News & Stories

Woman Empowerment and Feminist Policies in Developing Contexts

Posted Oct 07 2019

Scholars and professionals discussed “The Dynamics of Global Feminism” in a panel event keyed to the launch of the latest issue of SIPA’s student-run Journal of International Affairs.

The October 1 event featured senior lecturer Jenny McGill, who is also interim director of SIPA’s EPD concentration; associate adjunct professor Savita Bailur, the research director of Caribou Digital; and Marina Kumskova, a human rights advocate and researcher who is currently UN liaison at the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict. Lecturer Yasmine Ergas, director of the Gender and Public Policy specialization, moderated.

The speakers offered insightful perspectives on how different strands of feminism and feminist policies translates in specific development contexts.

McGill underscored a fundamental tension between an integrationist approach to feminist policymaking and a more transformational approach.

“I see this tension even within the feminist project, to decide how to try to shape and reshape public policy, public institutions, and governance structures. Is it more strategic to be incrementalistic or integrationist?”

McGill, who has significant experience with gender mainstreaming in development organizations using tools such as gender analysis and gender budgeting, said that more civil society participation will force larger organizations to make institutional change and internalize gender-based approaches.

Bailur highlighted how constraining infrastructure in emerging economies might inhibit women’s empowerment in this digital age.

“We found that women in India don’t like approaching male mobile technicians for support with their devices,” Bailur said. “So how do we train intermediaries to deal with that power dynamic and to be sensitive about it?”

She underscored the need for policies and regulations to be gender-sensitive but also stressed the importance of understanding behavioral and social norms in doing so.

“If we are using technology for women’s empowerment, there are a lot of unintended consequences and we are going to have to think a lot harder about how to make it work for women,” Bailur said.

Kumskova recalled her previous work with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, which encouraged governments to adapt feminist approaches to policy-making. She talked about developing a framework for “feminist foreign policy for all” in order to promote women’s participation. Kumskova also highlighted how current policies focus on pursuing women’s participation in already gendered and militarized structures and spaces, and highlighted the dangers of such an approach.

The panel fielded audience questions on dealing with backlash online and offline while engaging in feminist advocacy, gender-based representation and other critical issues.

— Shalini Seetharam MPA ’20