors of Gender Violence in Zimbabwe. . We can move forward together. T. () To Live a better life. Europeans cannot continue to have the monopoly of modernity at the expense of the rest of the world. Zimbabwe. Arnfred. and we will not allow anyone to stop that process. Zimbabwe. . where their lives are simply one long. vol. () Gender. E. The fact of the matter is that Africa has to become modern. Working Paper No. Armstrong Alice (). and aesthetically. ibid.  to . whether they think it is part of their privilege to continue studying Africans as ‘exotic objects’ or to exploit Africa for profit and gain. miserable nightmare of poverty and dispossession. or we can do it the harder way and continue the contest over each persons right to define themselves as complete and dignified human beings – we have a choice. Ifi (). – The fight for control of African women’s mobility in Colonial Zimbabwe.  – Reflections on family. . Baobab Books. References Abraham. S. Male Daughters.

The Whole Woman. in . University Chicago. Kum-Kum (). Christian. Feminist Theories and the study of Gender Issues in Southern Africa. Oxford. Land and the Economic empowerment of Women: a gendered analysis. Washington . No. in The Black Feminist Reader. Bhavnani. . Vol. in Conceptualising Gender in Southern African by R.Denean Sharpley-Whiting (eds.A. Lewis. Marriage. Black Feminist Thought. Chikwenyi. – The State of Feminism in Africa Today (). Signs. & Lewis. Vol. . in . No. McFadden. South Africa. . Vol. forthcoming . Western Women and Imperialism: Complicity and Resistance. Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment.  Books. (). Sybille (). (). . Changu (). South Africa.McFADDEN • REFERENCES 71 – We women work so hard: gender. labour and social reproduction in colonial Harare. Number . Theorizing Gender and Feminisms in Contemporary African Studies. vol.  Books. P. International Center for Research on Women and The Centre for Development and Population Activities. Imama and Sow (eds. .  No. . Signs. Zambia and Malawi. The Occult of True Black Womanhood: Critical Demeanor and Black Feminist Studies.  Books. Du Cille A. Contesting in the Academy. Hamburg. Shedding the Masks and Tearing the veils: Cultural Studies for a Post-colonial Africa.. Meena (ed). N & Strobel. Towards A Multicultural Europe?: ‘Race’. Kuster. (). Clarendon Press.J. Harvard University Press. Zimbabwe. News from the Nordic Africa Institute. D. Harare. vol. London and New York: Routledge. Voices from the margins.. . in . University of Indiana Press. . Zimbabwe. Diane (). . Zimbabwe.  Book Series. South African Women’s Press Institute: a position paper. No. . Masterson. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. (). (). MacKinnon. Female Genital Cutting: Breaking the Silence. Hill-Collins. . ().  No. Hendricks. P.. Nation and Identity in  and Beyond.  Books. . No. Journal of Women in Culture and Society. Mama. . USA. University of Zimbabwe. .). (). Germaine (). (). Zimbabwe. in . Vol. . Sweden. Gaidzanwa. J. .. Only Words. Enabling Change. M. Perversion and Power: the construction of Moral discourse in Southern Rhodesia -. in Engendering African Social Sciences. Massachusetts. (). .  Books. Joy James and T.  Books. Harare. Greer. Spring. Doubleday. Mannathoko. From presence to power: women’s citizenship in a new democracy. . Cambridge.). Feminist Review. vol . No. . J M. Jeater. Hassim. . (). Zimbabwe. Ogunyemi () in an interview with Susan Arndt. Boisseau T. (). No. Blackwell. Indiana University Press. Epprecht. () “They Called Me Bebe Bwana”: A Critical Cultural Study of an Imperial Feminist. (). – Winnie Mandela: the surveillance and excess of ‘Black Woman’ as signifer. B. Studien zur Afrikanischen Geshichte Bd. Zimbabwe - PhD thesis. C. D. Harare. & Hanson Swanson. No .). . in . African Education in colonial Zimbabwe. Mama A. Chaudhuri. R (). The Race for Theory. Vol. M (eds. London. Zimbabwe. C. S.

 Books.  Books. Housing and Everyday Life. Frauen Solidaritat. -. R. The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses. University of Botswana. (). .T (). United Kingdom. New York/London. and Jocelyn. Zed. published by University of Minnesota Press. (). Steady. Zigomo. . London. Pala-Okeyo. In/Through the Bodies of Women. Culture and Imperialism. Harare. No. Zimbabwe. F. Woman. Planning. Austria. Oppression and ‘integration’. Vienna. Keyboards: Radically Speaking (). Mookodi. nationalism and the media in . Alice. S. Raftopoulos. Vol. Gender Dimensions of Development Research. traders. A. in . Minh-ha. Native. .. . J. wives: Shona women in the history of Zimbabwe. Schmidt. . Gender as a Research Problem.(undated).. Minneapolis. Harare.  No.  Systemedia. . No . G. ().al). A. S. . Gender. Nationalist politics and the fight for the city. – ‘women and migration’ (in the chapter on The land question and the development of commodity relations in Swaziland) in Proletarianization in Swaziland: the case of the Sugar Industry. (et. Brian (). Like Canaries in the Mines: Black Women’s Studies at the Millennium. Key note address.M. () The Difficult Dialogue. M. Vintage Publishers. (). Oyeronke (). Zimbabwe. Gender Research on Urbanisation. Integrative Feminisms: building global visions s-s. Edward W. Prinsloo. Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: women in the international division of labour. (). Other: writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. C.  Number . Harare. . E. . Gaborone. Canada.  Books. Munck. Heinemann. My experiences with the constitutional reform process in . vol. Who is the ‘Other’? The Postmodern critique of Women and Development theory and Practice. Routledge. (). Zimbabwe. J. Rook N.72 REFERENCES• McFADDEN – Bread. Summer. Cheer the beloved country? Some thoughts on gendered representation. Achola (). Miles. Said. Dalhousie University. Harare. No. in Kann. Lydia (). T. United States. in . Peasants. . Human Rights in Botswana: a case of feminism. World Order Models Project Workshop. Mogwe. Phase One. (). (). Vol. Roses. Warwick University. U. vol. . (). The Black Woman Cross-Culturally: An Overview. Oyewumi. Indiana University Press.L. London. Parpart. Zimbabwe. Mire. PhD thesis. Mies. Sithole-Fundire. Portsmouth.

(…) These changes in awareness. p. This may be so.  in Copenhagen. and the Social Summit in Copenhagen  – . This very confident feeling of progress regarding women’s issues was – and is – quite widely shared. producing scholars and activists “carrying the women’s movement into the twenty-first century” (Howe . Special measures have been designed to remove barriers to women’s participation. also the Conference on Environment and Development in Rio . the Conference on Population and Development in Cairo . The series of  conferences – added to the four conferences on women. celebrating ‘Beijing and Beyond’ in a double issue . culminating in the  Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing . Affirmative action policies have been introduced. laws and women’s voice were brought about by the efforts of many different actors – women’s movements as well as national governments and international donor organizations” (Jahan . p.  in Mexico. There is a backside to the success story. policies. but such advantages – if indeed they are real – have come at a price. and later in their transformation to  (gender-and-development) approaches. resulting first in the  (women-in-development) programmes. the Conference on Human Rights in Vienna . quoted in Hannan . and the Beijing Platform for Action: The platform for Action is described as “a women’s studies curriculum”. ). Up to a certain point it looked like a success story. Feminist Theory and Development Aid SIGNE ARNFRED In the s and  insights from the Western women’s movement were fed into the thinking and practice of development aid. According to Rounaq Jahan “there has been a sea-change in knowledge and awareness.Questions of Power: Women’s Movements. expertise. women’s movements world wide. Women’s voices are stronger than ever. The jubilant editorial of Women’s Studies Quarterly.  in Nairobi and  in Beijing. ). proclaims the total conflation between women’s studies.

according to Amadiume. the term ‘gender’ as compared to ‘women’ had a double advantage. Seen from the point of view of these feminists. Thus in the following I shall discuss ) issues highlighting inequalities of power. This language is the language of development agencies. and with no criticism of the unequal power relationships between men and women. It also makes difficult the critique of dominant gender policies. The change of language from women to gender is a case in point. it is not the language of political struggle. A major problem with this unified global language is that it obscures the inequalities of power between governments and development aid institutions on the one hand. and women’s movements/feminist scholarship on the other. and ) challenges for women’s movements. Firstly. ). issues and goals have become repetitive in a fixed global language. p. p. focusing on the socially constructed relation between women and men. Ifi Amadiume makes a comparison between Nairobi  and Beijing : “The intensity of interaction [i. ) problematic aspects of dominant policies. it was advocated by feminists. with no critical analysis of development as such. ). consultants and workers” (Amadiume . When the vocabulary of gender-anddevelopment was introduced into the development debate in the s.74 QUESTIONS OF POWER • ARNFED these conferences have played a major role in the creation of a unified language in which to address women’s issues on a global scale. focus has shifted from the articulations of grass-root women’s movements to a global formalized language regarding women’s issues: “With this shift from a community or grass-root articulated focus to professional leadership imposed from above. Section 1: Inequalities of Power Power contexts of change in terminology from women to gender Insights from women’s movements and women’s studies have been coopted by state and development institutions. Over this same period of time. it put ‘women’ into a context. and by doing so it made visible the aspect of power in gender . the series of conferences in the early  ()] has led to participants almost speaking the same language as opposed to the creative dissent and tensions of Nairobi ” (Amadiume .e. who wanted to criticize the dominant women-in-development () approach for dealing only with integration of women into existing development policies. in the process being transformed into something very different. and discourse is controlled by paid  and other donor advisers.

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relations. Concurrently it became clear that changing gender relations, as being relations of power, was bound to be contested, and thus to be a struggle, in the South as well as in the North. Since such changes were likely to be perceived as threatening to male privileges, they would cause male resistance. And secondly, thinking in terms of gender power relationships also pointed to the epistemological aspects of male dominance, calling for a deconstruction of apparently gender neutral development language. Terms like ‘farmer’, ‘household’ and ‘community’ (to name but a few) carry an implicit male bias, hiding possible gender disparities as well as gender hierarchies, struggles and conflicts. Nevertheless, in spite of the good intentions, which were through gender-and-development () thinking to politicize the  debate, the opposite seems to have happened. Where talking about women implied awareness of women’s marginalisation and subordination (this being the reason for specific efforts for integrating women) the term gender is used as a neutral term, referring to both women and men. As also acknowledged by Sally Baden and Anne Marie Goetz “a problem with the concept of ‘gender’ is that it can be used in a very descriptive way and the question of power can easily be removed” (Baden and Goetz , p. ). Thus to a large extend the gender language has implied a de-politization of women’s issues in development, turning gender into a matter of planning and monitoring and not of struggle. The term gender, in development agencies today, is obscuring power relationships more than illuminating them. At the  Forum in Huairou, during the Beijing conference, women from the South are reported to have argued along these lines. Nighat Khan, director of the Applied Socio-economic Research organization of Pakistan “argued that gender analysis had become a technocratic discourse, in spite of its roots in socialist feminism, dominated by researchers, policy-makers and consultants, which no longer addressed issues of power central to women’s subordination. She identified factors underlying this shift as the professionalization and ‘’isation’ of the women’s movement and the consequent lack of accountability of ‘gender experts’ to a grass-root constituency. (…) Nighat Kahn asserted that the focus on gender, rather than women, had become counter-productive in that it had allowed the discussion to shift from a focus on women, to women and men, and, finally, back to men” (Baden and Goetz , p. ). As also pointed out by Indian feminist Kamla Bhasin: “There is money in gender but little passion, there is objectivity in gender but no stakes” (Bhasin n.d, p. ). Discussion on women’s issues is being robbed of its struggle aspects,

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at a time when struggle is needed more than ever. Since the fall of the Berlin wall in  neo-liberal politics have been on the increase world wide, promoting market relations on a global scale. And according to the analysis presented in this paper, global market forces are not gender neutral: They tend to promote the power positions of men, while many aspects of the kind of work that women usually do, and which are unrelated to the market – e.g. food production from self-grown crops and taking care of children – are rendered invisible. As pointed out by Kamla Bhasin there is today a resurgence of male and patriarchal power. “Patriarchy and patriarchal violence are definitely not on the decline” (Bhasin n.d, p. ).
Further adjustments of GAD discourse: Gender mainstreaming

In the context of development discourse gender has become an issue of checklists, planning and ‘political correctness’. Through the terminology of gender women’s issues have become de-politizised. In my view the language of gender mainstreaming has continued and exacerbated the trends just described regarding the shift from ‘women’ to ‘gender’. Lots of nice words are produced, with lots of good intentions – but when you look at the outcome, the picture is different. ‘The mainstreaming approach’ has grown in importance since the  Beijing conference. A Sida definition of gender mainstreaming goes like this: “Mainstreaming implies that attention to equality between women and men should pervade all development policies, strategies and interventions. Mainstreaming does not simply mean ensuring that women participate in a development agenda that has already been decided upon. It aims to ensure that women as well as men are involved in setting goals and in planning so that development meets the priorities and needs of both women and men. Mainstreaming thus involves giving attention to equality in relation to analyses, policies, planning processes and institutional practices that set the overall conditions for development. Mainstreaming requires that analysis be carried out on the potential impact on women and men of development interventions in all areas of societal development. Such analysis should be carried out before the important decisions on goals, strategies and resource allocations are made” (Sida , quoted in Hannan , p. , emphasis in original). Carolyn Hannan produces a table with characteristics of the ‘integration strategy of the s’ as opposed to the ‘mainstreaming strategy of the s’ which reads much like previous / juxtapositions (e.g. Razavi and Miller ). According to Hannan, the integration strategy is about “women’s involvement (participation, representation, parity, ‘num-

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bers’) usually in a development agenda decided upon by others” (Hannan , p. , emphasis in original), with a focus on ‘women’ out of context and often at household level, and on technical aspects – development of methods, tools and technical skills, with no consideration of the political aspects. In contrast, the mainstreaming strategy is “going beyond ‘numbers’ – bringing the perceptions, experience and interests of women as well as men to bear on the development agenda”. Furthermore the mainstreaming strategy is characterized by “use of analysis to focus on relations/power – uncovering inequality, conflict and confrontation”, “a focus on political aspects of promoting gender equality – relations, power, transforming the agenda, and changing of organizations and institutions” (ibid., emphasis in original). A key element in the mainstreaming strategy, according to Hannan, is “that there should be a shift from quantitative aspects of participation of women to more transformatory aspects – bringing the perceptions of women as well as men to bear on the development process itself, rather than simply trying to integrate women into existing development agendas formulated by others” (Hannan , p. , emphasis added, ). This may be the programme of enthusiastic feminists, working in the development sector, but judging from my own (of course limited) experience the justifications for mainstreaming by non-feminists (which happen to be in the majority in development organizations) run along very different lines. The transformatory aspects are not in high demand. Rather the arguments put forward in support of gender mainstreaming tend to focus on better quality and on efficiency – from an economic point of view. Regarding ‘better quality’ the argument goes for instance like this: A precondition for good planning is relevant knowledge and adequate conceptualization of the reality in question. Social realities are gendered, in third world countries often even more explicitly than in Europe. Development planning must acknowledge and respond to this gendered reality. And regarding ‘efficiency’: Women are potential wage labourers and producers of marketable goods. Integration of women in market economy gives higher . In the latest World Bank document on gender Engendering Development (Consultation Draft May ) a recurring punch-line runs like this: Gender Inequalities are Costly to Development. Or to put it the other way round: Gender Equality is Good Business! It is stated in the document that gender equality is a development objective in its own right – “but gender equality also enhances development by strengthening the ability of countries to grow, to reduce poverty and to govern effectively” (World Bank , p. ). The message is that ‘development needs women’ – development understood as expanded market relations. The market needs women as pro-

