Empowerment

Empowerment

Poor Man’s Patriarchy

Alex Kelbert and I wrote this for a great symposium called Undressing Patriarchy back in 2013, but it is also based on the Life in a Time of FPV projectI realise now other people had already made these points and more elegantly and cleverly. But I think its a good paper because it connects food insecurity to masculinity. It is always women being referred to when experts talk about ‘gender and food security’, but global patriarchy means there are few societies in which men are not seen as ‘the breadwinner’, no matter how families are configured. So food crises are always crises of masculinity.

Read more…Poor Man’s Patriarchy

Women’s Empowerment Revisited: From Individual to Collective Power among the Export Sector Workers of Bangladesh

Bangladesh has become known as something of a success in advancing gender equality since the 1990s. There have been rapid gains in a number of social and economic domains, yet by most objective standards the current condition and status of women and girls within Bangladeshi society remain low. Rapid progress has come about under conditions of mass poverty and interlocking forms of social disadvantage, political instability and under-development, overlain with persistent ‘classic’ forms of patriarchy. Mass employment of women and girls in the country’s flagship export sector – the readymade garments (RMG) sector – has been one of the more visible and prominent changes in women’s lives since its late 1970s’ introduction.

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National discourses on women’s empowerment in Bangladesh

This paper explores how perceptions and narratives around women’s empowerment have evolved in Bangladesh from 2000 to date. It studies the concepts of women’s empowerment in public discourse and reviews the meanings and uses of the term by selected women’s organizations, donor agencies, political parties and development NGOs. By reviewing the publicly available documents of these organizations, the paper analyses the multiple discourses on women’s empowerment, showing the different concepts associated with it and how notions such as power, domains and processes of empowerment are understood by these actors. It also highlights how these different discourses have influenced each other and where they have diverged, with an emphasis on what these divergences mean in terms of advancing women’s interests in Bangladesh.

Read more…National Discourses on Women’s Empowerment

Security and the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment

This paper reports on an effort to derive lessons about how security and insecurity shape processes of women’s empowerment in developing countries through a thematic synthesis of a collection of research outputs from a five-year programme of research on the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment. The programme covered four broad thematic areas: voice (political mobilisation), paid work, body (or changing narratives of sexuality) and concepts of empowerment. Some 115 outputs, including both conceptual and empirical work, were included in the review. The synthesis is not a systematic review (it did not review work outside the Pathways collection nor select papers according to quality or other criteria) but drew on thematic synthesis methodologies as used in the systematic reviews of qualitative data.

Read more…Security and Pathways of Women’s Empowerment

Exports, equity and empowerment: the effects of readymade garments manufacturing employment on gender equality in Bangladesh

Drawing mainly on the rich literature available on women’s RMG employment, this paper explores the wider and less well-documented effects of such employment on public policy relating to gender equity in these areas. It concludes that the overall direction of change in the industry points plainly to the need for investments in worker productivity, with a host of implications for women’s work and gender equality more broadly. Factory owners have to date shown few signs of recognising that is in their own interests to support better state education for girls, better public safety for women, and to change their own management practices to better retain and raise productivity of skilled women workers. Yet with downward pressure on wages increasingly effectively resisted by workers at a time of global economic recovery with rising living costs, the tide may now be turning for the RMG workers of Bangladesh.

Read more…Exports, Equity and Employment

The Aid Lab

The Aid Lab

Elite commitment matters

If we really want to understand why Bangladesh sets the global standard for poverty reduction we need to properly understand the role of politics — not only as a fig leaf for when times are hard, but also to explain what has worked. More specifically, we need to make sense of the political settlement, or effective agreements between the elites as to how to share the spoils of power, and what those mean for poverty and inclusive development. As Mushtaq Khan has convincingly argued, Bangladesh’s development success owes much to how the elites managed to coordinate enough to permit broad-based economic growth.

But Bangladesh’s pattern of development has been poverty-reducing, partly because of its strong emphasis on human development, particularly for women. And to explain that, we have to understand why Bangladesh’s elites agreed that it was so vital to tackle poverty head-on, and to ensure that the poor rural masses got at least some modicum of protection against the elements and the vicissitudes of life on the Bengal Delta. I tell the story of this elite settlement in my book The Aid Lab: Understanding Bangladesh’s Unexpected Success, available from Oxford University Press.

The emergence of the aid lab

My own analysis of the politics of Bangladesh’s unexpected development success is less congratulatory of the aid industry and its clever prescriptions. It is also an altogether uglier story of how the international community applied “lifeboat ethics” to justify their neglect of the 1.5 million victims of the 1974 famine in Bangladesh, and of the violent aftermath of that particularly tragic period in Bangladesh’s history.

