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Progressive social change - women's empowerment

Tim Braunholtz-Speight
Caroline Harper
Nicola Jones


Men and women’s, girls’ and boys’ experiences of poverty differ in important ways. Understanding this is important for tackling the greater levels of deprivation and vulnerability that girls and women routinely face, and for tackling poverty more broadly.

Healthy, educated, empowered women are better able to contribute to economic productivity and the socio-economic development of the next generation. Women’s empowerment can also underpin pro-poor demographic transitions.

Key policy levers to promote women’s empowerment include education, health, social protection supported by anti-discrimination legislation, income generating opportunities to enable asset accumulation and the support of gender aware social movements.

For gender equality in education to break cycles of poverty, we need not just equality of enrolment in primary schooling (an MDG target already missed in 2005), but also improving the quality of schooling for girls, and universal secondary schooling.

To meet the newly introduced MDG target on reproductive health, challenges in terms of physical access to services (e.g. in isolated rural areas) as well as socially-imposed restrictions on women’s access to healthcare need to be tackled. Failing to deliver improvements in maternal health threatens the progress necessary to achieve MDG4 on child mortality by 2015.

Social movements can challenge exploitative relations that hold back livelihoods, and contest the stereotyping that reinforces chronic poverty. The development community must do everything it can to facilitate an enabling environment for gender-aware social movements. Promoting and protecting human and civil rights, and a strong and autonomous legal system, are key first steps.

Monitoring progress in each of these areas is critical to counter ‘gender fatigue’ and  needs to be underpinned by gender-responsive budgeting.

Publication Type(s)

CPRC Policy Brief


discrimination politics social relations education social movements


Progressive social change - women's empowerment PDF 442.4 KB

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