International Women’s Day

Florianne Clement, a social scientist at IWMI, explains how development projects can detect and influence the "critical consciousness" that compels and enables women to rise above the prejudice and discrimination around them.

When necessity is the mother of empowerment

Women living in a village of Western Nepal
Ujeli BK and others from the village. Photo: Patrick Drown / IWMI

Ujeli BK, a farmer living in a village of Western Nepal, has never heard of the #MeToo movement and is unaware of its massive influence around the world in bringing attention to harassment and discrimination against women, especially in the workplace. Nonetheless, she too has experienced these injustices, and she knows what it takes to deal with them. (Ujeli uses initials instead of her full last name, because it denotes her marginal social status as a dalit or “untouchable”). On International Women’s Day (March 8), we can learn much from her experience about “transforming women’s lives” (from the 2018 theme for the day), whether in the urban workplace or the farm plots of remote rural communities.

“No one is born with skills,” says Ujeli, “you must learn by doing.” Disadvantaged by being a dalit, she also bears the stigma often attached to women who assume traditionally male responsibilities in cultivating the land. Yet, her husband’s departure to India for work soon after they married left her little choice, making her a part of the widespread “feminization of agriculture” in Nepal and many other developing countries. What Ujeli lacked in resources and education, she supplied from a “power within,” which has made her independent but also an inspiration to others around her.

Women’s empowerment has been a central development aim since the 1990s. Though vital as an end in itself, the issue has received particular attention as a means of strengthening food security, including better access to water. Now, it is time to bring the empowering impulse to which Ujeli responded of necessity into the mainstream of development practice.

Experts have devised tools for measuring women’s empowerment in farming households. Yet, current methods tend to deal with the outward signs of women’s preparedness to act, such as access to training, markets and credit. In an opinion article published by the health and development blog of US National Public Radio (NPR), Florianne Clement, a social scientist with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), and Corey O’Hara, a doctoral candidate at Tufts University, USA, explain how development projects can also detect and influence the “critical consciousness” that compels and enables women like Ujeli to rise above the prejudice and discrimination around them.

Read the opinion article in the NPR blog 

The opinion article is based on recent interviews in Far Western Nepal and on research there dealing with the measurement of women’s empowerment. Findings from this work were published recently by the journal World Development in an article titled Power as agency: A critical reflecion on the measurement of women’s empowerment in th development sector.

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