While a part of feminist scholarship has been integrated in government and development institutions.e. Maria Mies and Veronica Bennholdt-Thomsen point to this kind of shortcomings in their rather blunt statement that “feminism has been narrowed down mainly to equity politics and cultural feminism. only few non-market aspects of social life remain visible. The caring and food-providing work of women is not considered. this looks too much like wishful thinking. the  and donor governments – and not by feminist movements. The development establishment is concerned about the market. human rights being one. nationally and in development organisations. the political scope of which is a struggle for more open definitions of sexual identity (Butler :). ‘Development needs women’ – but do women need development? Or rather: Which type of development do which women need? According to Hannan the mainstreaming strategy should be geared for asking – and answering – just this type of question. another part has withdrawn from political involvement. to mean a change in one’s sexu- . an example being Judith Butler’s very influential theoretical work. At the level of the nation state feminists got involved in government politics for gender equality – a collaboration which in the Scandinavian context has been dubbed ‘state feminism’. The implicit context of most post-structural feminist theory does not go far beyond Western middle class concerns. ). To me. Mainstreaming becomes a means for economic growth and more successful mobilization of women on a neo-liberal economic agenda. i. but a redefinition of sex roles to alleviate the resulting double burden is ignored” ( . feminist theory and the launching of gender issues in political contexts. however. In the s in general there was quite a close connection between women’s movements. Similarly in the North a kind of ‘development feminism’ emerged. And wishful thinking is not enough to change economic agendas. economic growth. p. “Income generating activities for women are promoted. De-politicising of feminist theory? Initially the issues of  and later of  were pushed by women engaged in feminist theory and in the women’s movement. Concurrently with the global process of increasing marketisation. increasingly integrated in and with issues of investigation defined by the big and powerful development institutions – the World Bank.78 QUESTIONS OF POWER • ARNFED ducers of marketable goods and services (through so-called income-generating activities) and consumers – provided that they have the money. feminist theory in the North has developed in directions away from engagement in issues of global inequality.

Feminists from the South are scrutinizing not only Western presumed ‘gender neutral’ theories. is necessary in order to reveal what the centre itself is not able (or willing) to see. seen with feminist eyes reveals itself as heavily male biased.ARNFED • QUESTIONS OF POWER 79 al orientation. but ethno-blind (cf. p. Thus a gap has emerged between the kind of gender thinking expressed in the unified global language of development discourse (the . working on the issue. among others).  and Joan Scott ) can readily be extended with a third world dimension: Just as presumed gender neutral thinking. . The potential for epistemological critique. Feminist theorists from the South are. Programmes of  and  “potentially displace/disrupt/interrupt political connections among autonomous women’s groups and activists in ‘third’ and ‘first’ worlds. in so far as the subject of Western thinking almost always is implicitly male – this same Western thinking. supposedly as barriers between them. from the periphery or from below. Mainstreaming  discourse today is talking from the centre of powerful development institutions. p. mainstreaming and World Bank ‘engendering-development’ way of thinking) and the kind of feminist theory which draws its energy and direction from questions and concerns posed by feminist activists and by women’s movements from the South. -). (…) The postmoderns continue to discover ever more differences between people. One problem with the by now established gender-anddevelopment and gender mainstreaming discourse is that it has moved from margin to centre. It is my own opinion that there is ample potential in post-structuralist feminist theory for an epistemological as well as a political critique of global relations of power. I see this as a very important observation. Chandra Mohanty . WID/GAD and women’s movements According to some observers (and I agree) the whole development set-up has rendered difficult relations of solidarity between women’s movements in North and South. however. Oyeronke Oyewumi . no mat- . in linguistic and social behaviour. but that so far these potentials remain largely un-developed. ). but also Western feminist thinking. loosing in the process its critical itch. seen with third world eyes reveals itself as not only male. developed by the first generation of gender-theorists (among others Sandra Harding . but they never talk of exploitation and oppression” (Bennholdt-Thomsen and Mies . because it focuses on the unequal power relationships embedded in all development work. Relations between donor and recipient are fostered instead” (Angela Miles . but also ethnocentric. Ifi Amadiume . finding much of it gender aware. Often in social science a view from the margin.

Not all feminists have been engulfed in ‘state’ or ‘development’ feminism. created by national governments and development institutions. Seen from the point of view of the / development establishment – including many South women’s organisations – a lack of correspondence between local women’s concerns and the  development . . dominated by elite women and dedicated to quiet and comparatively genteel politics of pursuing legal and policy reforms” (quoted in  . ). consultants and workers’ and ‘the professionalization and ’isation of the women’s movement’. The important thing is for feminists in the North to realize that we too. p. Furthermore they rarely retain their linkage with grass-root organisations and women whose interests they claim to represent” (ibid. Such women’s organisations tend to “be co-opted or absorbed by the state. regarding ‘discourse as controlled by paid  and other donor advisers. p. need the support of feminists and women’s movements in the South. ). between elite and grass root women of the South. “The unequal discourse of development that shapes and contains  and  relationships means that they cannot provide an adequate frame for the development of political sisterhood/solidarity. What  and  discourses further achieve. and between these women and some activists in the South” (Miles . ‘partnership’ etc. is to obscure the fact that transformative feminist trends do exist in the North. On the contrary. quoted above. As argued by Amina Mama “post-colonial women’s organisations tend to be hierarchical in structure. This point echoes the observations made by Ifi Amadiume and Nighat Khan. by talking about ‘development dialogue’. emphasis added. these  and  relationships can mask the existence of transformative feminisms in the ‘first world’ and impede the development of global solidarity/sisterhood. As a matter of fact new feminist movements are emerging in the Scandinavian countries – but so far they remain unrelated to feminist movements of the South. resulting in their ineffectiveness as vehicles for women’s struggles. if we want to change the male bias of the market system.80 QUESTIONS OF POWER • ARNFED ter how much the development discourse itself is trying to neglect the basic situation of unequal power. if they are understood by ‘third world’ women to reflect the whole of Western feminisms.). according to Angela Miles. A further problem in this context is the split. No real solidarity between partners can emerge when mutual dependence is not acknowledged. or withdrawn to apolitical theorising. When this occurs the necessary and difficult process of building political relations among ‘first world’ and ‘third world’ movement counterparts is supplanted by suspiciously well-funded relations between women in the development industry in North and South.

emphasis added. nor to perceive their knowledge and skills as valuable potentials.ARNFED • QUESTIONS OF POWER 81 discourse. transformative way which Hannan advocates – are . But to which extend is this language useful as a tool for changes in consciousness and self-perception of grass-root women? An example from my own experience in northern Mozambique: In - I was conducting anthropological fieldwork in an area only marginally integrated in market relations. p. having learned to see themselves as powerless and oppressed. ). This observation is not at all new. ). and this aspect must be explicitly treated and made very visible if mainstreaming (as Hannan understands it) is to be successful (Hannan . Hannan notes. it is important that special attention should be given to gender equality. An overriding problem when it comes to the question of promoting gender equality. insist on interpreting ‘mainstreaming’ as another word for ‘agenda-setting’ (Hannan . The ways in which this side-lining of the gender mainstreaming issues work -gender mainstreaming understood in the inclusive. p. Hannan herself points to a series of possible pitfalls: There is a risk that mainstreaming is taken to simply mean integration into existing agendas (Hannan . will be explained as due to the grass-root women’s ignorance and limited knowledge. Here the way in which you would know if women had been in contact with gender-anddevelopment efforts was that in this case they would have acquired a language of women’s subordination. and where matrilineal kinship structures provided some older women with quite powerful positions. where food products were controlled by women. Notwithstanding the keen and struggling feminists who. ) – mainstreaming is an institutional devise. p. . like Carolyn Hannan. and to neglect the important political implications” (Hannan . p. There is a tendency. Rather it is the order of the day in development institutions. within development co-operation “to reduce the promotion of gender equality to a technical issue. Section 2: Critique of Dominant Gender Policies Gender mainstreaming – limitations and pitfalls Gender mainstreaming is a policy adopted – if at all – from above. but they are not being used according to the intentions. ). is the lack of political will. Relevant frameworks and tools have been developed in abundance. Through gender training courses women all over the world are being taught to express themselves in the unified global language of gender-and-development discourse. according to Hannan. They had not learned to see their importance in the family and in community rituals as positions of power.

male or female. tends to keep feminists busy in fighting for gender mainstreaming with the risk of diverting their/our attention from the overall impossibility of the task. highlighting their male bias and their sensibility to market concerns more than to women’s and poor people’s needs. nor in the (often low) prestige of working with gender issues. quoted in  .  was established in  and has its headquarters at University of the South Pacific at the Fiji Islands. ). ). An important aspect of ’s work is discussions regarding the character of state and development institutions. Very often. including gender equality. The prominent position in the policy papers of many development agencies of gender equality as a political goal is not reflected in the (often precarious) staffing of the gender office. cf. At a time and in an age when the state increasingly is being re-organised to serve the interests of market forces rather than the interests of the dispossessed ( . It might be more useful to realize that feminist visions regarding mainstreaming as a tool for changing gender power relations. wilful misconceptions. p. stubborn male resistance within bureaucracies and a generally hostile environment ( . . ) attempts to make states attentive to women and poor people may look like a contradiction in terms. stubborn male resistance etc.  (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) is a feminist network of women activists. researchers and policy makers from the South who are committed to developing alternative frameworks and methods in order to attain the goals of economic and social justice. in the departments. low position of ‘national women’s machineries’ in government hierarchies.e. p. p. It is evident from . on the chance existence of feminists. ). p. “More progress has been made in the adoption of policies and the setting up of institutions to support global markets than to support people and their rights” ( Human Development Report . Another factor is that the conspicuous neglect.82 QUESTIONS OF POWER • ARNFED diverse. wilful misconceptions. do not match the reality of governments and development institutions. but also their composite character with internal cracks and contradictions. i. progress in the matter will depend entirely on committed individuals. “equating gender equity with providing access and opportunities for women to participate in the production of goods and services that can contribute to the country’s  trade and dollar reserves” ( . These bodies simply understand the matter differently. Thus as feminists we’ll have to accustom ourselves to more subversive ways of working. taking advantage of ‘cracks in the edifice’ of states and development institutions (as developed by . below) and of the existence of the odd feminist in a key position. thus. The  group of South feminist researchers1 list a series of structural barriers to gender mainstreaming in this inclusive sense: Conspicuous neglect. in the face of an official policy in favour of gender equality.

). Pushing for gender mainstreaming in the inclusive and transformative sense thus is no easy task. hierarchies and practices of public institutions” ( . Thus. ).ARNFED • QUESTIONS OF POWER 83 much of the general debate on the nature of political changes (including changes for democracy and human rights) and processes of governance that the dominant discourse does not include perspectives and concerns of poor people. according to : Disengagement is not an option. are entirely disregarded. p. “Despite the formidable obstacles faced by women. and to the marginalization of the majority of poor people” ( . mutual aid and the like. labour and services as part of family obligations. p. perceive and acknowledge aspects of social life which are external to market relations – is a disregard for women’s double workload. p. Conducting fieldwork in Northern Mozambique I became aware that local culture to a . “Gender equity thus goes beyond equal opportunity. One consequence of this determined blindness – the market’s purposeful inability to see. to abandon the project of institutionalizing gender is not an option” ( . The gender bias of market economy A major problem of global market forces is the way in which they render invisible much of what women actually do. much of what society classifies as women’s work is rendered invisible and unimportant for understanding how economics works” ( . the fact being that the vast majority of women are overburdened by reproductive burdens that have not been equally shared by men. Indeed in many countries women provide products. p. Feminists have to realise that states are institutions where male privileges remain deeply embedded. ). Nevertheless. neo-classical economic theory. In addition to this. religion. it requires the transformation of the basic rules. reciprocal household responsibilities. And states follow the lead of the market: “The state assume that women’s labour time is available as a reserve. subsidiary and complementary source for capitalist development” ( . nor of women.e. Again on this point I shall quote from the work of the  researchers: “There is a major flaw in these monetized and market-driven presuppositions that affect women. “we cannot add gender or women to frameworks that have led to the exclusion of women in the first place. ] considers work performed. The challenge for feminists is to find ways in which to make gender mainstreaming meaningful from women’s points of view. services rendered and products made that do not have an explicit price to have no economic value. and the pitfalls and blind alleys are many. healing practices etc. ). Further this theory [i. women’s (and men’s) roles and positions at other levels: in rituals. ). p.

