While women have gained significant access to state bureaucracies and legislatures, particularly in developing countries, access and inclusion do not appear to have delivered the kinds of equality outcomes that many would like to see. Feminist scholarship remains confounded by the question of how and when claims for gender equality are facilitated and or constrained by engagement with the state. Put another way, why has the apparent redistribution of power not resulted in a redistribution of goods? This is not to suggest that no gains have been made through the strategies of engagement thus far; political empowerment and formal equality is not an insignificant achievement by any means. Rather, it is the catalytic effect of political empowerment that appears to be missing - that is, the translation of institutional access to political voice, and from political voice to policy outcomes.
This paper makes a start at addressing this conundrum by focusing on the following three key questions:
- To what extent, and under what conditions, have women in highly unequal societies managed to overcome differences of race, class and geographic location to create effective constituencies for pushing through welfare measures and other gender-sensitive policies that meet the needs of low-income women?
- What constellation of political actors (political parties, states, civil society and social/women’s movements) and forces have been most effective in representing and aggregating women’s diverse interests and bringing them into the policy arena?
- What are the different constraints across contexts impeding cross-class/race coalitions of women and the translation of their common gender interests into policies?
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