The Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995 marked a coming together of feminists from all over the world, with an end agreement on a transformative and relatively clear text – the Beijing Platform for Action. Over a decade later, words and agendas around women’s empowerment have changed as the wider international development agenda has moved away from the notion of people centred development of the 1990’s. We trace those changes and tease out the waxing and waning of different associational meanings attached to women’s empowerment as used in international development agencies. Our historical analysis suggests a current privileging of meanings of efficiency and growth, broadly crowding out meanings of empowerment associated with solidarity and collective action. Feminist officials in international development organisations juggle clarity with fuzziness to make headway in what is now an unfavourable policy environment for women’s rights. In our conclusion, we explore the possibilities of putting power back into empowerment.
Draft Working Paper 6, September 2008, 30 pp.