The jobs are repetitive and monotonous and require concentration and nimble fingers – considered as ‘assets’ of female workers. as the universal solution. As however the market proper only responds to needs expressed in cash. Only few women are integrated in market relations as wage labourers. such connections tend to disappear from sight. Reversals of learning is an idea adapted from Robert Chambers (. our solution is equal rights and market relations.84 QUESTIONS OF POWER • ARNFED large extend was based on connections between the living and the dead. the majority of women are being excluded – in a world where transformation to market conditions is increasingly taking place. more often than not on lousy terms. matching economic growth. in Free Trade Zones which are “characterised by women working for cheap wages. the souls and the community are discarded. between body and soul. But does it work? Maybe time has come for North/South reversals of learning. e. as healers/diviners and as grandmothers /family elders. the bodies and the individuals. who are never valued as ‘skilled’” ( . In this reduction much of women’s lives and local importance is erased. we (the donors) have the solution. and between the individual and the community – many of these connections in this place (a rural matrilineal community) being handled and taken care of particularly by women – as spirit mediums and female ‘chiefs’. in subsistence production and/or in the so-called ‘informal sector’. “the emerging state/market relationships perpetuate the exclusion of poor women from mainstream economic and social activities” (Taylor ). on a piece-rate basis. In the field of gender their problem is women’s oppression and subordination. while the links to the dead. . ). Section 3: Challenges for the Women’s Movements Reversals of learning Mainstream development aid is implicitly based on a model saying: They (the development aid receivers) have the problem. In actual fact most poor women operate outside the formal markets. In contexts of ‘development’ however.g. in the shape of marketisation. Thus the blessings of the global market tend to be limited from women’s points of view. What is seen and considered are the living. This line of thinking produces the overall conception of economic poverty as the dominant problem. in substandard working conditions with a high degree of job-insecurity. While just a tiny minority of middle class women are likely to experience the advantages of development. p.

later increasingly in order to “turn the spotlight round and look at ourselves” (. p. ). quoted in Harding . “There are cracks emerging in the edifice of global decision making. p. p. like this one” Chambers writes in a paper titled Poverty and Livelihood: Whose Reality Counts? “One may speculate on what topics the poor and powerless would commission papers if they could convene conferences and summits: perhaps on greed. -). In the   document an analysis of the state and development organisations as complex and contradictory sites is emerging. How we use these spaces that are being created is going to be very important in determining the alternative paths . sites with cracks and contradictions that can be used to lever spaces for alternative strategies. pointing to Black feminist scholars as “marginal intellectuals whose standpoints promise to enrich sociological discourse” (Hill Collins. ). The idea of the critical view from the margin. from the periphery. p. Feminists from the South have had to learn to navigate in donor-dominated waters. and those papers are rarely written” (Chambers . ). “reinventing ourselves as other” as Sandra Harding says (. ) and “learning from the outsiders within” (: ). from the ones excluded as ‘others’ by the dominant discourse. the result of political struggles and specific contexts…” ( . “Feminists have moved beyond regarding the state as a homogenous. learning to see our own realities with eyes from without. The state is a group of arenas. hypocrisy and exploitation? But the poor are powerless and cannot and do not convene summits. picking up on concepts and critiques. patriarchal and capitalist entity to understanding it as a complex site. p. taking advantage of the money and the contacts while making efforts to use it according to their own agendas. In order for us from the North to look at ourselves with the eyes of men and women from the South. “Papers on the poor proliferate. institutions. to ask and to listen (. ). The idea of “outsiders within” is developed by Patricia Hill Collins. In feminist contexts ‘reversals of learning’ have a lot to do with feminists from the North listening to and learning from feminists from the South. ). p.ARNFED • QUESTIONS OF POWER 85 . In Chambers’ context initially in order for the development practitioner to be able to communicate more effectively with the local farmer (man or woman?). has much as yet un-developed potential for feminist thinking and practice in the North. Taking advantage of cracks and contradictions Much practical work in South women’s s and feminist research in the South are only possible with money from donor organisations. discourses. He advises the development practitioner to sit down.

Chambers. Longman. Amadiume. Putting the Last First. The idea is to work inside. and of the spaces opened up by cracks and contradictions in the institutional setup of states and development agencies. Zed Books. Zed Books. race and gender – embedded in these institutions. Bhasin. . Robert : Poverty and Livelihood: Whose Reality Counts?  Discussion Paper . Chambers. Zed Books Baden. Ifi : Reinventing Africa. Feminists North and South have to develop an astute critique of prevailing trends of marketisation. These are major challenges for North/ South women’s movements. Judith ⁄: Gender Trouble. Kamla n. in: Cecilie Jackson and Ruth Pearson (eds): Feminist Visions of Development. which is not going to happen. But at the same time we have no other alternative but to work through these same structures. Female Husbands. Chambers. multinational financial institutions and agencies of development aid – which promote this marketisation. Amadiume.86 QUESTIONS OF POWER • ARNFED that we develop to promote the type of transformation that all of us are working towards” (Taylor ). Gender and Gender Workshops: Sharing some Thoughts. taking advantage of person-to-person contacts. Feminists have to be acutely aware of the relations of power – of class. but rather to work in a more subversive manner. This strategy of taking advantage of ‘cracks in the edifice’ may be seen as an initial concretisation of the ‘there is no other option’ – position. the strategy not being attempts to make these institutions take over a transformatory agenda. References Amadiume. Matriarchy. Daughters of Imperialism. Ifi : Daughters of the Goddess. Routledge. Routledge. Concerns and Experiences. Robert : Challenging the Professions. Bennholdt-Thomsen and Maria Mies : The Subsistence Perspective.d. Ifi : Male Daughters. Robert : Rural Development. but to some extent ‘against the grain’ of state and development institutions. Beyond the Globalised Economy. Intermediate Technology Publications. Sally and Anne Marie Goetz : Who needs [sex] when you can have [gender]? Conflicting discourses on gender at Beijing. and of the institutions – governments. Zed Books. Religion and Culture. Butler.

Scott. Thailand Oct. Carolyn : Promoting Equality between Women and Men in Bilateral Development Cooperation. Miles. Lund University. Harding. Sandra : Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Open UniversityPress.org. Oyewumi.dawn. Florence : Editorial. rationales and institutional arrangements. Feminisms and Power. University of Minnesota Press. Razavi. Indiana University Press. : From  to : Conceptual shifts in the women and development discourse. Beijing and Beyond. Open University Press. Joan : Gender and the Politics of History. Harding. Geneva. Taylor. University of Cape Town. and Miller. C. . Oyeronke : The Invention of Women. (compiled by Vivien Taylor). Howe. . Women’s Studies Quarterly. nos &.org/gender/prr/) . vol . Ann Russo and Lourdes Torres (eds): Third World Women and the Politics of Difference. A World Bank Policy Research Report.worldbank. . in: Obioma Nnaemeka (ed): Sisterhood. Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourse. Intervention at the  South Asia. Concepts. (Available at www. Colombia University Press.org. Mohanty. Chandra Talpade : Under Western Eyes.fj)  : Marketisation of Governance: Critical Feminist Perspectives from the South. Africa World Press. Angela : North American Feminisms/Global Feminisms: Contradictory or Complimentary?. goals. (Avaliable at www.dawn. in Chandra Talpade Mohanty. South East Asia and Pacific Workshop. Sandra : The Science Question in Feminism.fj) World Bank : Engendering Development. S. Consultation Draft.ARNFED • REFERENCES 87 Hannan. (Avaliable at www. Vivien : The DAWN Political Restructuring and Social Transformation Project.

It is mostly women who participated in the new urban movements of the s. to democratize and to transform gender relations. women’s participation has been particularly relevant. To a great extent this transformation is the fruit of general dissatisfaction with the official party. women are playing a new role that implies a serious transformation in the political culture and gender relationships. The first expressions of this unrest were seen in the s with the awakening of civil society in Mexico.Citizenship and Women in Mexico: Searching for a New Political Culture? Views and Experiences of Participants and Non-Participants in Political Action EDMÉ DOM ÍNGUEZ Introduction Mexico has finally left behind the era of the one party-system to start its career on a multi-party track where stability may be sacrificed to the legitimacy provided by democratic elections. from the housing activists to the feminists and even the armed movements. They also agree on the importance of participation in order to realize these changes. Even women who do not participate in political action share somehow the awareness of certain problems. Are participant women trying to enter the system or are they aiming to change it? Have non-participant women similar notions to the participants in respect of gender issues and the need for a new political culture? In this paper I argue that both participants and non-participants share the view of an authoritarian system that needs to be changed. In our research we have looked at what notions these women – participants and non-participants – have of concepts such as citizenship and democracy. of the need to change. in order to achieve citizenship – understood as rights and obligations to- . Through their work in all kinds of organizations. in this awakening. And. women’s demands have given the Zapatista movement one of its main features in comparison with other Indian or guerrilla movements in Mexico or Latin America. Furthermore.

the concept of citizenship recalls a conflictual practice associated to power and reflecting the struggles of ‘who can attain what’ in the process of defining the social common problems and how they are to be approached. This paper is a presentation of some of the partial results of our research into women’s urban and rural movements and citizenship in Mexico. in June-July . And they agree on the qualities women may need to contribute to transform this system. • Pluralism and Multiculturalism. This joint research project involves also Ines Castro. the beginning of  and. I will present some of the empirical material on urban women that I have been able to gather at the end of . Civic Activity and Political Participation. or in process of being published. . . Feminists have centred their criticism to the following classical notions: • Public Responsibility. Taking as the point of departure some theoretical reflections on the concepts of gender and citizenship. ). public affairs. a Mexican researcher.1 It is also a continuation of the articles already published. The project has received financial support from Sida- in . and the most recent and relevant events as to the political participation of women in Mexico.DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 89 wards the community and as an awareness of. How does the recognition of different cultural identities affect women’s rights as citizens?. . • Divisions and Antagonisms: How are they to be solved? How can socio-economical and political differences be reconciled with equality?. in what way?). and studies of the Zapatista and other women’s organizations in Chiapas in order to compare them with urban women’s organizations. within the framework of the project (Domínguez and Castro. Both the citizenship and the rights attached to it are always in a process of construction and change. most recently. used as a principle for exclusion and for the subordination of women. and responsibility for. • The Dichotomy Public-Private. Everything concerning the private sphere – the family context – has been regarded as irrelevant for the exercise of citizenship. • Equality (for whom?. Domínguez. Theoretical Questions From an analytical perspective. as features of all contemporary democracies.

p. -). As Mouffe (. Their different situation in the intersections of power relations is also important to notice. Women. for example. according to the criticism. Gender… ). (Escobar. focusing in short-term goals and mostly engaged in local changes without ever aiming at the conquest of power. etc. ‘colona’ or Indian.2 Within this conception. The public-private dichotomy is thus reconstructed at each level: the desires. since the beginning of the s as heterogeneous. Another criticism of the liberal notions of citizenship implies that it is impossible to reduce the diverse identities into a single and abstract ‘citizen identity’. trying to focus on the notion of difference. One of the first currents opposing the universality of the patriarchal model has tried to find a feminine model naturally associated to equality and rather superior to the patriarchal one (Jelin. and perhaps the most serious criticism to this model concerns its belief in a common essence to all women. class and religion (Massolo. identities. masculine superiority is being replaced by a feminine superiority that. For Mouffe the liberal interpretation of rights is based on an abstract equality. only reproduces a hierarchical order (Jelin. such currents in their turn have been criticized on the grounds that the relationship established by maternity cannot be taken as a model of egalitarian democracy as it is naturally unequal (mother-child are not equal). such as those recently known as ‘new social movements’. Las Mujeres… ). experiences and positions. Women can thus have several identities: mother.” (Mouffe. decisions and options are private but their . Finally. sexual difference is one of the recognized identities but the goal is to make this as well as other identities irrelevant in many of the social relations where it is relevant today.90 CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ In general. It is generally admitted that we cannot speak of a woman but of women. the subject’s different positions affect or are even determinant in collective social practices. but these rights are nevertheless fundamental if seen together with an active political participation and the sense of belonging to a political community. corker or peasant. However. p. . . -) . the experience of maternity (Dietz. p. In this way “citizenship cannot be understood only as an identity but as an articulating principle that affects the different positions of the subject and allows for a plurality of specific loyalties and respect to individual freedom. ethnicity. The so called ‘new social movements’ are described. Alvarez . p. a heterogeneous group of social agents with a huge diversity of cultures. Moreover. race. ) has pointed out. the criticism have focused on the abstract model of a citizen within a patriarchal society based on the exclusion of all groups that cannot adjust to the model in terms of gender. Examples of the movements are the urban-colonos movements or the indigenous movements. ). ).

economic.DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 91 realization is public. this kind of movement targets specially women. consumer. Focusing on virtues of ‘self-help’ and voluntary work. it is necessary to remember that not all social participation leads necessarily to projects of democratization. A citizen participation perspective involving notions of social and welfare rights would oppose both liberal individualism and an elite and ‘delegational’ perspective that focuses only on electoral rights. ). or excluded. These notions are also analysed by the ‘democratic participation’ perspective. thus engaging people that normally would not be interested in participating and/or those who are traditionally regarded as passive. It would be much closer to those citizen-. . -). . This framework makes it possible to articulate different issues and movements. politics would encompass “power struggles enacted in a wide range of spaces culturally defined as private. This has severe implications for the debates on social policy in general and on women rights in particular. However. (Moulineaux. the socalled ‘new social movements’. like women or immigrants. . citizenship is associated to public responsibility and political participation. Thus. Indian women and homosexuals.or neighbourhoodmovements that flourished in Latin America during the s. cultural and so on” (Alvarez et al . Such an interpretation focuses on those social relations that give place to oppression. p. Furthermore.3 Summarizing. Politics then include all kinds of areas and issues that affect citizens’ autonomy and rights. within the family. These excluded groups become active participants by transforming their local and daily concerns into political issues. democracy is conceived as a common. p. fanatical religious movements (for example Islamic or even Catholic). of tolerance in relation to difference and to the possibility of influencing decision-makers (Dahlstedt. Equality at home. women-. or social actions already mentioned above. is recognized as a pre-condition and a requisite for public equality (Mouffe ). active project involving all active citizens who seek to participate and to influence all levels of society. questioning such oppression and looking at the way of making all daily and local issues political. Even this participation can be manipulated by authoritarian regimes. p. we propose to use a feminist radical interpretation of citizenship focusing on a plural and participatory democracy. ) And these political struggles are “crucial in fostering alternative political cultures and potentially in extending and deepening democracy in Latin America” (ibid. We thus emphasize the concept of public responsibility and political participation but also the issue of multiplicity of identities. An example of this is the ‘new communitarianism’ which gives priority to the needs of the community over those of the individuals and privileges the notion of responsibilities over that of rights. Participation becomes a process of learning of acceptance. ). This new movement has even been regarded as an alternative to both liberal individualism and socialism. social. like those of working women. Within this perspective.

. especially during the s. to their de-historization. Partido Revolucionario Institucional.4 The Political Participation of Mexican Women Mexico was one of the last countries in Latin America to recognize the political rights of women (the right to vote in municipal elections in  and in federal elections in ). Nevertheless the political participation of women was important even before the Mexican revolution () as part of trade union. despite the first  Women’s World Conference in Mexico City in  and the parallel activities associated with it. . feminist analyses can be considered an effort to discover all forms of subordination where the notion of woman is relevant. that had mostly women among its rank and file. Dietz () speaks of a “transcendent vision” that overcomes the narrow group interests and even feminism in order to undertake a citizen activity that includes and requires a masculine participation. “Ciudadanía Emergente o Exclusión.92 CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ based on the principle of democratic equivalence respecting these differences. even if they prove to be conjunctural. In order to avoid this. In this sense. p.5 Since the awakening of civil society in the s. On the parallel activities associated with this Conference see E. there is a problem. new women’s organizations (organized by feminists committed to democratization) were cre. However. This is inspired by Mouffe (. Consequently there will be as many feminist perspectives as forms of women subordination. peasant and middle class movements. and particularly after the near defeat of the offical party. until the s. and taking as point of departure certain identities. These identities. and it was not until the s that the urban-popular movement. interests. However. according to Phillips (). In the s the feminist movement started. common interests. started to include women’s claims. may find experiences. mainly among middle-class sectors. Analysing women’s actions and movements we try to account for their heterogeneity but also for their ‘nodal points’. the recognition of the different identities can lead to their “essentialization”.  (the Institutional Revolutionary Party). Jelin (). in order to obtain electoral rights. we must try to find a new version of democratic equality that is able to recognize and represent these differences without creating absolute barriers. ): “there will be as many feminisms as forms of women subordination may exist”. no close cooperation between the latter movement and the feminist movement would take place. goals or common aspirations that can be politically articulated.

