Locating leverage: contesting “empowerment lite” from the lower rungs of an aid chain

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The development sector’s adoption of private sector logics and practices has seen donors increasingly disburse funds using aid chains. Aid chains consist of at least two nodes, with work subcontracted from donors to organizations socially and geographically closer to beneficiaries. Aid chains enable “ethics dumping,” where subcontracting facilitates higher-tier actors distancing themselves from the messy work of engaging in the politics of interventions. The power inequalities of aid chains stand in sharp contrast to donors’ “partnership” rhetoric and raise the question of how lower-tier actors can challenge donors. This question is particularly pertinent for aid chains for women’s empowerment projects, given that the agenda of women’s empowerment has been instrumentalized. This article considers the resistance strategies used by lower-tier actors to contest policy. Analyzing a rare on-the-record case of resistance, it examines a women’s empowerment project implemented through a four-tier chain. The article documents the strategies deployed by a lower-tier actor to advance the understanding of women’s empowerment not as market inclusion but as originally conceived: as movement building. Its analysis offers insights into how feminist advocates can advance alternatives, as well as the impacts of aid subcontracting and how “partnership” is interpreted in practice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Feminist Journal of Politics
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Jun 2021


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