Rationalizing ‘gender-wash’: empowerment, efficiency and knowledge construction

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Abstract

As support for the agenda of women’s empowerment has grown, its remit has narrowed. From transforming structural inequalities, donors have increasingly focused on women’s economic empowerment, and within this sphere, specific thematic areas dominate aid programming: access to finance, markets, skills training, business development services and social protection. This trajectory indicates the persistence of the ‘efficiency approach’ to gender programming, despite its inadequacies, raising questions regarding how knowledge on women’s empowerment is constructed. This article examines how the World Bank constructs knowledge on women’s empowerment by evaluating the design and reporting of the project, Results-Based Initiatives. It does so in light of the latest manifestation of the ‘Knowledge Bank’ agenda, focused on producing and disseminating evidence-based ‘knowledge products’, of which Results-Based Initiatives is one example. The article demonstrates that the claim that empowerment can be achieved through increased competition relies on the exclusion of key works when describing the relevant literature; the misrepresentation of the project’s methodology as objective and value-free; and apparent critical reflection on its design. It explains the persistence of the ‘efficiency approach’ to gender programming as reflecting the Bank’s conceptualization of development as a purely technocratic endeavor, and highlights how feminist advocates can advance alternatives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1022-1042
Number of pages21
JournalReview of International Political Economy
Volume26
Issue number5
Early online date26 Jun 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sept 2019

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