This Concept Brief discusses the links between gender and power. It is designed for those who are new to these ideas and it addresses three main questions: What is power and how can a gender perspective help us understand it? What is gender and how can a power perspective help us understand it? What policy and operational messages follow from a focus on gender and power?
‘Gender’ is one of the most persistent causes, consequences and manifestations of power relations. Understanding gender can therefore significantly enhance our understanding of power and vice versa.
Yet donors have largely neglected ‘gender’ in their efforts to understand power relations in partner countries. In particular they are often blind to how power and politics in the ‘private’ sphere shape power relations at all levels of society; how gender hierarchies mark wider economic, political and social structures and institutions; and the opportunities for peace and prosperity emanating from feminized sources of power. By addressing these blind spots, a focus on gender can significantly enhance donors’ insights into power dynamics and their ability to ‘think and work politically’ overall.
At the same time, focusing on power can improve donor support to gender equality by pointing to the need for more politically-informed approaches. This would involve, among other things, developing a deeper understanding of the local context, engaging a wider range of powerful actors, providing better support for women’s mobilization and taking a closer look at gendered power relations within donor organizations themselves.