Voice and Women's Empowerment: Mapping a Research Agenda
Goetz, Anne Marie
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The Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Research Programme Consortium (RPC) uses the entry point of ‘Voice’ in its theme ‘Building Constituencies for Equality and Justice’ to explore how to make institutions more accountable and responsive to women. The ‘voice’ theme explores how women engage with policy change, alliance and coalition building to bring about accountability. This paper reflects critically on assumptions about ways of amplifying women’s political ‘voice’. Voice is associated with – even measured by – political expression and influence on public decisions. Both are hard to measure, so frequently a convenient proxy is used: the numbers of women in representative public office. This tells us very little of course about interest articulation amongst women divided by many interests – based on class, race, ethnicity, age, and so on. Numbers of women tells us very little, too, about political influence. Without a doubt, women’s political influence as a gender will eventually be measurable through improved access to services and more secure rights. But it is not clear that more women in public office, on its own, will deliver this. Instead, this paper argues that we should move past the focus on numbers to ask what is being said, how it is being said and what is being achieved? This implies attention to how women articulate and aggregate their interests, how they try to shape public decision-making, and whether it makes a difference in women’s lives.