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The 12 Findings

Women’s empowerment is a process, a journey, not a destination.Quote Tail

Illustration: Matters of the Earth
If decision makers address the constraints women face in their everyday lives, more women will reach empowerment. Pathways LogoOverall Conclusion
Pathways of Women's Empowerment, Global

The Pathways of Women's Empowerment research programme began in 2006, generating a rich and varied portfolio of studies containing over 825 outputs, of which, 135 are journal articles, 85 are working papers or research reports and 170 are popular media – newspaper articles, documentary films, or photography exhibitions. Findings from these global studies have been condensed into 12 overarching findings related to women's empowerment. These 12 findings offer a fresh perspective to the teaching and learning of gender studies. They focus on what it is that enables these remarkable women to embark on personal journeys to empowerment, the variety of pathways available to women from different parts of the world, which routes these women have taken and what assistance they have had along the way. It is essential if we are to support women in empowering themselves, that we keep developing our understanding of the journey women take and not just the destination arrived.


What is empowering to one woman is not necessarily empowering to another.Quote Tail

Photo Credit: Sheikh Rajibul Islam, Illustration: Matters of the Earth
For me empowerment is the ability to create a new situation, a new condition, a new act, a new story for women in society. This gives us power. When we are able to create something new from ourselves, from us women: that for me is empowerment. Brazil flagCristina Buarque
Secretary for Women’s Policies, Brazil

Understanding empowerment needs to begin from the women’s own experiences, rather than focusing on an ideology or a predictable set of outcomes.


A woman's ability to speak and be heard is connected to her ability to make an income.Quote Tail

Photo Credit: Steve Ababio Illustration: Matters of the Earth
You can tell as soon as you see a working woman. If she works and earns an income of her own, then there is a different sense about them. They have mental strength. Bangladesh flagShahara
Subsistence Production Worker, Bangladesh

Focusing on what makes working more empowering for women also brings benefits. Such as using conventional strategies for economic empowerment and skills training programmes with new strategies that take a citizenship and participatory approach.


Relationships lie at the heart of women's empowerment. Group action is always more transformative than individual action.Quote Tail

Photo Credit: Heba Gowayed, Illustration: Matters of the Earth
Women are not as foolish as they used to be. By going for processions, by getting together, becoming united, by becoming members, we have learnt. When we were by ourselves, there was no unity. Now everyone is together. There are 20 members here: can anyone’s husband come here to beat her? Bangladesh flagJamuna
Saptagram Member, Bangladesh

Relationships can foster growth in self-confidence, acquisition of new capabilities and consciousness, and the capability to act collectively when demanding rights and recognition. Networks and alliances are vitally important in developing a woman's capacity to influence.


Positive approaches to women's sexuality can be important in changing women's lives.Quote Tail

Photo Credit: Sheikh Razibul Islam, Illustration: Matters of the Earth
People thought we were wasting time talking about sex and pleasure, when maternal mortality is so high … but I was convinced that if this delicate taboo thing - sexual pleasure - could be negotiated by women, then almost anything can be negotiated. Nigeria flagDorothy Aken’Ova
INCRESE, Nigeria

Engaging positively with the creation of alternative images of women’s sexualities in film, storytelling and photography, as well as in development policy are vital in promoting women’s empowerment and creating positive approaches to sexuality.


Rigorous, diverse, and imaginative research approaches and methods must be used in combination. At the core, women must be involved directly in the research process.Quote Tail

Photo Credit: CEGENSA, Illustration: Matters of the Earth
Courses, workshops, trips out of state … I can summarise the impact of the Pathways project on my life with the following phrase: it is "empowering" me. Brazil flagDaniela Almeida
Student Intern, Changing Times, Changing Lives Project, Brazil

Combining results taken from surveys, participatory workshops, interviews, existing data and figures, whilst also taking into consideration social and cultural influences and life histories, will help to develop a closer understanding of the processes and experiences which create empowerment. Involving women directly in the research process strengthens not only the quality of evidence, but also stimulates the impetus for action.


Empowerment is more than giving economic and political opportunities. Deep rooted constraints which create inequalities must also be addressed.Quote Tail

Photo Credit: Unknown, Illustration: Matters of the Earth
Policymakers need to address the right to decent work and equal wages and recognise and value all women's work. UK flagRosalind Eyben
Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, Uk

Dignity and respect must form the heart of any efforts to enhance empowerment. Women domestic workers in Brazil said that one of the most dis-empowering aspects of their job was being invisible to their employers and viewed as just a pair of hands rather than a person.


