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Enabling Women's Agency: Arab Women Speak Out
Unformatted Document Text:  Tracking #: ICA-19-11265 that is a prerequisite for social, economic and political progress. Borrowing from the multidisciplinary science of Chaos, Anderson and Carter argue that: “An open system does not deplete its energy, but it actually compounds energy from the interaction of its parts.” 9 If we replace ‘energy’ with ‘power,’ we can conclude that power resources increase when systems—whether at the level of the family, the community or the region—are open to innovation. The caveat, of course, is that innovations must be adapted to locally agreed upon socio-cultural-economic needs and not imposed from outside, if the community or region is to retain any semblance of autonomy and the innovations are to be sustainable; thus the importance of community participation in development initiatives. Since the 1970s the constituency for community-based, participatory development programs has been growing. Initially conceived by critics of the development establishment as integral to an 'alternative development' perspective, 10,11,12 the participatory approach to development had, by the late 1990s, become part of the repertoire encouraged by governments, UN agencies, international and local non-governmental organizations to further development. 13,14 Participatory approaches to development stem from the writings of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, who argued that as men [and women] “develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation.” 15 Through the process of conscientisation, men and women learn to analyze critically their circumstances, come to recognize that the world is subject to change, and—given sufficient political, economic and social resources—ultimately are empowered to rise to the challenge of changing the world in which they live. Empowerment education or what Freire called “problem-posing education” encourages the emergence or amplification of critical consciousness so as to precipitate participants’ intervention in reality. In short, conscientisation is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for purposive action. Yet, the social, economic, and physical environments in which they live constrain men and women alike. History and contemporary circumstances set limits to both individual and collective action—but in different ways. While sex is biologically determined, gender is formed by social, cultural, and economic factors over time and space. 16 Because gender, or the social differentiation between men and women, is temporally and culturally constructed, it is transmutable: “. . . gender roles can be transformed by social changes, induced by economic transformation, incentives, and legal and regulatory reforms.” 17 The empowered woman deconstructs—and, ultimately, reconstructs—gender as she sets about to turn potentiality into reality, recognizing and taking into account the constraints within which she lives. Concurrently, she realizes her relatedness and responsibility to others for “[t]he pursuit of full humanity . . . cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity.” 18 This approach encourages individuals to use their newly discovered powers to act in concert with others to effect change—in other words, to strive for transformative interdependence. From this perspective, interdependence is achieved through a dialectical process in which independence supplants a state of dependency, which in turn is transcended by interdependence. Rather than privileging individualism and independence as the basis of empowerment, this approach highlights the potentially empowering effect of social connectedness and interpersonal harmony. 19 While Bandura, 20 among others, objects to the use of the term “empowerment,” we will retain its use as the distinction between efficacy, which is a psychological term that implies a belief in one’s agency or ability to act, and empowerment, a sociological term that is a measure of agency or the ability to take action, which is vital to the analysis that follows. Moreover, power is a factor in every relationship, albeit attenuated or latent in many contexts, and therefore must be considered when discussing social change.

Authors: Underwood, Carol R. and Jabre, Bushra.
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Tracking #: ICA-19-11265
that is a prerequisite for social, economic and political progress. Borrowing from the
multidisciplinary science of Chaos, Anderson and Carter argue that: “An open system does not
deplete its energy, but it actually compounds energy from the interaction of its parts.”
9
If we
replace ‘energy’ with ‘power,’ we can conclude that power resources increase when systems—
whether at the level of the family, the community or the region—are open to innovation. The
caveat, of course, is that innovations must be adapted to locally agreed upon socio-cultural-
economic needs and not imposed from outside, if the community or region is to retain any
semblance of autonomy and the innovations are to be sustainable; thus the importance of
community participation in development initiatives.
Since the 1970s the constituency for community-based, participatory development programs has
been growing. Initially conceived by critics of the development establishment as integral to an
'alternative development' perspective,
10,11,12
the participatory approach to development had, by the
late 1990s, become part of the repertoire encouraged by governments, UN agencies, international
and local non-governmental organizations to further development.
13,14
Participatory approaches to
development stem from the writings of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, who argued that as
men [and women] “develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with
which
and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as
a reality in process, in transformation.”
15
Through the process of conscientisation, men and
women learn to analyze critically their circumstances, come to recognize that the world is subject
to change, and—given sufficient political, economic and social resources—ultimately are
empowered to rise to the challenge of changing the world in which they live. Empowerment
education or what Freire called “problem-posing education” encourages the emergence or
amplification of critical consciousness so as to precipitate participants’ intervention in reality. In
short, conscientisation is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for purposive action.
Yet, the social, economic, and physical environments in which they live constrain men and
women alike. History and contemporary circumstances set limits to both individual and
collective action—but in different ways. While sex is biologically determined, gender is formed
by social, cultural, and economic factors over time and space.
16
Because gender, or the social
differentiation between men and women, is temporally and culturally constructed, it is
transmutable: “. . . gender roles can be transformed by social changes, induced by economic
transformation, incentives, and legal and regulatory reforms.”
17
The empowered woman
deconstructs—and, ultimately, reconstructs—gender as she sets about to turn potentiality into
reality, recognizing and taking into account the constraints within which she lives. Concurrently,
she realizes her relatedness and responsibility to others for “[t]he pursuit of full humanity . . .
cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity.”
18
This approach encourages individuals to use their newly discovered powers to act in concert with
others to effect change—in other words, to strive for transformative interdependence. From this
perspective, interdependence is achieved through a dialectical process in which independence
supplants a state of dependency, which in turn is transcended by interdependence. Rather than
privileging individualism and independence as the basis of empowerment, this approach
highlights the potentially empowering effect of social connectedness and interpersonal
harmony.
19
While Bandura,
20
among others, objects to the use of the term “empowerment,” we
will retain its use as the distinction between efficacy, which is a psychological term that implies a
belief in one’s agency or ability to act, and empowerment, a sociological term that is a measure of
agency or the ability to take action, which is vital to the analysis that follows. Moreover, power is
a factor in every relationship, albeit attenuated or latent in many contexts, and therefore must be
considered when discussing social change.


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