Why Does Women’s Empowerment Need to be for Anything? Empowerment Instrumentalization and Livelihoods Strategies in World Bank Group Projects

Authors: Morgan Richards-Melamdir*,
Topics: Gender, Development, Social Geography
Keywords: Women’s empowerment, instrumentalization, world polity theory, economic development, World Bank
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 33
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper merges literature on world polity theory with feminist writings on evolving understandings of women's empowerment. Combined, these literatures explain several disconnects between grassroots feminist notions of empowerment, understandings of empowerment by hegemonic development actors, and support for women’s empowerment “on the ground.” Coding the World Bank Group’s gender strategy for 2016-2023 and corresponding Project Information Descriptions (PID), as well as spatially mapping projects against the Gender Development Index reveals a decoupling of policy from action. Despite policies and strategies devoted to gender equality, the World Bank invests minimally in projects with a deep focus on women. When projects do focus on women, they promote instrumentalized empowerment in the form of market-oriented livelihood strategies, rather than the relational process of challenging power imbalances promoted by grassroots feminists. Finally, the decoupling of policy from action predicted by world polity theory is also reflected in a spatial disconnect between the location of projects and the need for empowerment interventions. These results not only link two bodies of literature, but also reveal an area of intervention for feminists concerned with how livelihood interventions might need to be balanced with relational empowerment.

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