The World Bank gender team responds; lessons from successful women's rights coalitions; male attitudes to violence against women: some reading for International Women's Day

IWD1Some International Women’s Day reading at the wonky end of the spectrum.

Firstly, an excellent response from its co-directors (Ana Ravenga and Sudhir Shetty) to my earlier post on this year’s World Development Report on Gender Equality, whose website goes live today. Secondly check out a couple of papers on the Developmental Leadership Program website. The IWD2DLP describes itself as providing ‘thinking and policy about the critical role played by leaders, elites and coalitions in the politics of development’. All of the papers follow a similar format, identifying ‘critical overarching themes’, factors that facilitate the formation of successful coalitions, the strategies the coalitions used for greater influence and some do’s and don’t’s for donors. Nice.

Structure and Agency in the Politics of a Women’s Rights Coalition in South Africa: The Making of the South African IWD3Sexual Offences Act, 2007 studies the National Working Group on Sexual Offences (NWGSO), established to influence the progressive reform of national rape laws. The NWGSO became the largest civil society coalition to have collaborated on law reform in South Africa and won substantial improvements in rape laws and attendant policies. The study identifies 11 overarching themes:

• ‘Critical junctures’ such as national political change may provide opportunities for civil society to redefine its rules of engagement with the state. Knowing when and how to seize such opportunities is crucial.
• Many factors account for the emergence of coalitions, including: new opportunities for political engagement during political transition; how local actors form collective initiatives and their motivation to initiate meaningful social change; the existence of prior networks and experience; the ability to mobilise popular civil society support; donor support.
• New spaces for policy influence may be opened through engaging in law reform. This study shows how the coalition’s extensive experience in women’s advocacy and in-depth understanding of the law contributed to their success.
• Strategies of ‘judicial/legislative advocacy’ can assist the process of legal reform, but success depends on the existence of a relatively free judiciary.
• Women’s coalitions may draw on and expand their elite networks and exploit political and institutional arrangements to build developmental partnerships.
• Co-operative networks between elite actors that span both civil society and government may initiate new processes of legal reform.
• The building of elite networks between national and international advocates at high-ranking meetings (such as UN Conferences) may have positive developmental outcomes – if the right people are involved.
• ‘Soft advocacy’ or ‘backstage politics’ may be more effective strategies where co-operative relationships exist between high-ranking state actors and civil society leaders.
• In dominant one-party states such as South Africa, ‘adversarial advocacy’ such as monitoring government’s fulfilment of laws and policies or criticising political elites in the media may antagonise the party and reduce engagement.
• A coalition’s leadership structures and functioning must be determined through consensual processes and not automatically assumed or enacted by its key figures.
• Competition over funding may lead to disruptive tensions and there are strong grounds for ensuring transparency about a coalition’s funding.

egypt women's protestWorking Politically Behind Red Lines: Structure and agency in a comparative study of women’s coalitions in Egypt and Jordan analyses six cases of collective initiatives to advance women’s rights in Egypt and Jordan between 2000 and 2010. It finds a mere 6 overarching themes:

• Coalitions to advance women’s equality are rare in the Middle East, challenged by a restrictive and professionalized political culture that discourages collective forms of agency.
• A constellation of factors, rather than a single factor, accounts for the emergence of coalitions. This constellation includes (but is not restricted to): a cause that touches on people’s lives, a politically opportune moment, and local actors that respond by mobilizing to form a collective initiative.
• Given that the space for influencing policy is restricted to a closed circle of elites, it is not the agency of the coalition alone that leads to policy influence. The key finding is that engaging in informal ‘backstage’ politics is equally, if not more, important than formal channels of engagement in these ‘closed’ political spaces. Policy influence heavily relies on informal relationships rather than strictly formal citizen-state engagements. The “formal” faces of advocacy [such as through petitions, conferences and media advocacy] play a secondary role to informal processes in eliciting change, which is often facilitated by informal, backdoor processes of negotiation and mediation between coalition leaders and key players.
• Moreover, informal networks and, often, prior relationships, are crucial for building the internal cohesion of a coalition; and they also help to reduce their vulnerability to external political threat.
• Influential coalitions are those that are able to build formal as well as informal links with the appropriate actors, establish the right kind of image locally and secure the right kind of support from international official and civil society actors.
• In all of the six case studies studied, strong linkages existed between international and national actors, hence highlighting the importance of understanding how international actors can play an enabling role to support coalitions. In five out of six coalitions studied, donors played a critical role at some point in the life of the coalition, in both positive and detrimental ways.

Finally (just to be contrarian), what about men? Oxfam publishes an interesting research report on ‘The Effects of Socialization on Gender Discrimination and Violence’, based on a set of interviews and focus groups with men in Lebanon’s Ballbek area. It reveals a collision between cultural norms (boys being raised to be violent law givers/honour defenders by both their mothers and fathers) and modernity (more women getting an education and going out to work, undermining men’s sense of superiority and power).

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