Reflections on researching women’s empowerment: journeys, maps and signposts

Prof Naila Kabeer Inaugural Lecture: Reflections on Researching Women’s Empowerment – Journeys, Maps and Signpost.

Introduction by Professor Ann Whitehead (University of Sussex). Vote of thanks by Prof. Deniz Kandiyoti (SOAS)


I first came across the idea of women’s empowerment in the context of grassroots movements in South Asia some time in the early 1980s. It was intended as a challenge to highly structuralist depictions of patriarchal power that dominated a great deal of the gender and development literature at the time and that left little scope for women’s agency, as individuals or as groups, in countering these structures. Women’s empowerment, and women’s economic empowerment in particular, has now become a routine element of mainstream policy discourses, often losing its political edge in the process.  Yet for many of us, the challenge of women’s empowerment remains as relevant as ever. Indeed it has taken on new dimensions with the rise of neo-liberal ideologies and various forms of fundamentalism since those years. I would like to use this lecture to look back on many years of working with this concept: what it means in the contexts in which I work, how my understanding of it has changed, what kinds of strategies have worked and how it links up to the broader concept of gender justice.

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