However much is still to be done in order to reestablish peace. they should be accountable and always in direct contact with the people. a sort of low intensity conflict with thousands of victims and refugees.DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 93 ated and their numbers had increased noticeably by the end of . However. They demanded. to continue studying after the basic school years. which meant that women. it was not only an Indian rebellion. These revolutionary laws were the Zapatista women’s demands to their communities. should be responsible for the family and should avoid any relationship outside marriage. the right to choose their husbands and the right to be elected to the community’s decisionmaking positions (Rojas. . to their families and to the state. . thus creating for the first time in Latin America what we could call a feminist Indian movement. (This is why urban . This rebellion that started as a symbolical reaction to the Mexican entry to . the Zapatistas created a new political style symbolised in their motto: “to command by obeying” (‘mandar obedeciendo’) which means: leaders must listen to the people. The actual armed confrontation was short and it led to a period of peace negotiations up to  when a peace treaty was signed (‘Acuerdos de San Andres’). The Zapatistas also presented the situation and demands of Indian women (‘The Women’s Revolutionary Laws’) that questioned the Indian women’s traditional role and oppression within their communities and in society as large. However. the lack of respect for these agreements from the government’s side led to an escalation of the military presence and violence in the region. as well as men. ). These realities were the other side of the coin the Mexican government wanted to show foreign investors attracted by . among other things. The entry into  (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the  (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) rebellion in Chiapas in  gave way to deep changes in Mexico. The new president Vicente Fox promised to put an end to the conflict and so far some troops have left certain areas of the region and some Zapatista sympathizers have been released from jail. It also led to the splitting of most Indian communities in two camps: pro-Zapatistas and progovernment. to participate in community councils. resulting in bloody internal strifes. in other words: ‘get rid of all authoritarianism’. to choose the men whom they wanted to marry. The second version of the revolutionary laws again formulated these demands but stressed more on ‘equality’ and ‘morality’. In July  a new federal government was elected and the  era came to an end.6 Moreover. The Revolutionary Laws that the Zapatista women called ‘the program of demands’ focused mainly on reviewing women’s rights within the communities in general: women’s rights to go to meetings. aimed to remind both the Mexican government and the people of the miserable realities that most Indian people faced in Mexico. it also aimed to revive the Mexican civil society’s participation in a structural transformation of the Mexican political system and political culture. The Zapatistas’ demands for autonomy and agrarian and cultural reforms demand a long-term perspective as to the solution of the conflict.

. members required to obtain its registration as a political association.94 CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ feminist women. to pursue politics in a different way. to help local leaders. education. hundreds of civic organizations and s gathered under a non-partisan umbrella coalition. with the purpose of carrying out independent observations of the elections. activists from different social sectors. trade unions. s activists and representatives of several social movements. through comprehensive monitoring of the entire electoral process (Alianza Civica/Observación ). such as to increase the participation of citizens. The Women’s National Assembly for transition to democracy took the initiative to call for a Women’s Parliament where the National Chamber of Deputies was symbolically occupied by women representatives from all sectors.  women from all states of the country came to the Chamber of Deputies and opened the Women’s Parliament of Mexico. . not all organizations approved of this type of participation and this created new conflicts in the movements. In a certain way. The leftist victory in the federal and municipal elections of  provided new opportunities for women to participate. university women (teachers and students). Diversa represented the turning . the ‘Civic Alliance’. the Zapatistas’ contribution to the termination of the official party’s hegemony.7 This event was the result of negotiations between a broad political spectrum of female deputies. Diversa. feminists. to the activation of civil society and to the democratization of Mexico was fundamental. as we shall see in the interviews. reacted so forcefully to the second version which they regarded as a “backlash” and concession to men’s rules. However. thus establishing a bridge between the “institutionalized” and “autonomous” women’s movements.) All in all.g. was created with more than . representatives of s and homosexual movements from all over the country. In June the same year a national political and feminist association. academics. In . development and women’s issues. The mission of this Parliament was to discuss and promote a national legislative agenda and public policies to fight gender discrimination. politicians. By the beginning of . since the new Mexico City government invited several women organizations to take part in government policies by working with government agencies. health. and to build a new political culture that respects diversity. e. Diversa’s goals were to try to open new spaces for women and other minorities in public policies. Diversa had already managed to gather the . to achieve equality between men and women at both private and public levels. labor. The organizations that made up the Civic Alliance came from a wide range of fields including human rights. On March .

Afterwards. interests. identities. See: La Jornada:  June . the different parties generally accepted a quota system that required that at least % of the candidates in public elections should be women. peasant women. These were the first elections in which Diversa took part and they were a disappointment for this organization. .  (the Democratic Revolution Party). indigenous women and urban-popular women struggled for the satisfaction of their practical and socio-economic demands. However. it can be noted. The small leftist party to which Diversa offered its support was not able to win any representatives. However. when Mexican women got the right to vote in federal elections in . one of the first consequences of these elections was the reaction of the most conservative groups of the Catholic Church against all kinds of abortion. women activists lost a common platform and there was a fragmentation of the groups that reflected their different social origins. working women. this alliance disappeared once these rights had been formally attained. Another important event was the selection of Rosario Robles to govern Mexico City. replacing Cuauhtemoc Cardenas who left this position to become the presidential candidate of ‘Alianza por Mexico’.9 Summarizing. as described above. even in cases of rape. the leftist coalition headed by ‘Partido de la Revolución Democrática’. to build political alliances and to become an active political force in order to achieve its goals. . December . Diversa did not appear during the political campaigns and women’s issues lost ground both during and after the elections as a result of the rightist ’s (‘Partido de Acción Nacional’) victory. These two groups had hardly any . Her performance during the last year of the  government was so positive that  retained control of the city government during the elections in the year . While middle class women gave priority to demands for political participation and sexual rights. not everything was positive. ‘Partido de Acción Nacional’ is Mexico’s Catholic and traditional right. of malformation or of diverse health risks for the mother. . The importance of this selection was not only symbolical – the first woman to become the mayor of Mexico City – but also political. goals and tactics.e. that even though the women’s struggle to have their political rights recognized did gather a broad spectrum of social sectors. i.DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 95 point for that part of the feminist movement that decided to pursue an active political role. and recalling the earlier political experiences back to the s and s. Even though the declarations of the elected president (Fox) favored women’s issues. Diversa’s vice-president. where the political presence of women during the July  elections was concerned. not many parties respected this quota. Also: interview with Patricia Mercado.8 Moreover.

as a result of these new conditions. to political institutions and to government authorities (Massolo :). This contradiction arose since the opportunities to participate in government policies opened in the s. This has created serious divisions concerning goals. The new situation made many of the women’s groups and women activists in all kind of groups aim to transform the Mexican political culture through participation – defined as a social practice that wants to exert an influence over the distribution and control of resources. values and attitudes. This participation is part of the reactivation of an active democracy in which individual citizens or groups claim their rights and express their responsibilities vis-à-vis the institutions represented by the nation state. risks and strategies. who oppose any collaboration with official institutions. However. transformed this context. mediated by the state. The economic crises of the s and . This is not the case of Chiapas. based on the be. even non-participants are aware of many of the problems the participants want to solve. In addition. the goal is the feminization of the state. as we shall see through the empirical material. Although sometimes lacking the same kind of experience and information possessed by the participants. This conflict can be reflected in the ‘ization’ of the movement. diversity and heterogeneity was overcome in the form of new alliances. the Zapatista uprising in  together with the Zapatista women’s rebellion against their life situation. Diversa tried to take the political initiative to attain certain goals of the feminist movements and to change the old political culture into something more democratic and respectful of diversity. For the ‘institutionalists’ (those willing to work with official-state agencies. where autonomous organizations had little margin for action. as more s are created from previous social movements. but also the rules and the style of making politics. we see that women in Mexico are fighting against an authoritarian political culture born from the legitimacy of the Mexican revolution. the rebirth of the citizen movement in . norms and practices through which the citizens relate to the state. the so called ‘’institutionalists’. their Revolutionary laws against poverty and the oppression of tradition. (Alvarez ) . while the autonomous (those reluctant to cooperate with such official agencies) regard this option as unrealistic. Women’s organizations and other social movements became active and. that is to say. where the political conflicts have polarized positions even among women groups. non-participants reflect on these problems and even see participation as part of the solution. are totally rejected by those of the ’autonomous’ movements. authoritarian and repressive. They point out the risk of co-optation and mediatization of the movement and argue that can lose its long term goals of changing not only the policies. If we define political culture as a set of beliefs.96 CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ point of contact.10 Finally. new ‘nodal points’. Those who collaborate with the government in any way. there was the context of a hegemonic partysystem. Even the contradiction institutionalization – autonomy seemed to be temporarily overcome through the Parliament of Women (where all kinds of women’s groups tried to press for changes to discriminatory laws).

of creating a new political culture that rejects most of the characteristics mentioned above. and punished or neutralized critical attitudes or the search of alternatives. apart from being nationalistic and authoritarian. ‘Mujeres en Lucha por la Democracia’. This political culture. ). Furthermore. including those dealing mainly with women’s demands. including the opposition. Many of the women participating in organizations aiming at the solution of various social problems.DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 97 lief in the omnipotence of a presidential system that concentrated power and provided goods and privileges. (Ciudadanas… ) . as contacts with these organizations were temporarily broken. ‘Ciudadanas en Movimiento por la Democracia’. It is also necessary to make clear that several of the interviewees participated in several organizations at the . have tried to find new ways of transforming the system. However. this proved difficult. At first my plans were to limit my interviews to two organizations only: Women in the Struggle for Democracy. These were both women’s organizations (such as Women Citizens in the Movement for Democracy and Diversa) and mixed organizations (such as the Zapatista support groups and the Civic Alliance). was also extremely paternalistic and masculine-oriented. This system encouraged ‘clientelist’ relations and passivity as well as a lack of information on citizens’ rights. Women and Citizenship at the Urban Level: Some Views of Both Participants and Non-Participants Methodology During the period between November  and the end of January . its influence has permeated even the opposition parties and several old and new social movements. share these authoritarian. it inspired a general lack of credibility in its functionaries and authorities. Whether the new rightist government elected year  will change this political culture is difficult to say but most of the women we are to present are conscious that the whole system. Some interviews were also conducted with leaders but mostly for the sake of obtaining information about the organization. although I tried to choose women from the grassroots level and not from the leadership level.11 Several organizations were identified and selected. ) and Women Citizens in the Movement for Democracy. I carried out about  interviews in three cities in Mexico: Mexico City. Puebla and Guadalajara. Moreover. The women subjects of the interviews were selected with the help of the contact persons in the various organizations. masculine characteristics and that it needs to be changed if any real democratization is to take place in Mexico.

consequences for their private lives and families of this participation. duties. Views on gender differences regarding participation. Points of view on Mexico’s situation in the global context. I do not pretend to generalize but to offer a glimpse. although many of them belong to the lower urban middle class. i. etc. I carried out a second round of interviews. perceptions and experiences in relation to the concept of citizenship as these women understand it in Mexico at the end of the century. three major themes were covered: – Participation by Citizens in Politics. educational level. it is necessary to bear in mind that the aim is not to present a representative study of the views or situation of women. – The External Context.). views on the Mexican political situation and the perspectives of change. Their ages varied between  and  years. a sample of perceptions. Starting with the interviewee’s profile (age. on the relations of their organizations with other international organizations or women’s movements. These interviews were not as extensive as those carried out during the first round. this time mostly with non-participants (twelve in number). open with certain key themes. the Women’s Parliament and the creation of Diversa. Their levels of education and social origins are also diverse. . In the summer of the year . views on the relationship between women and political power and of the Mexican political culture in a gender perspective.98 CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ same time. education levels etc. and their views on certain events such as the Zapatista Women’s Revolutionary Law. possibilities. and experiences from a diverse group of women whose only common denominator is their participatory activities or non-participatory activities. but they were also performed in three different cities. And I try to interpret these views. All the interviews carried out in both rounds of the fieldwork were semi-structured. etc. The criterion for the selection of interviewees was that their profiles should coincide with some of the profiles of the participants interviewed in the first round of fieldwork – in respect of age. on regional economic integration and the effects of this integration in their daily lives. social class. The history of their participation.e. As in other types of qualitative studies. views. experience of this participation and their vision of citizenship: rights. goals of their organizations. – Gender and Citizenship.

Both live in Colima. an industrial and university city with about . Even though this varies from one to another. both with a university education although their social origins are different. The other three are young women (. The  year-old woman started to participate . inhabitants. one is  years old and the other is . ‘La Guillotina’ (the Guillotine). and their views on the Zapatista women’s movement. One of them has school-age children and the other adult children.DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 99 In this article I present just a sample of this material in the form of four interviews with participant women and five with non-participants. The Interviewees The profiles of the persons interviewed are as follows: two of the participants are young women. the specificity of women’s contributions to the changes needed in the Mexican political system. participation. Neither of these interviewees has a higher education. One of them also had a special family background. a cultural group of young women critical of the established culture as well as many feminist currents. Her parents have participated in one way or another in popular movements since the  student movement in Mexico. Regarding the group of participants we will start with their history of participation. it can be seen that the young ones were influenced by their university environment. The other two participant women presented here come from the urban popular movement. Both of them participate in young women’s organizations: one in a group called ‘Las Brujas’ (The Witches). two are students and one a working woman with secondary education. middle-aged housewives ( and  years old) with university studies and secondary studies respectively. - years old. I focus on the aspects of citizenship.  and  years old). and the other in the ‘Red de Jovenes por los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos’ (Young people’s network for sexual and reproductive rights). Only one of them has children (of school age). a cultural group based on a journal of the same name. One of them also belongs to ‘Caravana todo para todos’ (the Chiapas support movement). two are middle-class. From the group of non-participants. They also belong to other organizations: one is a member of a mixed (men and women) organization. and the other is a member of one of the women’s citizen organizations we have already described: Women Citizens in the Movement for Democracy. ‘Asamblea de Barrios’ (Slumquarters Assembly) and from ‘Alianza Civica’ (Civic Alliance). None of these young women is married or has children and they all live in Mexico City. Neither of them is married or has children.

