Negotiating Empowerment

Edited by: Andrea Cornwall and Jenny Edwards

January 2010
Volume 41 Number 2

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.