Empowering Women and Girls: What Works?
Pathways recently held two events to celebrate the launch of its synthesis report, 'Empowerment: A Journey not a Destination',and mark its move from consortium to network. The first, an all-day meeting co-organised with SOAS' Department for Development Studies took place on Friday 13th January. And on Tuesday 17th January Baroness Kinnock, Opposition Spokesperson for International Development chaired an early evening seminar at parliament. Both events were extremely well attended.
The SOAS event - Pathways of Women's Empowerment: Taking Stock and Moving on – gave an overview of the Pathways research programme and each of its core themes:
Body: Sexuality and Women’s Empowerment included a presentation and discussion by Charmaine Pereira, Susie Jolly and Cecilia Sardenberg, followed by ‘Khul’ a short film about divorce in Egypt directed by Lucy Bennett.
Listen to the Podcast from the Sexuality and Women's Empowerment panel
Voice: Building Constituencies for Equality and Justice had presentations by Maheen Sultan, Mariz Tadros and Andrea Cornwall, followed by ‘Creuza’ a short film about a domestic worker campaigning for political office in Brazil, directed by Kat Mansoor.
See the four films (of which 'Creuza' is one) which form 'A Vida Politica' by Kat Mansoor at Animal Monday
Listen to the Podcast from the Building Constituences for Equality and Justice panel
Work: Empowering work included presentations by Naila Kabeer and Hania Sholkamy.
Listen to the Podcast from the Empowering Work panel
The day ended with an illustrious panel of gender and development academics, including Diane Elson, Naila Kabeer, Deniz Kandiyoti, Maxine Molyneux, Ruth Pearson, and Ann Whitehead, reflecting on the lessons drawn from Pathways research.
Speakers at the ‘Empowering Women and Girls: What Works?’ seminar in parliament included Andrea Cornwall, Hania Sholkamy, Cecilia Sardenberg, Charmaine Pereira and Helen O’Connell.
To listen to a podcast from the event see IDS News
Dr Sholkamy spoke about the Egyptian context, and the pilot Conditional Cash Transfer project managed by the the Social Research Centre together with the Ministry for Social Solidarity, in Cairo and Upper Egypt. The project gives women basic income in return for supporting them to keep their children in schools. She emphasised that empowering women economically involved not only giving them income, but also recognition. She pointed out the need for structural changes to address a lack of regulation whereby many microfinance schemes involve poor people paying interest of up to 50 times that which the rich pay. She asserted that ‘work for women cannot work without social protection’.
Professor Sardenberg talked about about the Maria da Penha Observatory in Brazil, set up to help monitor the implementation of domestic violence legislation. In describing the project she underlined the vital importance of women’s collective action in creating social change.
Dr Charmaine Pereira spoke about how Pathways research looks at the ways in which sexuality is embedded in political, social, economic and cultural arenas (as opposed to investigating sexual practices and sexual violence). She noted that the researchers had been particularly interested in change at a local, national, and regional level, but also in women themselves. She expressed concern at the propensity for sexuality to get lost or missed out in gender analysis, and stressed the importance of exploring and discussing the connections between gender and sexuality in how they relate to power.
In conclusion, Helen O’Connell praised Pathways for being brave, innovative and challenging in three different ways: in the focus of the research, in the choice of methodologies, and in the way in which it was managed in a decentralised way, which was a major part of its success. She highlighted five points from the Pathways Report that she found particularly significant:
- The importance of knowing and understanding context and recognising that there are no blueprints. What is empowering in one place can be disempowering in another. Donors and researchers need to take time to work with local organisations, to build understanding and in-depth analysis, and to look at gender roles and relations in each sphere of life and take the time to find out what is going on in specific contexts.
- The need to relate to women as full human beings not just economic actors.
- The role of cultural and religious values in shaping opportunities for women and girls, and men and boys, and the need to actively address negative cultural values by supporting media programmes, public opinion forming programmes, and finding ways to challenge stereotypes and discriminatory practices.
- The importance of giving more attention to creating decent jobs.
- The importance of women’s organisations and movements.