For them participation is the only way to fulfil their rights as citizens. also middle-aged. And the people buy this kind of information. the four participant women seem to agree that the notion implies a number of rights and duties but they all refer to the importance of participation in the exercise of citizenship. one in which people “were decent. According to one of them. The students do not speak of their own lack of engagement. because the state has not promoted it. They started to participate in the urban-popular housing movement long before her. it is difficult to get organized “without any support”. the  year-old housewife. . of increasing engagement in a social project that tries to open “new spaces”. However. in their opinion. According to another. All these women give very positive accounts of their participation experiences. Mass media also bear a great deal of responsibility for this lack of participation: they lie and they identify politics with corruption and everything that is rotten in the country. However. of personal development. ‘paternalistic attitudes’ or ‘masculine protagonism’. The non-participants agree that participation is a very important aspect and instrument for exercising citizenship. but see in the lack of participation “a great deal of apathy and lack of interest” perhaps. they are apathetic and even hostile because of their lack of understanding of what participation is. Some of these conflicts had to do with ‘gendered reactions’. Views on Citizenship Regarding citizenship. of an increase in their self-confidence. they do not care to make comparisons between different sources. Where the  year-old woman is concerned. Their reasons for their non-participation vary. her reason for participation had to do with concrete needs: the lack of a house. she never found an organization that “convinced her”. The other young woman says that people are not used to participating. her parents also exerted an influence on her. “people who become engaged grow tired”. not selfish or just wanted to be protagonists”. Another common view is the need to respect diversities and to incorporate plurality and tolerance.100 CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ at a fairly young age as a result of her interest in social issues. of the establishment of friendship and solidarity links. they also describe several obstacles to this participation in the form of family conflicts (one of the women is in the process of obtaining a divorce) or even conflicts in their organizations. Time is also mentioned as an obstacle to participation.

For both students citizenship has to do with cooperation in the community.” (. the working place. the first number is the interview number and the second the age of the person interviewed. it is lacking in the Mexican political system. The notion of citizenship should encompass social and basic rights such as the right to food and to justice.DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 101 For one of the young interviewees the notion of citizenship is linked to that of a nation and community project: “Citizenship (as a concept) implies the project one has for one’s own community. . these rights should not encompass all: criminals and in particular rapists should not benefit from “human rights”. there is a lack of awareness and of engagement. However. citizens formally have the right to modify their environment but people are not aware of these rights and the notion of citizenship is thus a myth. All quotations have a code: ‘Cid’ is the name code of the project for participants and ‘. rights and obligations.” (Cid-a) 12 For non-participants citizenship is naturally associated with rights and duties. mostly social. they say. nation.’ is the code for non-participants.-a) All non-participants in this group stress the importance of information and awareness of the notions of political culture and citizenship. where the community is concerned. Participation should also be a right but in Mexico it is a duty because it is the only way to make things change.. and the local and national community. For example in your neighborhood there are several needs that have to be satisfied and the citizen has to help to solve these needs. “The notion of community is itself in the process of dissolution as well as the family. In Mexico even the concept of fatherland has become devalued. for one’s own neighborhood and in general for the nation. even though. For the  year-old woman. Participation is seen as part of this political culture but. I think that if constant citizen participation is attained. The notions of country. as some admit. and mutual understanding. important changes can take place both at the level of the political structures and at that of the social structures. These rights take into consideration the family.. region and community have lost their real sense. people are not informed. more spaces for participation have opened up in the last few years. everything centers round the individual. Is being a woman of any significance for participation? For the young . for one of the middle-aged women. for example the duty to participate. the compromise one must make to participate.

you have to confront your father and mother. the double day’s work. from those things that are very deep to basic things.” (Cid-a) “In a woman… this implies a much longer process to modify all internal things. the exercise of citizenship by women is totally linked to the private context. their help is mostly symbolic…” (Cid-a) Thus participation finally questions the gender roles within the family and creates conflict situations when the men see their authority at risk: “Our husbands see that we participate that we are pressed…they feel somehow mistreated… (for example) we have coordinating meetings on Thursdays and we finish at about ten. because they have to clean. we try to relate our political participation with personal processes. in order to participate and to be at the meetings. our husbands are already at home and we arrive after them and that makes them . we question our participation in relation to our personal life. I think that we girls. especially when nobody else cares or wants to do them: “Yes. “…yes. It is not only to feel comfortable when you speak in public. participation also demands time and energy that have to be taken from family tasks. For men the private-public relationship is less evident. it is something else and… I don’t know. it’s more difficult for them to say: “I’ll soon come back”. Even when men try to help. make the beds etc. implies a lot of responsibilities for women. This happens in all social classes and organizations.” (Cid-a) Besides this confrontation. the participation of women from that of men.102 CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ participants. Moreover. you want to maintain consistency between them. They have to confront the private context before being able to participate. love experiences. you continue to confront the political and the personal. at night. it is different. in contrast to the boys for whom the personal process is completely disassociated from their political participation. when you grow up and you have other kinds of experiences. wash dishes. There is a moment when we women. at home and outside. for us it is very close and I think that the experience of many girls that have worked in The Witches project is that the personal process is always there. eleven o’clock. as I was telling you before. you have to confront the family because. yes I think so because.

understood these rights as part of the family… as part of our citizens’ rights. very important because it helped us to integrate this issue in several places where it was previously very difficult to speak of sexual and reproductive rights. “I’m the one who has the right to come home late. what can I tell you. this is mostly their own responsibility since they are the ones who educate the children and who perpetuate the gendered patterns of behavior. many approaches. One of the middle-aged women also confirms that most women have not been given the opportunity to participate politically because they have been told they are inferior. “…For example when we. to advise them on the alternatives they have…” (Cid-a) .DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 103 feel mistreated. it takes many forms. it was very nice. Participation in all areas becomes political. since it is the expression of demands. why do you do it”? (Cid-a) The difficulties faced by women where participation is concerned are not discussed by non-participant women to the same extent as they are by the participants. All the confrontations and conflicts referred to by participant women relate to a form of participation not formally considered to be political. The young ones point nevertheless to the fact that women participate in a different way to men. But.. not you. participation becomes political and necessary for the exercise by citizens of their rights. we come to give them support. let’s say in a neighboring district. we try to help them. she adds. when they are on the verge of dislodging people from their houses. they work more.”. they are also more steadfast. the interviewees try to refer to their own experiences in their organizations.” (Cid-a) When asked to specify which rights and duties they associate with citizenship. it also represents the need to assume public responsibility. for example. their self-confidence has been mutilated. in the young people’s network for sexual and reproductive rights. This is somehow natural given the fact that these women lack actual experience of participation. that women become engaged and involved in a much deeper way than men. but if politics includes all the areas and issues that affect citizens’ autonomy and rights. The woman working in Asamblea de Barrios (the neighborhood assemblies) associates these duties with solidarity: “…Citizenship participation.

very emphatic on the limitation of rights for rapists and other kinds of criminals. as people who have the same rights in spite of the color of their skin or their social origin…” (Cid-a) “I think that when we think of participating at the local level we also have to think of participating at the national level. Participation for women is always connected to the private sphere as an encouragement. Our constitution should reflect this diversity of Mexican men and women if the Indians have a particular way of being. and all of them should be recognized as citizens. sometimes of a national character and they have to do with their different identities.104 CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ Another aspect related to citizenship. according to participant women.” (Cid-a) For non-participants citizenship is also associated with mutual help. that we are different. Summing up. we see that for these women (participants and non-participants). is the need – the duty – to be tolerant when confronting diversity. especially if participation goes from the local to the national level: “We have responsibilities in the sense that the rights of others should be sacred for us. but it may also be related to a climate of sexual violence against which women are now reacting forcefully. The problems they relate to are not automatically linked to women’s issues. all interviewees agree that participation has different implications for men and women (they thus assume their common identity as women. This can be explained as being a result of the authoritarian political environment Mexico has lived under for centuries. political participation is fundamental in order to exercise a form of citizenship that aims to solve the existing social problems and even to create a new political culture. age or educational level. Women. as we have already seen. we should not try to impose our points of view but try to respect the diversity of opinions. they are sometimes local. However. have diverse points of view and different forms of participation and different ways of solving problems. one of the middle-aged women in this group is. you cannot think of local or national participation if you don’t think about diversity. with giving something to the community. the Mestizos have another. although not as feminists). But where tolerance is concerned. whatever their social origin. always search for coherence. that arises in all these interviews. with solidarity. an obstacle or a limitation. linking personal and public processes – something that quite often results in conflicts . actions and lifestyles. I think that the issue of recognizing diversity and differences is a key point that could make it possible to transform this authoritarian culture. Linking this to the idea of diversity.

for example honesty. all the four participants agree that being a woman is no guarantee of totally different behavior to that of men. could this change the existing power structures? What is the image these women have of women as politicians? Would the Political System Change if There Were More Women? Both participants and non-participants agree that women in Mexico are mostly tied up with the practical tasks of daily life. only the older women among the participants seem to idealize women’s virtues as superior to those of men. “I think that (the system) would change (if there were more women) in the sense that women are very much linked to the needs of daily life. not to the politics of pamphlets or to that of structures and institutions. non-participants are very critical of the Mexican population in general due to its lack of awareness. Then I’m somehow confused because I’m convinced that women relate in a different way to power. that they are nearer to local life realities. if they all became interested in the public domain. On the whole. Nevertheless. Among non-participant women. “…the problem is that when I see the news or TV and I see a woman like Maria de los Angeles Moreno and many other Congresswomen that were in the feminist movement for some period. The younger women are somehow more sceptical of this image. it would seem there is no difference (to men). i.” (Cid-a) However. but I’m also convinced that . such tolerance is not so clear where criminals are concerned. some of these women who reach power have to imitate a masculine model in order to succeed. Moreover. sense of justice and sensibility. They give participation the same importance that the participants do and somehow justify their own lack of engagement by pointing to obstacles that even the participants admit to – namely lack of time.e. when they speak of women’s attitudes to power. But if more women participated. and that their skills and experiences would make a positive contribution to political participation that aims at solving social needs. disappointment with past experiences and even a certain lack of self-esteem. lack of good “decent” organizations. There is also an agreement to link rights and duties to solidarity as well as to respect for plurality and diversity. We women. that they are the ones who take care of families’ practical needs.DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 105 at the level of family relations. information and engagement. we don’t normally lose our link with daily realities.

this is what many women. women who make a political career are expected to have more qualities than men. more attention is paid to what she does. but it is very complicated for these women. at what level. in order for the massive participation of women to have any effect in terms of changes in the political system. of necessity. one has to define what changes one is speaking about. since women have something to contribute: . those that act in a “machista” way when they have power. they try to find a balance. “they have to be more intelligent. And an increase in women’s participation will. …it’s very difficult to go alone against the world. There are others that try not to fall into such a pattern. both in the Zapatista movement and in different feminist groups. to be more intelligent and to have more visions and I think that women in general. according to some of these women.” (Cid-a) But. they risk being eliminated by the men” (Cid-a) For the older participants. to be more honest. and take decisions as such. participation by more women is also relevant. there are all kinds. with certain horrible exceptions. trying to have a better government. they have all the macho attributes. more competent” in order to succeed. What most women have proposed is a new form for politics… the Zapatistas have been very clear in this matter when they ask for new forms for politics and from my viewpoint these new forms are somehow linked to feminist movements since one of the first movements to refer to this was the feminist movement…” (Cid-a) Nevertheless. result in new styles of politics and other major changes. have been looking for: “I think that more is required than an increase in women’s political participation. “Look. they give orders. In brief there is a need of a new political style As some interviewees argue. It is true that there are few who have succeeded in attaining important positions but they have done a good job. according to the participants. have played a very positive role. I think that when a woman comes to power. she is expected to do more.…there is a whole structure and even if you can change it in a certain moment you must be able to function in those structures…” (Cid8-23a) “I think it depends on which women you speak of.106 CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ women in power positions can also react like men..

is mentioned in a very positive way. Women are subordinated but they have potentialities. Women. Some of them also point to the prize women must pay when they become politicians within the framework of masculine rules. Some of the women of both groups idealize women qualities in politics – sensitivity. However. but they have also achieved important cultural transformations in the communities. On the other hand. Both young and middle-aged interviewees agree that women do have special qualities that could improve politics. responsibility – realism. they are more realistic. in the community assemblies. according to these views. there is more idealization of women’s qualities in this group. they become as authoritarian and sometimes as corrupt .-a) The non-participants agree that the phenomenon of ‘machismo’ is still a major obstacle to the career of women politicians. not only have women occupied important positions in the leadership of the Zapatista movement. we also think and have dreams. Even those women who don’t participate. more honest. Nevertheless. I don’t know if one can do the same at the city level but I think that women have an advantage – our link with daily life allows us to go from our daily tasks to formal politics. (. This guarantees that we can transform our local reality. “The massive participation of women would really make a difference. are more sensitive to social issues. sensibility.. women are also more sentimental and conflictive. all women think. The example of the new mayor in Mexico City. In the transformation of community life in Chiapas.” (Cid-a) Many of the above-mentioned viewpoints are shared by non-participant women. and more revengeful”. near to local realities. women politicians are more plentiful. Rosario Robles. we are all human beings. responsible. women have become more aware and active in the last few years. the one in which we live. engaged and efficient – they are not looking for protagonism and leadership.DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 107 “But anyhow it is relevant that women participate in increasing numbers because of the experience we have and even the Zapatista experience has been a key factor. who are housewives. and a massive participation of women as a group would be very positive for the system. pragmatism etc. it could become more democratic and human. As we have seen both participants and non-participants stress the importance of participation and even agree that a massive participation would start changing things.

Before  most leftist organizations found themselves in a kind of lethargy as a result of the blows they received from the government. a new way of doing politics. The older women are the most positive to these demands but they are also the least informed of their content. The Zapatista movement came to remind us that it was not true that we were becoming part of the First World and that the only alternative was wild capitalism. they speak Spanish. The Zapatista movement created renewal. Therefore. not only of the women’s movement. (Cid-a) “The first version (of the Revolutionary Law of Women) provided good encouragement for all women that have been participating in youth organizations or women’s organizations because it spoke of the need to make women juridical subjects in the case of Indian communities and of the need to establish equality in rights and duties. The younger women’s support is somewhat conditional. A new political style. it is necessary to see how do these women appreciate and perceive the Zapatista movement. The ones that participate are few. the way the Zapatistas have introduced.108 CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ as men. “The Revolutionary Law (of Women) is rather loose because women’s participation in the communities is complicated even if they are very strong and resolute. the ones that are no longer locked in their houses”. In the first place. even if their demands are included. The second version was a . than in their concrete political proposals. something else – apart from participation – is needed. more as a form of giving expression to the people and organizations that try to build alternative projects. but also of many other movements. “I think that the Zapatista movement has a value. they look at it as a symbol of the new style mentioned above. they are the ones that have already broken the household barriers. that there were several other alternatives apart from capitalism -socialism. Consequently. Are the Zapatista Women Showing a New Way? What do these women think of the Zapatista experience in Chiapas? It is important to look at these views to get a glimpse of how and if this movement has changed Mexican political parameters.” (Cid-a) The Zapatista women’s demands are also supported in principle by all the participant women. they are like an elite. that there were possibilities for a struggle as well as for democratic transformation. all of the participant women support the Zapatista movement.