Policies and laws for women's rights are important but are not in themselves sufficient enough to change women's lives.Quote Tail

Photo Credit: Senyo Ganyo, Illustration: Matters of the Earth
Quota systems alone are not sufficient to create conditions for women to empower themselves politically. But when quotes are complemented with public policies to promote equality that can create deeper change. Brazil flagAna Alice Alcantara Costa
Research Fellow, Nucleus of Interdisciplinary Studies at the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil

Legal and policy reform are only the first step in the process of achieving women's empowerment. Efforts to ensure the effective implementation of policies and laws are vital, including supporting women to seek access to justice and take up opportunities for political engagement.


Organising for women by women is key for sustainable change.Quote Tail

Photo Credit: Fernanda Capibaribe, Illustration: Matters of the Earth
Strategies for empowering women need to take into account the role played by [non-governmental organisations, national and local women groups]... and engage with and support them more actively as champions of change. Bangladesh flagSohela Nazneen
Associate Professor, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Organising women can raise awareness so that women can make demands for change and hold authorities to account for delivering on existing laws and policies. It is much harder to achieve lasting change through legal or policy reform without active engagement and organisation by those women for whom the changes are intended.


There is no one-size-fits-all approach to empowerment. It is also vitally important that local approaches are used to inform global decision-making.Quote Tail

Photo Credit: Pathways, Illustration: Matters of the Earth
Women’s empowerment is often treated by international agencies as something that can be designed as a policy blueprint, rolled out and scaled up. What actually happens [to women] when policy is conceived, negotiated and shaped may be altogether different. Egypt flagHania Sholkamy
Pathways Middle East Hub Convenor, Egypt

Global institutions should look at how best to support existing local initiatives rather than superimposing one-size-fits-all solutions and taking the local, cultural context out of ‘best practice’ examples. When policymakers take the time to adapt good ideas that come from elsewhere, they should ground them in the context of that place, then there is a much better chance of success.


Public engagement and debate is essential to making policies that work for women’s empowerment and gender equality. The media and popular culture have a crucial role to play in this.Quote Tail

Photo Credit: Sheikh Rajibul Islam, Illustration: Matters of the Earth
Often in policy discourses, popular culture is completely discounted [as though] it doesn't exist ... and yet it is a genre that so many people relate to ... [and] engage with on a daily basis and it does shape their perceptions. Ghana flagTakyiwaa Manuh
Pathways West Africa Hub Convenor, Ghana

When citizens are encouraged to engage with policy and contribute their views and experiences, they are more likely to hold those promising change to account. Popular culture and the media play a vital role in shaping public opinion, and offer spaces for debate and deliberation on the issues that matter most to women.


Front line workers need support as they are vital agents of change.Quote Tail

Photo Credit: Amanda Kerdahi Matt, Illustration: Matters of the Earth
Many men and women have changed their thinking after seeing me work. They also want their daughters to become lady health workers. Whenever I go to women’s houses, they ask me to have their daughters hired if there are any vacancies for lady health workers. Pakistan flagNasreen
Lady Health Worker, Pakistan

Front line workers play an important role, empowering and transforming those who would otherwise be seen as just beneficiaries of policies. Their own attitudes towards those they work with are crucial in ensuring that health and social services do not reinforce limiting beliefs, stereotypes and low expectations about women.


Changing attitudes and values is as important to bringing about women’s empowerment as changing women’s material circumstances and political opportunities.Quote Tail

Photo Credit: Amanda Kerdahi Matt, Illustration: Matters of the Earth
We see on television a nuclear family where the man is the breadwinner or sometimes the husband and wife together maintaining the family, but we want to see [programmes] where it is the wife who is the sole breadwinner. In scenes that show men driving around in their cars and motorbikes, they have their wives next to them; we’d now like to see women in the driver’s seat. Bangladesh flagStudent
Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh

The way we view the world, and understand what is ‘normal’, or ‘acceptable’ or even just ‘possible’ is shaped not only by our direct interactions with people, but by the images and words that surround us from television, radio and newspapers. Therefore, changing attitudes and values that limit women’s horizons is vital for women’s empowerment.