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Hope in Hard Times: Women’s Empowerment and Human Development


  • Manisha Desai

    () (University of Connecticut)


This paper addresses the conceptual and methodological issues related to women’s empowerment, the trends in women’s empowerment over the last 20 years in key areas such as education, health, economic and political participation, and finally the best practices of state and non-state actors in empowering women. Following a brief critique of human development, it begins with a discussion of the growing conceptual consensus around empowerment, i.e., empowerment being control over resources, women’s agency, a process and outcomes, to the methodological issues involved in its measurement, specifically focusing on the Gender Empowerment Measure and arguing that minimally the measure needs to move away from its urban, elite, and formal employment bias. The trends in women’s empowerment over the past 20 years show that while there have been gains in primary and secondary education, in political representation at the national level, and in waged labor, and a decline in fertility and maternal mortality, violence against women and HIV/AIDS continue to be endemic and these trends vary across regions and within countries urban and rural poor, ethnic minorities, and older and disabled women fare worse on all indicators with the current economic crisis reversing many gains. Furthermore, a decrease in measures of gender gap do not translate into gender equality and positive trends are often accompanied by negative trends resulting from unintended consequences of development. Finally, it highlights some government best practices such as quotas, cash transfer programs, gender budgeting, and community based micro enterprises, some movement practices, i.e., local women run community based programs to combat violence and HIV/AIDS and transnational exchanges, unions campaigns such as Decent Work for Women and corporate practices such as gender equality seals and corporate social responsibility.

Suggested Citation

  • Manisha Desai, 2010. "Hope in Hard Times: Women’s Empowerment and Human Development," Human Development Research Papers (2009 to present) HDRP-2010-14, Human Development Report Office (HDRO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
  • Handle: RePEc:hdr:papers:hdrp-2010-14

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Caren A. Grown & Chandrika Bahadur & Jessie Handbury & Diane Elson, 2006. "The Financial Requirements of Achieving Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_467, Levy Economics Institute.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jess Bonnan-White & Andrea Hightower & Ameena Issa, 2013. "Of couscous and occupation: a case study of women’s motivations to join and participate in Palestinian fair trade cooperatives," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 30(3), pages 337-350, September.
    2. Ly Phan, 2016. "Measuring Women’s Empowerment at Household Level Using DHS Data of Four Southeast Asian Countries," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 126(1), pages 359-378, March.
    3. Kassinis, George I. & Stavrou, Eleni T., 2013. "Non-standard work arrangements and national context," European Management Journal, Elsevier, vol. 31(5), pages 464-477.
    4. Martinho, Vítor João Pereira Domingues, 2012. "Effects on women empowerment of awareness raising," EconStor Preprints 67517, ZBW - German National Library of Economics.
    5. repec:pje:journl:article13winiii is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    gender; women’s empowerment; human development;

    JEL classification:

    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • Y8 - Miscellaneous Categories - - Related Disciplines

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