The younger participant interviewees seem to know more about the Zapatista women’s demands. One of the middle-aged women says she thought everything would change when the uprising started but then nothing happened.” (Cid-a) We return to the issue of heterogeneity and tolerance. it is a lack of information. “I don’t know so much about the revolutionary law of the Zapatista women but I know something about Chiapas because of my mother. the  year-old interviewee makes a reflection on the enormous differences of realities and rights between urban-mestizo and Indian women. However.DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 109 shock to us because if we imagine that movements tend to evolve. As to the Zapatista women’s demands. For them. but she also admits she lacks information and that most mass media channels have distorted their news on this issue. that is why I was . of clarity about the Zapatista demands. and they express an eager wish to help. I have not seen it myself but I have heard several comments of people who have seen it and made a comparison from our viewpoint as women. Her information comes from her mother who is active in an organization supporting the Zapatista struggle. But it is not disapproval. of the discrimination they have always suffered. They are aware of the problems faced by Indian women. of their weaknesses. to the problem of the rift between the institutionalists – those who accept to cooperate with the government and the autonomous – those who reject such a cooperation (see footnote ). This would lead us to the problem of unity and the discussion of common strategies. These views can be regarded as urban feminist positions and they could be interpreted as a lack of tolerance. and she says that when she travelled with her mother to Chiapas she was deeply affected by the reality of poverty she saw. the second version was a reverse. Among non-participant women there is no general support for the Zapatistas. they are the ones that have less concrete information about the movement. at least regarding ‘methods’. The other middle-aged woman even says that the Zapatistas do not know what they want. none of the interviewees has any knowledge of them and thus they have no opinion on the issue. the changes are slow or “loose” or even reactionary – such as the second version of the Revolutionary Law for Women was perceived to be. What we see in the opinions is that while the older women participants are very enthusiastic about the Zapatista women’s movement. to advance. As a woman in Mexico I take some rights for granted. they are also supportive in principle but at the same time they are highly critical.

their poverty. they admit that they rarely read any newspapers. For the young participant women the revolutionary laws are not what they expected. involvement. in their case. provide a highly distorted picture of events. or their right to be able to exercise their rights within their community. they themselves seem to be aware of this lack of information. is made more serious by a lack of interest and engagement. Both the young participants and the  year-old non-participant underline the difference between their perspective and the Indian women’s perspective. This could be an example of what they themselves call lack of political culture. engagement. On the other hand something else can be seen in these interviews. with their traditions. And both groups agree that participation. and most of the information they get is through TV and radio. families and the state – but also about transforming an authoritarian and ‘masculinist’ political culture. it was a shock to see the difference between her world as a young urban woman and the realities of Indian women.” (. For the young non-participant. in Mexico as well as in many other countries. it was a surprise to hear demands for things she takes for granted in her urban middle class life. that they can have an impact on the system against . Participant women – whether in their feminist movements or in popular organizations – have learned that it is only through participation.. the citizen struggle of women is not only about their right to vote and to be elected. This would take us to the question of whether one can speak of the same sort of citizenship for women from such different worlds – who nevertheless share the same country.110 CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ surprised to hear their demands (the Zapatista women’s demands). which they also admit. When I went to Chiapas I discovered a world totally different to mine. Final Reflections As we have seen. even more than participant women. are affected by a lack of information that. living in conditions that should not exist. for change in a system that is highly undemocratic. However.-a) As we can see. non-participant women. of social awareness. understood as a social practice that wants to exercise an influence on the distribution and control of resources. Women – whether they participate or not – are aware of the existence of this culture. and public responsibility are essential for the exercise of citizenship. they express a certain disappointment about the Zapatista women’s radicalism. people are very simple but they are good people.

apart from increasing women’s participation it is necessary to impact the system by changing the political style. women who became politicians would not have to pay the price of having to become like men in order to succeed. This would also result in a real tolerance of diversity. although they can be more conflictive and revengeful. and to fulfil their citizenship. they work more and carry out what they undertake to do. There should be a search for alternative political methods. This is a somewhat idealized picture of women’s contribution to politics that not many feminists in the Western world would agree with if we look at the criticism leveled at the maternalist models. These groups see active participation as the only way to end their marginalization. Their private life is intimately linked to any public actions and if they start asking for equality as citizens. participation demands much more of women. their subordination. If the political style and the political culture changed. . And according to the interviewees. they have more sensibility. and even family conflicts. for an alternative political culture. Women’s special experiences. Their experiences of participation are also diverse although most experiences are very positive. Both participant and non-participant women in this sample agree that. However. This alternative style for politics is not necessarily feminist – although feminists have claimed such a renewal as a need – but can also come from such a movement as the Zapatista movement. these experiences have implied a cost in terms of time. energy taken away from family tasks and life.DOMÍNGUEZ • CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO 111 which they are struggling. contact with local realities and needs. age and educational level? I don’t think this is the case but the private situation of each of them (the famous private-public dichotomy) is certainly relevant to explain these women’s views and possibilities of participation. are these qualities associated with traditional societies such as that in Mexico? Is the identity of women as traditional caring beings in Mexico so strong as to claim a generalization of such qualities beyond class. This participation can be also regarded as part of the reactivation of an active democracy where individual citizens or groups claim their rights and express their responsibilities vis-à-vis the institutions represented by the nation state. The experiences of participation of the women we have presented here suggest that both personal development processes and family background are important in the development of this type of participation. caring skills. In any case. it has to break with the authoritarian ‘masculist’. their search for coherence will soon bring them to ask for equality at home. they are more honest. women have special skills to contribute: they are more in contact with daily realities. ‘machista’ model that exists today. According to their own views.

namely citizenship. () Citizenship with a feminist face. University of Gothenburg. the Problem with Maternal Thinking. Castro Ines () Mujeres zapatistas en búsca de la ciudadanía. Cuaderno de trabajo  y primer trimestre de .-.) América Latina y las Mujeres que? Serie Haina I. In Ma Clara Medina (ed. But – as the non-participant group shows – it also requires information. interest. Dietz M. R. by . in two diverse contexts. to politics. Public responsibility and political participation are both needed to change a political culture considered highly undemocratic (even after the recent election results). Towards a new type of citizenship and political culture in Mexico today. . this work should be regarded as one of the partial results of a research project that hopes to explore empirically.. Dagnino Evelina and Escobar Arturo. Instituto Iberoamericano. awareness.. . Nueva Época. Mexico.  de agosto de . no. personal development and strong self-confidence. Feb. . but which is the basic element for the construction of any real democracy. Umeå: Serie: Partnerskap för Multietnisk Integration f.112 CITIZENSHIP AND WOMEN IN MEXICO • DOMÍNGUEZ Participation is certainly linked to citizenship – participation in general. Instituto Iberoamericano. Dahlstedt M () Politisk deltagande och icke deltagande. Publ.  Cultures of Politics. pp. not only that traditionally linked to public affairs. Un informe sobre las condiciones previas”. a much debated notion that has lost its concrete meaning for many people. Ciudadanas en Movimiento por la Democracia (). Domínguez Edmé.  “Introduction: the Cultural and the Political in Latin American Social Movements” in Alvarez Sonia. Castro A. : Westview Press. México.. In Political Theory. University of Gothenburg . . . “La eleccciones presidenciales de agosto : entre el escepticismo y la esperanza. In Anales.). Public responsibility is linked to the idea of a community project at both the local and national level. Cid: see Interviews below. Alvarez Sonia. () Women’s urban and rural movements. Citizenship is engagement and engagement is participation. Politics of culture. Dagnino Evelina and Escobar Arturo (Eds. Is this a challenge these women are prepared to meet? As I noted in the beginning. References Alianza Civica/Observación .

-. México. The numbers that follow Cid and . El Colegio de México. organized by the Programa Universitario de Estudios de Género. – ) Las Mujeres y la cultura ciudadana en América Latina. Jelin Elizabeth () Women.) Constructing democracy. (vol. 1a vers.. Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales. which refers to an interview from the group of non-participants. Centro de Investigación y Capacitación de la Mujer. Ley Revolucionaria de las Mujeres. Mouffe Chantal () in Judith Butler and Joan W. Virago Press. Instituto Iberoamericano. Massolo Alejandra () Política y Mujeres: una peculiar relación. Carole () The Sexual Contract. Nueva Epoca. Westview Press. – () Ciudadanía Emergente o Exclusión. Ch.  reproducidas. no. Gender and Human Rights. In Rojas Rosa (see below). pp.DOMÍNGUEZ • REFERENCES 113 – () Mujeres y movimientos urbanos. In Elizabeth Jelin and Eric Hershberg (Eds. July. Pateman. . The Pennsylvania State University Press. Interviews: the quotations cited in the paper have a code: Cid which means that this interview is part of the ones with participant women and . relate first to the interview number and second to the age of the interviewee.  – Conicet. Anne () Divided Loyalties. Citizenship and Democracy: some issues in Contemporary Debate. . Routledge. México. Strategy and Democracy. . In Anales. Dilemmas of Sex and Class. Human Rights. Westview Press. () and () Chiapas y las mujeres que?. Mexico: . México   June .. Scott (Eds. – () Engendering Democracy. Phillips. University of Gothenburg. In Sociedad. hacia un nuevo tipo de ciudadanía en el México de finales de siglo.) Feminists Theorize the Political. . Rojas Rosa. Buenos Aires. no. Escobar Arturo. Argentina. Buenos Aires. In Massolo Alejandra (Edit) Los Medios y los Modos. abril . Participación política y acción colectiva de las mujeres. . Alvarez Sonia () The Making of Social Movements in Latin America: Identity.. Stanford: University Press.-) . . comp. Citizenship and Society in Latin America.  y a vers. Paper presented at the seminary “Mujeres. La Jornada: newspaper. Moulineux Maxine () Feminism. . Cultura Civica y Democracia”.

multidisciplinary level of inquiry to try to reach optimum understanding. It has been suggested both at academic.Gender and Power in Muslim Societies: Issues for Development Practice SHERIN SAADALLAH Introduction This paper is mainly dedicated to offering a descriptive and analytical introduction to mechanisms of gender and power in Muslim Societies. The uneven status of men and women in Muslim societies has attracted considerable attention. the process of Islamization at the societal level. albeit at a minimal level. that consolidates these injustices rather than contributes to alleviating them. developmental and layman levels that the unequal relationship between the sexes and the non-amelioration of gender inequality are products of Islam as a religion. Hence. These include the role of factors such as Islam as a religion and faith. and also the pertinent. Islamic and historical memory. as a prerequisite to reach a struc- . intrinsic compounds and dynamics of patriarchy. The second section of the paper is dedicated to policy level recommendations that may assist development practitioners in undertaking gender-targeted development projects as part of overall social development in such societies. This hypothesis is questioned within the thematic evolution of this work. The restriction or use of Islam as a scapegoat to blame or legitimize injustices against women is a shortsighted approach. the development of Islamic resurgence and emergence of political Islam-Fundamentalism. it is important to address the situation from a multifaceted. whilst also discussing the problematic framework for development practitioners. Thus the first section of the paper mainly deals with the most important elements affecting and shaping the status of women in Muslim societies. which emphasizes that it may be a culmination of factors which exert an effect on the stratagems of society and its workings in a Muslim societal organization.

. They have numbered in the thousands. we have to do it at two levels: – the level of ‘Text’ comprising the Koran and the Hadiths 2. Sunna is the traditions and sayings (also known as Hadiths) of the Prophet. The hierarchical role 3 of men is mentioned in Surah  (Women. . patriarchal-based interpretations that affects women’s place in society? What other related factors affect and reinforce this status? How do we deal with the prerogatives for change and social development aiming at a genderjust society. and hence from a specific form of division of labor and role-assignations. whereby they were used as a tool to legitimize certain matters of issue across Islamic empires. . ). comprising the influx of historical/cultural influences that are external to Islam. verse ): “Men . and the body of Islamic Jurisprudence or Fiqh.SAADALLAH • GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES 115 tured. Within human relationships the picture becomes even more complex. efficient developmental policy. ) reiterates “the Koran makes it unmistakably clear that in the eyes of God women are the equal of men”. The Hadiths were recorded across different epochs of Islamic history. Considering the first level. be they husbands or next of kin. built up over the centuries. Some of the most basic questions that we may raise at this point are: What role does Islam actually play in defining the role and status of women in Muslim societies? Is it the religion. within the delineated context? Religion and the Dialectics of Interpretation: Gender and Power in Islam Islam as a religion has laid the foundations of the relationship between the sexes in the Koran. ) further confirms that “both men and women have their full humanity and bear the burden of equal moral responsibility”. p. p. the Sunna 1. as Bodman (. and the carrying out of religious duties and rituals. or a variant of male. Some have been discovered to be forgeries. There are also certain exceptions in certain circumstantial situations (ibid. Here I stress the use of the subjective ’role’ rather than status in the light of a more liberal interpretation of the verses. where hierarchy stems from the nature of responsibilities accrued upon men. however. When we explore the dynamics of gender in Islam as a religion. Stowasser (. is limited to the relationship of men and women to God. p. . – the level of interpretation. in trying to consolidate the position of Muslim rulers. and patriarchal tendencies and traits that were assimilated cross culturally from conquered territories. This equality. . A specification of roles is delineated where women are portrayed as being under the protection of males.

. – The testimony of one man is equivalent to the testimony of two women. except under specific circumstances. ).116 GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES • SAADALLAH are the protectors and maintainers of women. Hence one may make some further clarifications to the above-cited regulations: – The inferior status of women in pre-Islamic society made the abuse of women an accepted aspect of life. The Koran is cited from the translation by Dr. divorce and family. . Hence. Different verses proceed to regulate the relations between the sexes in the area of marriage. p.-). Mohammed Taqi-ud-Din Al Hilali and Dr. p. However. where women were treated as property.. Medinah:King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qu’ran. – Men are the natural initiators of divorce. ). While women are entitled to inheritance. – Men are allowed to marry women of other heavenly religions. while women are restricted to monogamy and are only allowed to marry Muslims. Our first impression when analyzing the verses that denote the rights and duties of men unto women and vice versa in marriage. family and divorce. . . Name denoted to pre-Islamic society. . ) confirms.”4 (See also Mernissi. it is important to study the Koran against the background of pre-Islamic society – i. pp. and because they spend (to support their women) from their means. . and even inherited along the male line in the tribe. which means ignorance reflecting the state of ignorance that prevailed before the advent of Islam. according to the text: – “Marriage is regarded as a sacred institution where men are economically responsible for the maintenance of their wives. p. or clan. The Koran also regulates inheritance and testimonial leverage by explicit verses. – Men are able to take up to four wives. Jahiliyya 5 society.Mohammed Muhsen Khan. this right is distinctly regulated not to equal men” (Stowasser. is that they are based on a patriarchal reproduction of gender roles. The sanctity of marriage according to the Koran has come to re-instate the institution of marriage as a “contract between a man and a woman” (ibid. because Allah has made one of them excel the other.e. p. as Stowasser (. These are only a few examples presented for the benefit of our present analysis.

