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Female Empowerment in

Photo: undp.org

Working women & lessons for


Natalie Davis
July 22, 2014

Gender and social organization

Social structure: classic patriarchy
(Kabeer 2011, 501)
Vulnerability due to patriarchal risk

There is no exact equivalent for the concept of

empowerment in the local language. However,
when women talk about forms of change in their
lives that they value, and when these changes
undermine the prevailing structures of patriarchy
in some way, they are providing us with their own
highly articulate narratives of empowerment, ones
that are grounded in their local realities and
everyday lives. (Kabeer 2011, 500)

Work participation
Commonly in garment
More household
bargaining power
Freedom of movement
Access to information &
support networks
Savings for security of
personal well-being

Female work participation and development

UN Development Programme: Bangladesh has made
remarkable progress; Highlighted 18 nation from
HDR 2013
Economic opportunity for women credited in reduced
poverty rate
Female labor force participation rate (%)

Graph: data.worldbank.org

Graph: hdr.undp.org/en/countries

Are working women more empowered?

Challenge assumption that waged work
participation will empower women (Salway et.
al, 2005, 318)
Intersectionality: gender norms are embedded
in diverse and resilient socio-cultural structures,
both within and beyond the household
Some negative outcomes produce opposite effect

Gender-based violence
Despite increased aid, NGO work, neoliberal policies &
economic development, women remain subject to old
forms of violence and are also exposed to new, modern
forms of violence (Khan 2005, 225)

Photo: iipdigital.usembassy.gov

Poor and unsafe work conditions

Savar, 2005
65 workers killed in factory collapse

Dhaka collapse, 2006

21 workers killed in factory collapse

2005 April 2013

+/- 600 workers killed in factory
fires in & around Dhaka

Rana Plaza, April 24, 2013

9 story collapse
1,130+ killed
Photo: www.ustyle.co

Takeaways for development

Position of women constructed by complex
No one solution fits all
Consider how these factors may limit outcomes

Development isnt perfect negative side effects

need to be addressed
Holistic approach

The Guardian. The Shirt on Your Back. Last modified April 16, 2014.
Kabeer N. 2011. "Between affiliation and autonomy: navigating pathways of
women's empowerment and gender justice in rural Bangladesh".
Development and Change. 42 (2): 499-528.
Khan, Farida C. 2005. "Gender violence and development discourse in
Bangladesh".International Social Science Journal. 57 (184): 219-230.
Salway, Sarah, Sonia Jesmin, and Shahana Rahman. 2005. "Women's
Employment in Urban Bangladesh: A Challenge to Gender Identity?"
Development and Change. 36 (2): 317-349.
United Nations Development Programme in Bangladesh. Overview. Last
modified 2013.