My reconstruction of the political history of that time concludes that an elite consensus emerged that committed the Bangladeshi ruling class to protecting the rural masses against the crises of subsistence and survival that so frequently swept their way. This elite consensus included accepting the painful conditions that came with foreign aid, because without external support, the short-term survival of the country, let alone of the political elite, looked bleak.

And it meant letting aid experts treat Bangladesh as a kind of laboratory for aid, in which they often treated as the targets and objects of development, instead of as people with rights, agency, and autonomy. It may have got the Bangladeshi people into the global market, but it has done so on terms that are precarious, at best.

And so the World Bank, and the aid community in general, has little to congratulate itself for treating Bangladesh as the world’s aid lab. It should instead look again at the politics that underpin successful transitions. And it should take more seriously not only where development is taking us, but the ethics of how we are to get there. If Bangladesh was really the test case for development, what does that say about development?

Poor Man’s Patriarchy

Poor Man’s Patriarchy

Alex Kelbert and I wrote this for a great symposium called Undressing Patriarchy back in 2013, but it is also based on the Life in a Time of FPV projectI realise now other people had already made these points and more elegantly and cleverly. But I think its a good paper because it connects food insecurity to masculinity. It is always women being referred to when experts talk about ‘gender and food security’, but global patriarchy means there are few societies in which men are not seen as ‘the breadwinner’, no matter how families are configured. So food crises are always crises of masculinity.

Poor Man’s Patriarchy

Schooling the Poor

Schooling the Poor

Thanks to Naila Kabeer who got me interested in the issue, I ended up doing a lot of research on the surprising successes of mass education in Bangladesh. In the 2000s, this was a lot about why and how the Government and the mega NGOs like BRAC managed to get so many poor kids into school, in particular girls, when other places, including many richer and better organised than Bangladesh, did less well. These are some of the papers I wrote with or based on work with Naila and Ramya Subrahmanian:

The Politics of Educational Expansion in Bangladesh (2003)

Achieving universal primary education and eliminating gender disparity (2004)

Expanding access to education in Bangladesh, chapter in Ending Poverty in South Asia: ideas that work (edited by D. Narayan and E. Glinskaya, 2007)

I later worked on the more nitty gritty issues of the governance of educational expansion in Bangladesh, including a couple of very good rich multi-sited case studies that looked at accountability and performance in close detail.

School choice in Bangladesh (2008) made a close study of the implications of the growing range of availability of school types, and of why people choose the schools they do for their children.

Governance, management and performance in health and education facilities (2006) was an in-depth study of how schools and clinics were being managed and governed, a qualitative component of a larger Public Expenditure Tracking Survey of government services in Bangladesh. This study’s important finding that in the absence of much formal good governance, informal accountability mechanisms were how people tended to hold public services accountable got me started thinking about rude accountability in the first place.

In 2006, with support from Lamia Rashid then at Save the Children UK in Bangladesh, and with colleagues at BRAC Research and Evaluation Division I led a study called Inheriting Extreme Poverty on how children inherit their parents’ poverty, and the role of communities, social institutions and education systems in making that happen. I remained interested in the politics of child labour, and worked with Sheikh Tariquzzaman (now at BRAC International research unit) on this issue, including on a (2009) paper called The Boys Left Behind: where public policy has failed to prevent child labour in Bangladesh.

More recent work on education in Bangladesh has involved analysing the conditional cash transfer schemes as a species of governmentalism (School exclusion as social exclusion: the practices and effects of a CCT for the poor in Bangladesh (2009)). This was part of a comparative research project led by Sam Hickey at the Chronic Poverty Research Centre. We’re currently working on another comparative study looking at education in Bangladesh, this time trying to solve the puzzle of why quality reforms have proven impossible to implement, and the role of the political settlement within that.

Three things the crisis (should have) taught us about women’s empowerment

Participation, Power and Social Change Research at IDS

Naomi Hossain

Reviewing the proofs for a new book called Living with Crisis (published by the World Bank in April – an e-book which means its free!) and a World Bank Policy Research working paper synthesising the same have meant reflecting on what the last three years taught us about women’s empowerment. The three things we (should have) learned are:

1.     Paid work women’s empowerment

Earning money for working is all very well and yes, very very important for women’s agency and the balance of power at home. But anyone who seriously thought that getting a job as an export factory worker or access to microfinance was the same as women gaining real power over their lives no longer has such good reasons for thinking so: the gains are too fragile and too easily swept away. Our synthesis of qualitative research across 17 countries on the impacts of living…

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