Right to initiate divorce. . This is considered a breakthrough in legal reform at the level of Muslim societies. it may be viewed from a different perspective. . aimed at relieving women and ordering their unfulfilled legitimate rights (according to Islamic text). Egypt has just passed an amendment to the personal Status Law. which establishes this principle as a legal ground for women to obtain divorce (Law No. traditional clergy who resolve to the active limitation of women’s space in Muslim societies. Levy. -). . – Men are the natural initiators of divorce. p. ). and role definition. “woman’s essential equality with man is more complete in Islam than it is in Judaism and Chris. Women can further opt for divorce under more general circumstances if they ransom themselves. “a verse allows (a man) to have four wives. . according to the principle of Khul’a7. This trend has long been fought by the more conservative. both the social status and the legal rights of Muslim women were improved through Koranic legislation (Stowasser. It is thus evident that when studying the Koran against the background of pre-Islamic society. by forfeiting all economic rights they are entitled to after divorce. or in any case the uncontrolled disposal. where “women were not allowed the holding. . Stowasser further argues that in spite of the different verses overseeing a level of difference between men and women in the conduct of their relationships within a social unit. provided he treats them equally. This emulates in essence a patriarchal division of labor. pp. whereby men are declared as economically responsible for providing for the women. – The regulation of inheritance on an unequal basis between men and women derives from the regulation of roles. 1 for the year ). – The monogamy of women and the restriction to their marrying a Muslim derives from the patrilineal social system where the children inherit the name and religion of the father. p. Thus. -). . of their possession” (Stowasser.SAADALLAH • GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES 117 – The ability of men to take up to four wives was checked by the same verse that allowed it. pp. but women are allowed to request the right to initiate divorce by stating in the marriage contract their possession of ‘Isma’a6. if reminiscent in our analysis of a level of historical determinism. But taken against the background of pre-Islamic society. . but a later passage casts divine doubt: ‘Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women even if it is your ardent desire’” (Bodman.

negate the equality between men and women unto God. detailed and normative-restrictive the information on women (which) it contains” (ibid. Thus. The Koran is. in the light of religious commentaries. and hence equal gender entitlements to opportunity. has been relegated to becoming more conservative and static towards their emancipation even within the boundaries of the . as mentioned above. Interpretation (which had been historically restricted to males). In spite of this argument about women’s essential equality with men in the Koran. based on the ‘man as breadwinner’ model (to use a modern connotation in analyzing a classical Text). however. In this regard she explains that this level of diminished equality stems from the treatment by the two religions of Eve as transgressor. the unequal role-play between men and women is clearly more defined in contemporary Muslim societies. ). p. That is the Koran and the Sunna. ‘People of the Book’.118 GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES • SAADALLAH tianity”. Extra commentaries on interpretation that are built on the practice of what is known as Iqtias or interpretation of implicit meaning through the use of dialectic analogy. Islam (and more specifically the Koran). in some of its aspects. Hence Stowasser confirms that “the process of progressive exclusion and increasing restrictions imposed on women (was clearly) visible through comparison of the original Koranic legislation with the series of commentaries which later ages produced” (ibid. This regression in the status of women. the more abundant. while according to the Koran Adam and Eve were portrayed as transgressors jointly held responsible for mortal sin (ibid. we are witnesses of strong conservatism within Islam today that has superseded. or interpretation (known as Tafseer) or super commentaries 9 (known as Hawashi) – a trend has developed through history. p. ). . However.. where the division of labor specified reflects a society where women are dependants. has contributed greatly in solidifying the patriarchal status quo in Muslim societies rather than dismantling it. is the name given by the Koran to the Jewish and Christian communities) in its treatment of women.. . and the further unequal treatment and confinement of her space did not evolve solely due to source texts. ). in spite of its tendency towards a patriarchal model of role-play. p. whereby confinement and inequality have been further reinforced.. This does not. the legitimate rights bestowed upon women according to the sources8. One may conclude that the Koran has improved the status of women compared with pre-Islamic times. cursing her before Adam. and the weaker sex. in spite of starting from a level above other scripture religions (Ahl al-Kitab. The same can be argued for the Hadiths which prove in their compilation that “the later the source.

refer to Mernissi (). . As Mernissi () elaborates. AlMassoudi and others (ibid. -). Male-dominated interpretation and jurisprudence 10 have contributed in part to this. Mernissi states that the Koran. and an ameliorated form of gender inequality (let alone complete gender equality). centuries after the passage of the Golden Age. Thus the Golden Age of Islam13 is directly associated with an extreme form of patriarchal social and ruling order. The age of the spread of the Islamic Empire and its consolidation. and the secular as the concept of Jariya assimilated during the Abbasid Empire... in similarity with the other holy texts of the scripture religions. exquisite female pleasure slaves) came into being … these sacred and secular models12 of woman had enormous influence on the creation and maintenance of sex roles in Muslim civilization” (ibid. p. such as Arabian Nights.. ). For a more detailed account. Body of Islamic Law and regulations. and influences that came to be assimilated during the spread of the Islamic Empire allowing for “sexual inequality to reassert itself” (ibid. Described by Mernissi as a fabricated archetype. and also in non-fictional accounts by historians such as Al-Asfahani. “proffers a model of hierarchical relationships and sexual inequality” (Mernissi. p. chapter . Shaping the Status of Women: Islamic Historical Memory The effect of Islamic and historical memory on shaping the status of women is an important aspect for understanding the present social realities present in most Muslim countries today. . I will now move on to discuss other factors contributing to the distinct institutionalization of patriarchy and gender inequality encountered in Muslim society. This is reinforced by the historical legacy of Islam whereby the “concept of Jawari11 (or highly accomplished. counter to the developments in other scripture religions. ). p. It has also integrated other exogenous cultural aspects. . pp.SAADALLAH • GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES 119 basic Text. Mernissi proceeds to confirm that those directly contesting and resisting women’s entitlements to their rights. this has been depicted in works of fiction produced throughout Islamic History. ). have selected the most absolutist period of Islamic memory as embodied in and symbolized by the figure of ‘the Jariya’ or female slave (ibid. p. Mernissi denotes the sacred Model as ’the Houri’ mentioned in the Koran. Thus. . Islamic historical memory has contributed to the reinforcement of the patriarchal foundations already existent in the Arab society where Islam first appeared.. ). learned. . . Christianity and Judaism.

p. modernizing force. The resisting group considered these modernizers as serving to the West and considered their attempts as a colonial production. . one finds the picture deficient if no mention is made of the role and interplay of the modern historical experience of Muslim societies. This new cultural nationalism called for a return to authenticity and the question of women’s position within society became an integrated part of the discourse (ibid. This in many aspects confirms the conclusion made by Kandiyoti that “an adequate analysis of the position of women in Muslim societies must be grounded in a detailed examination of the political projects of contemporary states and of their historical transformations” (Kandiyoti. independent nation states in the first half of the Twentieth Century. a distinct cultural nationalism came to the fore. while the second derived its membership from a grassroots base. “colonial domination and continuing ties of dependence with the West created an area of cultural resistance around women and the family” (ibid. pp. One of these movements was ‘Is. ultra-nationalist force. Thus it is safe to say that “the issue of gender overlaps nationalism. .. at the top of which was a growing petite bourgeoisie. class. hitting at the essence of the cultural particularism of the indigenous society. pp.. For a discussion along the same lines also refer to Kandiyoti. Particular emphasis is to be placed here on the colonial and nationalist experience. . The first wave was represented by a group of feminists who sought to modernize the existing ideology on women’s space and options for emancipation in accordance with the Western-oriented discourse on women’s rights. Gender and Fundamentalism: The Discourse for Regression Deriving from the forces of cultural nationalism. colonialism. namely a liberal. As Muslim nations resorted to build their ‘imaginary communities’ of post colonial. and using women’s demarcation to private space as a tool and a symbol of this new. and a conservative.-. The resisting group resorted to a regression to authenticity through stressing Islamic values. and even (in some cases) ethnic boundaries” (Gerami.120 GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES • SAADALLAH In addition to Mernissi’s argument offered above. Hence. ) in Muslim societies 14. where the upper and upper-middle advantaged classes composed the former group. Two main trends appeared when dealing with the issue of women in a transforming society. The parameters of class were also of relevance in this formula. evolving form of nationalism. movements advocating a return to an Islamic ethos developed. p. Introduction. ). -). p. ).

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lamic Fundamentalism’. The term ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’ has been used throughout the literature interchangeably with ‘Islamism’ and ‘Political Islam’, Islamic Fundamentalism being a category of Islamism, and a concrete embodiment of the ideological, and activist characteristics of modern Political Islam (Ciment, , p. ). Islamic Fundamentalism should, however, be distinguished from any connotations that may derive similarities between it as a phenomenon, and other forms of religious fundamentalism, especially Christian Fundamentalist movements. In many ways Islamic Fundamentalism is not comparable to its Christian counterpart, since the difference between the two phenomena is as real as the difference between Islam and Christianity (ibid., pp. -). As Ciment ( p. ) further confirms, “Fundamentalism is a problematic concept when applied to Islam as a religion and Islamism as a political ideology”. And in spite of being originally a concept emanating within the West to label such trends in twentieth-century Christianity, it is “applied cross-culturally to a religion that shares much with, and differs much from, Christianity” (ibid., p. ). The difference between the two types of ‘Fundamentalism’ emanates predominantly from the assumption that “Islam possesses an elaborate historical body of religion-inspired law and state theory, and a tradition of applying them, that has no precise counterpart in the development of Christianity” (ibid., p. ). Furthermore, within the argument presented by Emara () in his book Fundamentalism between Islam and the West, a clear distinction is made between Islamic and Christian fundamentalism. He emphasizes the revolutionary characteristics of the Islamic hybrid, in its return to, and use of, the original sources and religious texts, represented by the Koran and the Shari’a15. It is a modernizing trend, in spite of its calls for regression to the original texts. In the same vein, Ciment (, p. ) claims that Islamic Fundamentalism “while seemingly a return to Islamic roots, is, in fact, inherently modern in its outlook .. it tries to modernize authentic Islamic sources” (Ciment, , p. ). But this “modernizing activity” is, as Gerami (, p. ) confirms, a selective one. He presents an alternative, more holistic image, departing from the distinctly discursive analysis presented above. He reiterates that Fundamentalism in general (including the Islamic hybrid) is defined as “an all-encompassing social phenomenon responding to and rejecting modernism” (ibid., p. ). Attempts to limit issues concerning women to the private sphere is partly connected to a conservative stance against
. Shari’a is the body of Islamic Law or guiding principles.

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modernism 16. Due to the practical difficulties of doing away completely with modernism, “the goal (becomes) the selective adaptation of modernism… It is in this selective adaptation of modernism to Islam that the private domain is singled out to be the bastion of incorruptible Islam” (ibid., p. ). This argument may entail what I choose to denote as the ‘fallacy of Islamic Fundamentalists as modernizers’. In spite of their call for new interpretation, the direction is more conservative and regressive than that of the traditionalists 17 themselves, affecting directly women as a vulnerable group within the parameters of the absolutist patriarchal delineation their ideology represents.

Categories of Feminism

Karam (, pp.-) has divided feminism developing in contemporary Muslim societies, taking Egypt as an example, into three categories. • Secular Feminists, grounding their discourse outside religion, and stressing in their activism the international discourse on human rights. • Muslim Feminists, who resort to use Islamic sources such as the Koran and the Sunna to validate their discourse on equality between the sexes in an attempt to reconcile Islam and the human rights discourse. • Islamist Feminists, who comprise women from the rank and file of Islamic Fundamentalists/Islamists, who are conscious of a level of oppression directed against women: in their resistance they resort to Islamic principles. Karam herself recognizes in her analysis that ‘Islamist Feminists’ as a label is meant to categorize this group of women, but may not imply structurally and ideologically a level of authentic feminism, but an ameliorated level of confined struggle. One tends, however, to reiterate that the labeling of this group as ‘Islamist Feminists’ may cause a degree of ambiguousness due to the confinement of women’s struggle within this group. Furthermore, the Islamist Feminists’ voiced opinion that “women are oppressed precisely because they try to be ‘equal’ to men and are therefore
. A distinction should be made here between the connotation of the process of Fundamentalism as ’modernizing’ within a restricted approach to interpretation per se, and ’modernism’ as exemplified by the paradigm of modernity. . Those calling for the closure of the door of interpretation, and restricting it to Islamic Jurisprudence as represented in the Four Schools of Islamic Law also known as madahheb.

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being placed in unnatural settings and unfair situations, which denigrate them and take away their integrity and dignity as women” (ibid., p. ) is a distinctly gendered outlook. In spite of this ambiguity, Karam upholds that their activism and mission of ‘structured Jihad’ or struggle aiming at the Islamization of society, has allowed them to “enhance and reconceptualize women’s roles within the family (as mothers and wives), and gives women a sense of value, political purpose and confidence” (ibid., p. ). They are thus equal in importance to men, but in different ways (ibid., p. ). Whether this level of activism is denoted as feminist or emancipatory is clearly debatable. The role of women as domestic agents is hereby reinforced, rather than their aptitude for acting as economic agents (Mernissi, , p. )18. The discussion presented above is crucial in delineating the realities being shaped in Muslim societies today. The calls for regarding Islamist/Fundamentalist activists as a new breed of feminists does little to limit the injustices and power imbalances resulting from gender inequality between the sexes. Furthermore, it acts to reinforce the hierarchical power relations that have become rooted between men and women in Muslim societies. The Islamist feminists’ argument is very much in line with the gender role ‘functional paradigm’ presented by Gerami (, pp. -) where “the functional differentiation of the sexes is (regarded) as a natural truism, man the provider and woman as the nurturer”. The result, he maintains, is a “hierarchical dichotomy delineating the feminine and masculine functions of the sexes” (ibid., p. ).

