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Pathways of Womens Empowerment:

BRAC Development Institute, BRAC University

Maheen Sultan Manila 28.6.11

The views expressed in this paper are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this paper and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. The countries listed in this paper do not imply any view on ADB's part as to sovereignty or independent status or necessarily conform to ADB's terminology.

The Pathways Research Programme

Purpose: to understand how real changes towards womens empowerment has happened the means by which economic, political and reproductive rights are enjoyed by women in practice. Objective: to make these pathways visible in order to bring about radical shifts in policy and practice that can build on these revealed successes. Consortium: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Palestine, Sudan Brazil IDS, UN Women

Four Research Themes

conceptions of empowerment and change, building constituencies for justice and equality, taking the voice entry point into exploring the politics of changing policies, and development and political institutions empowering work, taking the work entry point into investigating the relationships between paid work and empowerment and exploring the implications of changing markets changing narratives of sexuality, taking the body entry point into understanding the factors that can enhance womens ability to exercise control over their own bodies focusing in particular on religion, media and the intersection of global forces

Understanding change
Different entry points addressing different models of how change happens Deliberate intervention: policies and programmes targeted at women and girls: quotas for women in politics, cash transfer schemes, legal reforms; Institutional drivers: womens machineries, womens organizations and other organizations concerned with justice and equality for women (including political parties, NGOs and international development agencies); Broader societal and economic forces that shape the environments in which womens pathways of empowerment are pursued.

Body - how are narratives of sexuality changing, and how can they be changed to enhance womens sexual and reproductive rights and wellbeing? Voice - how are women finding and expressing voice, what are womens pathways into politics & what is needed to build broad-based constituencies for justice and equality Work - how can work be more empowering for women, and how are women empowering themselves in the workplace to claim rights and recognition? Conceptualising empowerment & change - what does empowerment mean to different development actors, and how do these meanings affect policy and practice?

Some findings

Beyond the Individual

Initiatives aimed at empowering individual women may change these women but do little to change the underlying structures that keep other women disempowered Evidence points to the significance of organizing in building a sense of entitlement for achieving real gains in womens rights and wellbeing

Pathways to Citizenship and Equality

Empowering work - womens organizing in the informal sector promotes rights and recognition of the poorest women Building constituencies - womens organizing and organizations are vital to produce candidates, as well as to demand responsiveness & hold politicians to account Changing narratives of sexuality - womens organizations and movements vital in securing action on domestic violence and reproductive rights Conceptualising empowerment - liberating empowerment is all about working together to make change happen for all, not just enabling individual women to cope better in unfair and unequal conditions

Expanding the Horizons of Possibility

Facilitating empowerment is about shifting the boundaries of action - extending what can be done - but also expanding the horizons of possibility, and womens imaginations of what they can become. Feminist and womens organizations have a significant role to play in this, working alongside other state and non-state actors to support womens empowerment.

Organizing as a Pathway of Womens Empowerment

In each of the study countries, the evidence is unequivocal that the role of womens movements, organizations and networks is a primary factor in creating an enabling environment for womens empowerment, holding state and non-state actors to account & fostering womens leadership and voice in the public arena.


Enhancing the impact of policies that create opportunities for individual women
Policies and interventions aimed at creating opportunities for individual women seats in parliament via quotas, loans, legal reforms may have accelerated effects on womens empowerment when they are accompanied by efforts to strengthen the capacity of womens organizations and movements to: nurture womens political candidacy, create opportunities for political apprenticeship, build networks and caucuses, hold women politicians to account organize workers to claim rights and recognition support women to make use of legal reforms and know their rights


Strengthening institutional capacity to support womens empowerment is vital

Much more could be gained from efforts to promote womens empowerment if more attention was paid to those who deliver policies and programmes - especially those working at the front-line. Pathways has found positive effects of

training front-line social workers in a citizenshipbased approach to CCTs in Egypt female village health workers in South Asia including the empowering effects of this work on the workers themselves civil society monitoring of implementation of domestic violence legislation in Brazil;


To change womens lives for the better we need to engage with how they imagine and see themselves - and how others see them
Efforts to empower women through education and training, economic empowerment initiatives, legal change, political representation and organizing need to be matched with efforts to challenge and change stereotypes and norms that infuse their everyday lives.

Pathways research points to the value and importance of investing in cultural products that challenge stereotypes and provide alternative narratives on womens agency.


Role of resources in mobilising for womens rights


Main conclusions - donors

Major shifts in bilateral aid with consequences for WROs dependant on them Shift is due to PD but also restructuring of aid bureaucracies in donor countries PD, donor coordination and harmonisation agenda means increasing support to government Role of donors in promoting home spun methods at an end (space for solidarity reduced) Immediate fall out : blue prints from agency HO empowering international bilateral donors and multilaterals Change model proposed by the PD is state as governing, providing social services and CS (as in NGOs) as watchdog. (Government as provider and/or regulator of social sectors and only regulator in economic sectors) Rights of people no longer responsibility of aid but of governments


How donors have affected womens orgs

Choice of agenda Voluntarism: Institutionalization/formalisation Ways of working affected


What are they doing beyond donor resources

What is considered to be a resource Other sources of income Relations with government National (BNWLA, BOMSA/local (DN, BS) Committees Funds (Small but significant) Contracts (prestige, influencing) Constituency building Networks (national, regional, international) Coalitions Joining other movements (HR, climate change) Expansion of membership

Women in the aftermath

WR organisations were dependant on bilaterals but with the end of direct relations the future of funding for WR not clear. The question as to whether the amount of aid available to the NGO sector in Bangladesh in quantitative terms has grown or shrunk is not immediately relevant for the survival and sustenance of womens rights organisations More relevant is whether the changed architecture of aid makes it more difficult for womens organisations to access funding in their own right and for the concerns and issues that they have worked for.

WRO conclusions
Donor fund played an important role--bilateral and foundation in supporting WRO Bilateral funds are decreasing Alternative understanding of resources (before and now too) Trying alternative means of raising funds (training, private funders, contract based work) Trying alternative ways of mobilising networks, join other movement, use media etc Difficult times, no cushion, rely on relationships and being lean, greater contribution from members


Implications for womens rights work in Bangladesh

WROs are unique with a specific and valued role that no one else is fulfilling. If this is not recognized and supported then the advances made in gender equity and equality will be jeopardised. What needs to be changed in resource allocation and the rules of the game/aid architecture so that there is a more equitable distribution of financial/aid/development resources
The challenge aheadWhat can be changed?
What What What What can can can can national Governments do? the development partners do? the UN, especially UNW do? the WROs do?