2016: Volume 47
With the formulation of the first ever internationally agreed stand-alone goal on gender equality, debates around women’s empowerment are at a critical juncture. This IDS Bulletin makes a timely contribution to our understanding of how ideas around empowerment have evolved and how we can move forward to expand women’s opportunities and choices and realise women’s empowerment in a meaningful way.
Even though the importance of women’s empowerment is widely accepted, it remains a complex concept that defies precise definitions and easy measurements. Together, the articles in this special Archive Collection demonstrate the depth and breadth of a nuanced analysis of empowerment that has come out of academic scholars writing at the cutting edge of this field.
The editors reflect on the interconnectedness of the economic, social and political components of empowerment. In doing so they highlight the significant gaps in policy and programming aimed at furthering processes and outcomes for women’s empowerment. Casting an eye to the future, they draw our attention to two relevant debates that merit further unpacking – that of inequality, and the question of how the Sustainable Development Goals can contribute to furthering processes of women’s empowerment and gender equality.
Ultimately this IDS Bulletin reminds us that empowerment – implying an expansion of opportunities and the power to make choices – can only be realised through a collective, rather than individualised notion of empowerment that focuses on addressing structural inequality and inequitable power relations, and gives primacy to women’s agency in negotiating and challenging these structures.
Open government and open data are new areas of research, advocacy and activism that have entered the governance field alongside the more established areas of transparency and accountability. In this IDS Bulletin, articles review recent scholarship to pinpoint contributions to more open, transparent, accountable and responsive governance via improved practice, projects and programmes in the context of the ideas, relationships, processes, behaviours, policy frameworks and aid funding practices of the last five years. They also discuss questions and weaknesses that limit the effectiveness and impact of this work, offer a series of definitions to help overcome conceptual ambiguities, and identify hype and euphemism. The contributions – by researchers and practitioners – approach contemporary challenges of achieving transparency, accountability and openness from a wide range of subject positions and professional and disciplinary angles. Together these articles give a sense of what has changed in this fast-moving field, and what has not – this IDS Bulletin is an invitation to all stakeholders to take stock and reflect.
The ambiguity around the ‘open’ in governance today might be helpful in that its very breadth brings in actors who would otherwise be unlikely adherents. But if the fuzzier idea of ‘open government’ or the allure of ‘open data’ displace the task of clear transparency, hard accountability and fairer distribution of power as what this is all about, then what started as an inspired movement of governance visionaries may end up merely putting a more open face on an unjust and unaccountable status quo.
2015: Volume 46
Between 2007 and 2012 global food price volatility affected millions of people on low and precarious incomes. As food has been increasingly commodified and people on low incomes have struggled to pay for life's necessities, they have responded by changing their ways of making a living, residences, diets, family relationships and ways of caring for one another.
This IDS Bulletin maps out how food price volatility has played a part in global social change, showing how a multitude of micro-reactions to rising and unpredictable prices has laid the foundations for transformed societies.
Written by researchers from ten countries, each of whom carried out a longitudinal study into the impacts and effects of food price volatility over three or more years, this IDS Bulletin elucidates two critical areas.
First, it gives insights into how reactions to food price volatility led to transformations at multiple levels and second, it demonstrates the usefulness of a social research method that understands the mechanisms by which social change comes about in a macro-event like the global food crisis.
Stabilising prices will not be enough to provide development opportunities to those who have already been forced to change their way of life, for whom high prices remain a barrier to life improvements and for whom cultural change has swept away much that they once could rely on. It is time to think not only about stabilising the price of food, but also making it possible for citizens to have greater control over what and how they eat, alongside rights to care, equitable gender relations and a fair working environment.
This IDS Bulletin is entirely based on the global action-research project Valuing Volunteering, commissioned by Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), a UK-based international volunteer cooperation organisation, and conducted by researchers at IDS in partnership with VSO.
The project explored how and why volunteering contributes to poverty reduction and sustainable positive change, and the factors that prevent it from doing so.
The research took a participatory and action-research approach and aimed to inform the learning and practice of both VSO and the volunteer for development (VfD) sectors on how to work effectively through volunteers to achieve sustainable change. It produced 12 rich and detailed case studies, which cover a diverse range of expressions of volunteering: from international volunteers of different kinds – from the global North and South, short-term and long-term, young adults and professionals – through to community members engaged in informal self-help and community volunteering initiatives and national volunteering schemes. This research was carried out by four international volunteer researchers who spent two years in Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal and the Philippines.
While the data reflect the views of people in communities, the voice and analysis is that of the international volunteer. The perspectives expressed here are about volunteers' contributions and their motivation to identify what kind of approaches to working as a volunteer make a difference. The Valuing Volunteering project goes beyond the immediate issues or concerns in the setting, and enables a deeper reflection on how people, processes and the environment that they are situated within influence one another.
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA), celebrated by feminist activists as a triumph for women's rights, is 20 years old. The world that it once described has changed profoundly in some respects, and yet in others remains surprisingly similar. This IDS Bulletin reflects on those changes and continuities, tracing the trajectories of the Beijing conference in different policy arenas, national settings and domains of practice.
Articles chart the development of policies and practice worldwide, drawing out both obstacles to progress and gains for women's rights. They explore three major areas: creating more opportunities for women to earn a living and exercise economic autonomy; enhancing women's political representation and enabling women to have more of a say in the decisions that affect their lives; and affirming women's rights to have control over their own bodies and a sexuality of their own choosing. Many articles concern the long, slow process of turning the commitments of Beijing into real gains for women's rights and the implications for turning subsequent commitments into action. Contributors identify a number of pathways forward to reanimate some of the radical potential of gender equality and women's empowerment now.
As the SDGs shape future development policy and funding, women's rights organisations and transnational networks have an important role to play in monitoring implementation, holding states to account and mobilising consumer and political pressure on non-state actors. They can contribute directly to the realisation of women's rights and empowerment by challenging limiting gender stereotypes and social norms by raising consciousness and collective action.