Another Shaping Influence: Societal Islamization

In addition to the above discursive attempt to delineate the nature of gender and power in Muslim societies, one may add an additional factor that has come to constitute an indirect but strong influence. The development of a level of societal Islamization in Muslim countries has gained momentum in the last two decades. By this we mean a process of popular/grassroots level of transition towards a more religiously devout style of life in Muslim society, independent of Fundamentalism/Islamism. It is hence basically a popular trend that lacks the organized framework of Islamic Fundamentalism and its political, resistance discourse. It is basically a grassroots phenomenon attributing a higher level of conservatism and strengthening of the traditional value system within society as a whole. In
. For a discussion on role of women as domestic versus economic agents refer to Mernissi, Women’s rebellion…, p. .

p.g. and to equality between the sexes. and globalization of the political economy has led to renewed foundations for development analysis and implementation (e.. Mittleman and Pasha. religious and ethnic groups) and the role of social transformation (ibid.124 GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES • SAADALLAH spite of being an independent process it has. Non-class actors/forces may be further defined as “those groups in society that transcend class lines. environmentalists. to new trends in perceiving development at the academic and practical levels. albeit extremely briefly. The assertion that “the ideological orientations of non-class forces help set the parameters of political discourse with real effects on development” (ibid. ). This framework gives prominence to the interactive nature of relations between class and non-class actors.g. the depleted influence of the dependency paradigm. An example of a variable. been affected and accelerated in many ways by the factors presented above. . the most of prominent of which has been Islamic Fundamentalism.. the authors resort to delineating the important role of capital accumulation (within a national and global perspective). is Mittleman and Pasha’s () analysis of the elements of cultural determinism and social transformation. The Islamist instigated judicial debates over the legality of capital interest in Muslim society . not limited to earlier paradigms. disenchantment with the modernization theory. ) The importance given to social transformation in the development process. where the latter have come to play an active role in development.  and ). p. ethnic or gender-based groups as well as the single-issue social movements” (ibid. but extend such a vision of development to include ‘non-class actors’ (such as gender activists. In their critique of the modernization theory and its reliance on the replication of a Western model of development. ) indicates that we – as practitioners and theorists – need to pay close attention to the power of such groups in the development process. and the role of these non-class actors is pertinent to our analysis. and hence in the adaptation and design of development projects as such. ch. They underline the importance of new dynamics of interaction based on the materialist paradigm (class actors). ‘Non-class Actors’ and the Effects on Development Casting our eyes. however. Hettne. This Islamization of societies has resulted in a milieu that is less sympathetic to women’s issues. which is taken as universal (but not necessarily so). we see that e. Most important among them are religious.. and especially so in contexts pertaining to Western-oriented models and methodologies.

it is important to consider indigenous and cultural realities while development projects are designed and implemented. . Muslim societies present a framework of hierarchical gender role division between the sexes. development” (ibid. gender inequalities. Concluding Remarks Islamists. Islamic and historical memory.SAADALLAH • GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES 125 “leading to the creation of regulatory mechanisms that have rendered an effect on the pace and magnitude of investment. In addition to this. and the Islamization of society. cultural and societal transformation. the transformation should not only tackle the traditional society. their role and conservatism. Accordingly. ) conclude “Islamists are active in ‘development’”. and pertinent power interplay between men and women are grounded in important factors that are intrinsic to the religion. Hence. or Islamizing societies 19. particularly in this case. as has been analyzed in this paper. What is suggested here is a development practice that is sensitive to the indigenous reality of third world countries and. Similar conclusions can be drawn when referring to gender and gender-targeted development projects. . This resistance has been the product of various factors. Any strategy and policy for change have therefore to be accountable to these factors and forces within a cultural-sensitive approach. but also the growing effect of non-class actors. p. As Mittleman and Pasha (.. of Muslim societies. The most important point of departure is the awareness of the role played by the factors cited above (in addition to their role in enhancing non-class forces). and gender-targeted goals. notwithstanding the maintenance of a level of active parameters for change and transformation. Islamizing societies refers particularly to the the ’Islamization’ process mentioned earlier in our analysis affecting the gender and power dynamics in Muslim societies per se. Islamic resurgence. and more indirectly. as in the case of Muslim Islamists. p. It is a most difficult context for the realization of projects aiming at social development. ) is just an example that illustrates this point. To adapt development to these realities is a growing necessity. have created a maze of societal resistance to the ‘woman question’ and issues of gender equality. The incapacity to achieve an accountable level of success in the practice of gender-targeted development in Muslim societies sometimes emanates from a disregard of the important realities that exert a direct effect on this typology and level of development. including historical.

a deeper involvement of civic society is needed especially women  groups advocating a woman-friendly change (this is accentuated due to the existence of several forces in civic society that advocate the unequal treatment of women as a means of alleviating oppression. p.g. specifically dealing with a gender approach in Muslim societies. Women and Development () and Women in Development () are to be complemented by Women Development () per se. Islamist feminists/non-class actors). As instruments for analysis and action. Strategies that aim at dismantling some long-standing traditional manifestations in Muslim societies. . is necessarily complemented by a new concept. ).126 GENDER AND POWER IN MUSLIM SOCIETIES • SAADALLAH Another vital point of departure is the recognition that – as Oxaal and Baden state “adopting women’s empowerment (or gender equality) 20 as a policy goal in development organizations (and projects) implies a commitment to encouraging a process of more equitable distribution of power on personal. The concept of ‘Community Involvement’. Furthermore. s and early s in dealing with structural and economic adjustment. such as the  and the World Bank in the s. and the institutional frameworks that reinforce them thus need to be focused on alleviating gender inequality and power imbalances within a holistic. need to be elaborated. and the society as a whole. and political levels” (. The recognition of the role of non-class forces – especially religion and religion-related constructs – is vital within the framework of development strategy and policy. namely that of ‘Women Involvement’ in development practices. country-specific profiles for development projects. applied by International Financing Organizations. as promoters of women’s development and participants in attitudinal change that would enhance gender equality in the particular context of Muslim societies.) 20. that the prescription for development has to be context-specific. This would highlight the necessity to focus on women’s development. It is worth repeating what many others have already said. offensive yet accommodative framework. Male involvement is a requirement in this process. and culturally sensitive – to ensure a minimum level of success. They may include a gender component in all development projects to ensure the tackling of traditional constructs and non-class forces that reinforce gender inequality. as similarities are implicit and exist between it and women’s empowerment on the level of aggregate effects on social development.I choose to add gender equality here. in particular in relation to ceding opportunities for the rational use of resources (equally between the sexes) to reach gender equality. (This translates as a total disassociation with the ‘prescription’ model. with modernization theory overtones. e. economic.

) Muslim Women. The Social Structure of Islam. Gender and Empowerment: definitions. Bodman and Nayerah Tohidi (ed. Introduction. Cambridge: . Ciment. approaches and implications for policy (A Report). Women’s Rebellion and Islamic Memory. Women Islamisms and the State: Contemporary Feminisms in Egypt.L. The Holy Koran. Boulder. In D. Brighton: Institute for Development Studies. . Out from Underdevelopment Revisited: Changing Global Structures and the Remaking of the Third World. Mustafa Kamal. Mohammed Taqi-ud-Din Al Hilali and Dr. . Women and Fundamentalism: Islam and Christianity. Levy.) Women. Colorado: Lynne Reinner. Algeria: The Fundamentalist Challenge. Finally. The Voice of the Third World.Mohammed Muhsen Khan. London and New Jersey: Zed Books. Budapest: Publication series of the Institute of World Economics. London: Macmillan Press. Mernissi. Zoe and Baden. Azza. Kandiyoti. projects targeting research in the area of gender and Islam need to be expanded with country-specific. Germani. Emara. training. Freda (ed. Introduction. . . Islam and the State. James. Fatima. Hussein. . New York: St. New York: St. Stowasser. Oxaal. Martin’s Press. .  Hijra. Martin’s Press. New York: Facts on File Inc. may facilitate a bottom-up cycle of change. The Status of Women in Early Islam. . . . Karam. James H. Mohammed. Herbert L. and Pasha.SAADALLAH • REFERENCES 127 In the same vein.) Muslim Women. Mittelman. and adult education projects that may cede a level of grassroots involvement and awareness-raising in the area of gender. Björn. References Bodman..) Women in Muslim Societies: Diversity within Unity. . Action-targeted research may be used a complementary process. Barbara Freyer. comparative studies to illuminate levels of similarity or differences in social development experiences.Kandiyoti (ed. Hettne. in H. Al-Usuliyya Byn Al-Garb Wal Islam (Fundamentalism between Islam and the West). Reuben. Sally. Deniz. . London: Macmillan Press. a focus on institutional reform and on capacity building. Medinah:King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qu’ran. London: Macmillan Press. . in Freda Hussein (ed. Cairo: Dar El Shorouk. Shahin. New York and London: Garland Publishing. . The translation by Dr.

household livelihoods. United Kingdom.Notes on the Authors Dr. published by Kali for women and Zed Press and ‘Needs versus rights: child labour and the right to education in south Asia’ to be published by Sage. Bangladesh and India. training and advisory work on a range of gender and development issues as well as on poverty. given the collapse of nationalism and pan-African politics in gener- . health and rights. ‘The power to choose: Bangladeshi women and labour market decisions in London and Dhaka’. both at  and with various donor agencies. However. Dr. Patricia McFadden is a radical African feminist activist/scholar living in Zimbabwe and working in the southern African region. She has also co-edited two collections of essays: ‘Institutions. population and fertility behaviour and social policy issues. more recently she has developed an interest in the emergence of new forms of citizenship among African women and the centrality of the African Women’s Movement in providing the continent with a conceptual and political alternative. She has also been involved in developing analytical frameworks and training in gender-aware planning. Naila Kabeer has been a Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies. relations and outcomes: A framework and case studies on gender aware planning’. She is a social economist who has done research. nongovernmental organisations and governments. since . She is author of ‘Reversed Realities: Gender hierarchies in development thought’ and more recently. microfinance. She is currently manager of the Social Policy Programme and team at the Institute of Development Studies as well as team manager for a project to mainstream gender and poverty in policy and planning in the Gambia. both published by Verso in London. Her main research has been conducted in Vietnam. Her main areas of work are in sexuality. India.

She is also drawn to the issues of violation and militarisation and how they undermine the realisation of political and human rights entitlements and will be working more in these areas in the future. including analyses of different discourses on gender. Between  and  she worked as a co-dean with a German professor and participated in the implementation of the first International Women’s University () which was held in Germany from July to October. She is a part-time researcher at the Iberoamerican Institute. working as a sociologist/social anthropologist in the National Women’s Organization. . She currently lives with the younger of her two sons in Harare. regional and international feminist journals and newsletters. Her contact with southern Africa dates back to the early s when she lived in Mozambique. In the s and s she worked intermittently in southern Africa as a short-term consultant. In October  she took up a three-year assignment at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala. She also trains journalists in feminist analysis in the region and young women in conceptual and writing skills as feminists. having published – from the s onwards – in the fields of gender studies and feminist theory. Sweden. University of Linköping. and teaches feminism on the Southern African Research Institute for Policy Studies. Denmark. She works internationally as a human rights/women’s rights activist. She writes for local. Edmé Domínguez is Associate Professor in Peace and Development Stud- ies. in - conducting anthropological fieldwork in Mozambique. Since then much of her writing has been concerned with understanding changes in gender relations in southern Africa.NOTES ON THE AUTHORS 129 al.  Masters Course. and loves living in Zimbabwe – her country of choice in the region. is active in the cultural and social life of the city. She has also served as an adjunct professor on the Syracuse University programme in Harare for the last seven years. . For the last six years Patricia McFadden has edited  (Southern African Feminist Review) published by /. Signe Arnfred is Associate Professor in International Development Stud- ies at the University of Roskilde. She is also a feminist. Gender and Society in Africa. as the programme coordinator of a new research programme on Sexuality. The total project brought together over one thousand students and staff from all over the world. University of Göteborg and a part-time lecturer in Political Science at the Department of Political Science and Economics.

130 NOTES ON THE AUTHORS For several years she worked and published on the issue of Soviet foreign policy towards Latin America. Ms. modern Islamic political thought and movements. Prior to this Ms. Saadallah worked as a diplomat for eleven years. and the international system of organisations including the . providing expertise in the areas of gender/women and development. Saadallah is currently working as a consultant in the area of social development in Muslim and Arab societies. which enabled her to develop her insight. This project is being sponsored by Sida. gender/women and Islam. Sherin Saadallah is currently concluding a third Master’s Degree at the Political Science Department at Stockholm University. specialising in the area of Gender/Women and Islam. but since the beginning of the s she has been working on the social implications of  for Mexico and on gender issues relating to academics. She is currently engaged in a project targeting Social and Economic Development: Gender Awareness and Institutional Strengthening in Egypt. She has completed a second Master’s degree in the Social Sciences in the field of Political Science (June ) at Stockholm University with special focus on the Islamic presence in Europe. implemented by Kvinnoforum/Qlara Management  with the Egyptian Ministry of Social Affairs. . and issues pertaining to the implementation of development projects in Muslim and Arab societies. citizenship and transnational networks. experience and depth of knowledge in respect of the Middle East. development issues. in addition to her first Master’s degree in International Development Policy which she took in  from Duke University in the United States.

Resources and Culture in a Gender Perspective: Towards a Dialogue Between Gender Research and Development Practice’. Sarec. . Anna Liljelund and Mia Melin have also in various ways been important in shaping the study. for his support and encouragement in the editorial process. Uppsala University.Acknowledgements Sida would like to sincerely thank the Authors for their contributions. Sida also owes gratitude to the Collegium for Development Studies (previously Council for Development and Assistance Studies). Sweden for their arrangement and achievements in relation to the conference ‘Power. which inspired this very study. The editor would like to thank Jan Lundius. Ian Christoplos.

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Consumer. Citizen: Perspectives on Participation for Poverty Reduction. nr. nr. D 0718 . Per Ronnås and Nina Orlova. D 0708 No 2 Beneficiary. Art. Andrea Cornwall. Art.Previous issues in the Sidastudies series: No 1 Moldova’s Transition to Destitution.

Sweden.Clockwise from the upper left corner: Naila Kabeer Patricia McFadden Signe Arnfred Edmé Dominguez Sherin Sadallaah This volume represents a search for analysis that may influence and inspire the work of practitioners and theoreticians aiming to address the core of the issue of women’s empowerment.se. THE SELECTION IS MADE TO REFLECT ISSUES OF RELEVANCE TO SIDA’S POLICIES AND PRACTICES. The authors shed light on questions such as: Does the conceptualisation and rhetoric concerning ‘empowerment’ signal a genuine and meaningful transformation? Will a real power balance be struck between the sexes by the way ‘empowerment’. Visiting address: Sveavägen 20. Tel +46 8 698 50 00. Stockholm.se . BUT EACH REPORT EXPRESSES THE VIEWS AND FINDINGS OF ITS WRITER(S).sida. Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency Address: SE–105 25 Stockholm. www. e-mail: info@sida. academic and economic patterns related to culture and religion exclude women from exercising power – and ultimately from development? Do women seek new approaches to politics and citizenship? THE SIDA STUDIES-SERIES OFFERS A SELECTION OF THE REPORTS AND STUDIES COMMISSIONED BY DIFFERENT DEPARTMENTS AT SIDA. ‘gender’ and ‘mainstreaming’ are addressed in development agencies? How do sociological.

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