Concluding thoughts on (em)powerment, gender and development
Kathleen Staudt, Shirin M. Rai and Jane L. Parpart
This volume is about power, in its multiple meanings, and about shifts in gender power relations. As we have learned from all the contributors, this is no simple topic to understand or document. Power relations are deep, but fluid and elusive; power relations change, and from contributors to this volume, it appears that women have gained some leverage in these shifts through organizing, earnings, internal strength, awareness, policies and laws that legitimize their rights and claims. We learn in this volume that power shifts involve changes in processes – in how people relate to one another – and in the concrete outcomes that result from these processes.
Throughout the volume, we have moved from global to national to local, so local as to include migrants' personal narratives. Contributors moved across the boundaries of nation, jurisdiction and cyberspace. Power relations can hardly be understood without grounding knowledge in the personal and local while at the same time recognizing how global forces shape these relations. In the broadest brush overview, these chapters affirm that institutional and male power over women is still formidable, but that women's power within gets expressed in individual negotiation and agency as well as in collective organizations that challenge discourse, interpretation and the status quo. The power to make change as individuals, in groups and with coalitions, is thereby enhanced. Yet the chapters illustrate more change in process than in outcomes. Ultimately, gender justice should provide concrete results, whether getting there is quiet and subtle or noisy and confrontational. Several chapters offer analyses of gendered power relations that strengthened men's voices and benefits, in the name of women's empowerment.
In the introduction, we began with the all-too-comfortable word 'empowerment'. Disparate people use this terminology, from local grassroots activists to officials, crafting their schemes and dreams with and upon people. The empowerment word has a noble history, with power, after all, at its core. Only in the last decade has empowerment talk appeared in official discourse. In international organizations, empowerment has become the new adjective that embellishes