For all their talk of empowerment, initiatives by development agencies and donors fail to tackle power imbalances, and do not allow women to realise their own hopes and dreams

Women fill in their ballots during Iran's parliamentary election, at a mosque in southern Tehran
Women vote in Iran's parliamentary elections at a mosque in southern Tehran. Photograph: Raheb Homavandi/Reuters

The empowerment of women and girls has risen up the development agenda in recent years, championed by powerful financial institutions, the philanthropic wings of major transnational corporations and influential development donors as a sought-after panacea. There's an appealing simplicity to the argument for investing in women and girls. Women and girls have been overlooked. They have so much potential. Get them into work, and poverty will disappear. Get them into school, and high birthrates will decrease. Get them into politics, and peace will reign. Invest in their potential and in their families, and communities and nations will yield the benefits.

It's a formula that harnesses persuasive gender myths with an action agenda blind to many of the principal underlying causes of women's disempowerment. 



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