2010: Volume 41
At the Millennium Summit world leaders committed to reducing extreme poverty through a series of targets encompassed within the MDGs, with a deadline of 2015. One of these was to promote gender equality and empower women, and the ‘proportion of seats held by women in national parliament' was set as a key indicator. With the MDG Review Summit meeting in September 2010, this is an opportunity to consider whether the proportion of women in parliament continues to be the most adequate proxy for women's political empowerment. This IDS Bulletin explores what the quota has meant as a motorway to women's accession to political power by drawing on research findings from the Pathways of Women's Empowerment Research Programme Consortium (‘Pathways'), as well as a series of articles from a special seminar in the Brazilian National Congress as part of this programme, and contributions from other country case studies. The aim of the issue is to bring new insights from the programme and beyond to an audience of development academics and policy actors who have become familiar with the proliferation of different forms of affirmative action, but who are interested in interrogating the politics behind the quotas in all their complexity and nuances. It questions motivations behind adopting quotas, discusses different political pathways of breaking through the ceiling for women to reach political office (with or without quotas); and raises questions such as who benefits from the quota as a fast track option, and what kind of gender agendas do the women who have come to power via the quota espouse and advocate?
Social protection is once again high on the international policy agenda as the multiple crises of the past three years have devastated the livelihoods of millions already living in or close to poverty, and increased vulnerability and uncertainty for millions more.
The Social Protection in Asia (SPA) programme, under which the contributions to this IDS Bulletin have been produced, arose in similar circumstances, following the Asia financial crisis of the late 1990s. This issue feeds into current debates about the design of appropriate social protection schemes that effectively meet identified needs. It builds on earlier research that focused on the dynamics of poverty and social exclusion within the region, identifying the major problems facing groups most likely to rely on informal safety nets. The articles offer lessons for making social protection strategies more systematic and inclusive; collectively they provide insights into a number of general themes that are important for the wider social protection agenda. Some point to the ways in which social protection programmes can have wider developmental impacts that offset some of the resources used to finance them (such as investments in human capital leading to a more healthy, skilled and productive workforce). What various findings from a range of studies suggest is that far from promoting the dependency of the poor on welfare handouts, well-designed social protection interventions can provide the opportunity ladders that they need to climb their way out of poverty, to participate in social and political life, and to contribute to wider processes of development and inclusive economic growth.
'Capacity development' implies a promise of growing self-reliance, national ownership and sustainability, yet practice seems consistently to fall short of this emancipatory promise.
This introduction argues for a reframing of capacity development for emancipatory social change. Articles in this bulletin show how understanding and practice must engage with complexity, appreciate the importance of specific culture and context, and continually address the role of power in shaping relationships, understandings and practices. Values and leadership are fundamental drivers of capacity development processes. This bulletin argues against a deficit approach based on linear causal logic and replicable 'best practice'. Instead practitioners are encouraged to develop a detailed understanding of the culture and dynamics of specific contexts, to detect energies for positive change and work to connect and facilitate them. Learning is at the centre of the approach. Capacity development is understood as a collective process of learning in action for social change. Support for capacity development processes demands a critical development practice that implies mutual learning, with an emphasis on reflective and experiential approaches. However, this reframing implies enormous challenges for development practice, and therefore considerable personal and organisational commitment.
This IDS Bulletin draws out some of the dilemmas around women's empowerment: choices, negotiations, narratives and contexts of women's lived experience. It shows that empowerment is a complex process that requires more than the quick and easy solutions offered by development agencies (who need to have a deeper understanding of what makes change happen in women's lives). The issue draws on the work of an international network of researchers - the Research Programme Consortium Pathways of Women's Empowerment (‘Pathways') - and brings fresh empirical and conceptual insights to development academics and policy actors. The focus is not just on what women are doing to change their own personal circumstances, it also extends to collective action and institutionalised mechanisms aimed at changing structural relations.
Important issues such as education and legal reforms are highlighted, as well as previously neglected concepts such as relationships, leisure, pleasure, love and care. Women's own voices continue to be disregarded and it is time that more attention was paid to them.
Most of all, this Bulletin emphasises that empowerment is a complex process of negotiation, not a linear sequence of inputs and outcomes. Policies that view women as instrumental to other objectives cannot promote women's empowerment, because they fail to address the structures by which gender inequality is perpetuated over time: governments and development agencies should invest in creating an enabling environment and tackle deep-rooted issues of power that impede transformative change.
Do the MDGs still reflect what is important about how development happens and how policy influences that process? The MDGs were an approach born of a benign era of relative stability, stronger economic growth and fairly buoyant aid budgets.
We now face a very different world. Changes sparked by uncertainty, and a sense of multiple insecurities, could impact adversely on poverty levels. The economic crisis has led to significant changes in the context for international development and the crisis/post-crisis context is central to many MDG questions in terms of impacts on poverty and on development commitments over the next ten years.
Articles in this IDS Bulletin inform the debate in 2010, leading up to and beyond the UN MDG review summit, and reflect on the MDG experience so far. They ask what that experience means for the next five years and beyond. What have the MDGs actually achieved, and for whom? What can we learn from the MDGs about how the international community can best play a role in national processes of development and poverty reduction? Will the MDGs prove to reflect an international commitment to poverty reduction that goes beyond 2015, or are they the product of a specific moment, unlikely to be repeated?
The debate around what should succeed the MDGs after 2015 is still in its early stages and many fear talking about this will derail the momentum around them. As the articles here, and the conversations over this year and next will demonstrate, it is sure to go to the heart of what international development is all about.