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Gender at Work > Reflections  > pathways of women’s empowerment

pathways of women’s empowerment

Aruna Rao, Gender at Work Executive Director, moderated a vibrant panel on Laws, Policies and State Practices at the meeting Beyond 2015: Pathways to a Gender Just World. The meeting was held from 29 to 30 May at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK. It brought together feminist scholars, activists and media and communications professionals to interrogate learning from the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Consortium (Pathways) since 2005 and consider how Pathways research could shape the Post-2015 development agenda.

Andrea Cornwall, Director of Pathways and a Gender at Work Board Member, was a leading convenor of the meeting. Opening the meeting, Cornwall reminded participants that the purpose of Pathways was to bring about a radical shift in policy and practice relating to women’s empowerment. The consortium—with regional hubs in Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Ghana and a global hub in the UK—focused on: informal norms and sexuality; media practice and its role in forming critical analysis; laws, policies and state practices; women’s collective organising for change; securing resources and decent livelihoods and understanding the conditions that enable work to be empowering.

Summarizing some of the major findings of the 7-year research initiative, Cornwall highlighted:

  • There are many pathways of empowerment. Empowerment is not always progressive or positive. Pathways can be meandering and double back on themselves. Context matters: what can be seen as a potential route of empowerment in one context may be something for granted in other settings.
  • Women don’t travel the road of empowerment alone. Women may be accompanied and supported on their journey.
  • The POWER in empowerment is important. Initiatives aimed at empowering individual women may change these women, but do little to change the underlying structures that keep other women disempowered and shift power relations. Efforts to promote women’s empowerment need to tackle deeper-rooted structural constraints that perpetuate inequalities.
  • Collective action and consciousness are at the heart of empowerment. Changing attitudes and values is as important as changing women’s material circumstances and political opportunities.
  • Women’s movements are key. Where change happens you often find it is facilitated by women’s organisations holding state and non-state actors to account, fostering leadership, and providing voice.

The panel that Aruna moderated included Mulki Al-Sharmani (University of Helsinki and American University of Cairo), Rosalind Eyben (Associate Faculty, University of Sussex), Takyiwaa Manuh (UN-ECA), Sohela Nazneen (BRAC University). Panel members presented a diversity of experiences of securing legal change to advance women’s empowerment. Amongst debates about how much emphasis to place on these efforts at national and global levels—particularly in light of the upcoming post- 2015 agenda—panellists agreed that we need to find an active way of reconstructing citizenship to become something real and connected to people’s experiences. Citizenship needs to be a concept and idea which is lived, not just what is stated in the constitution.

See: Feminist Activism, Women’s Rights, and Legal Reform

Senior Associate Joanne Sandler also facilitated a panel on Creating Critical Consciousness, which showcased example of creative media produced by Pathways as a key route for building understanding of gender norms and stereotypes. Films
on women in politics in Sierra Leone and on sex workers in India, and an overview of the innovative Pathways learning platform were presented and discussed.

Check out the excellent and abundant resources produced by Pathways at:

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