Rethinking Empowerment: Gender and Development in a Global/Local World

By Jane L. Parpart; Shirin M. Rai et al. | Go to book overview
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informal and formal politics are important for women and deserve NGO support.

I have argued that the effectiveness of the NGO sector is at risk if it does not support the young women and their emerging gender issues in the changing world of cities such as Bombay. NGOs need to overcome internal obstacles that inhibit their ability to support the informal and formal politics required to address the challenges of progressive social transformation. Working within informal politics and supporting subtle strategies of women require long-term commitments to achieving empowerment, even when output or success cannot be quantified (especially for donors). This raises some important questions for the NGO sector regarding the sustainability of empowerment programmes/projects in the context of economic liberalization and the shadow-state role of the NGO. However, NGOs cannot afford to ignore women's informal politics. If they do, they will lose their constituency and their grassroots effectiveness.

Aware of changes in attitudes and expectations, NGOs have encouraged some programmes, such as training, health and childcare, to enhance women's skills and knowledge, and have collaborated with governments on legislative changes. However, they have shown an inability to understand the complexity of women's strategic adaptations and a limited capacity to support them. Most NGOs have come to the sad realization that, although they have achieved many micro-level successes, the systems and structures that determine power and resource allocations locally, nationally and globally remain largely intact. More recent interventions have begun to address the need to connect the local more deliberately to the national and global. Participatory development is being undertaken in less utopian ways. NGOs increasingly recognize that change will not occur through localized action alone. Participatory approaches must be linked to the more complex and difficult processes of democratization, antiimperialism and feminism. Obsessive concern over internal organizational practices and problems can prevent NGOs from effectively interpreting the larger political economic landscape (both formal and informal) and its implications for organizational funding, goals and praxis. This wider vision, including a reassessment of the political role of the NGO sector, is required before NGOs, even grassroots NGOs, become an effective means for empowering women and transforming gender relations.


My sincere thanks to all the NGOs for their valuable time, for funding from the Department for International Development (DFID), UK, and for comments by Ramya Subrahmanian and Professors Rob Imrie, Jane Parpart, Tulsi Patel and David Simon as well as the external reviewer.

The state government of Maharashtra has declared that the city should be renamed Mumbai.
Social capital refers to 'features of social organisation such as networks, norms and social trust that facilitates co-ordination and co-operation for mutual benefit' (Putnam 1993: 67). Definitions vary, and the term has acquired a particular World Bank popu


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Rethinking Empowerment: Gender and Development in a Global/Local World


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