Valuing women’s empowerment: tracking funding in Southeast Asia

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Women’s empowerment is now a global development objective. However, the instrumentalization of this approach to gender equality has prompted calls for research into the financing of interventions. With donors now reporting the gender credentials of their spending, this article follows the money for one region—Southeast Asia—to investigate how donors are engaging with women’s economic empowerment. Through a systematic review, it identifies and codes women’s economic empowerment projects. Data is analyzed according to geographic distribution, thematic distribution, and participant types. The article offers important insights into funding patterns and deficiencies in current reporting practices. It finds, first, while there is a more thematically diverse mix of projects being funded than indicated in previous research, women’s economic empowerment continues to be interpreted in Southeast Asia as women’s market inclusion, continuing the trend of instrumentalization. Second, and consistent with emergent research highlighting the political uses of aid transparency, it demonstrates that donors are engaging in gender wash by inadequately and incorrectly reporting project characteristics. By upselling their gender credentials, donors are characterizing their activities as advancing gender equality despite often intensifying the challenges faced by women, underscoring the urgent need to reform reporting practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1022-1047
Number of pages26
JournalReview of International Political Economy
Issue number3
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Nov 2023


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