For too long, development practitioners have largely neglected gender in their efforts to understand power relations. A review of the political economy literaturein the past decade reveals an extraordinary breadth and depth of scholarship. But, while the findings of a Political Economy Analysis (PEA) are influenced in part by “where you sit” and what information you uncover (e.g., do you have a bias towards religion or party politics?), rarely is gender the explicit focus of the way we think about power itself in established PEA.
Gender remains one of the most persistent causes, consequences, and manifestations of power relations. In fact, gender invisibility comes at the expense of women not being acknowledged as important agents of change within the household, community, markets, or the state.
Integrating gender into political analysis not only lets us explore and better understand power relations between women, men, and other genders where we work but it enhances systems-level analysis. At Abt, we do this in three ways. To start, building a gender integration continuum tool into political analysis to decide if interventions are ‘gender invisible’ or ‘gender responsive’, which means we can design transformative programmes that have a more nuanced and balanced understanding of power dynamics. Secondly, puttinggender into PEA to add greater analytical complexity to programming, and finally, merging gender and political analysisthrough participatory fieldwork processes that respond to gender power structures.
Big challenges remain – gendering the way we ‘think and work politically’
Three challenges remain and show why gender is so critical to advancing the ‘thinking and working politically’ scholarship.
First, there is an increasing need for political economy approaches to shed light on multiple forms of power that reveal intersections of structures, actors, and processes that often perpetuate existing power relations in societies and development contexts. Using an intersectional lens to understand multiple dimensions of power deepens our analysis beyond gender by looking at different systems of power and how access to power and resources intersects and impacts different groups of people in a development context/society. PEA needs to recognise the multiple experiences and/or disadvantages experienced by women, men, and other genders across different ethnic, age, class, physical ability groups, sexual orientation, and other identity groups.
Second, more attention needs to be given to how we address the wider political context of problem definition – that is, how gender (in)equality is problematised in international development. Often, we do not stop to question the process of problem definition and our own implicit assumptions and theories of change. Opening up a process to include different perspectives and assumptions helps us to clarify our approach when it comes to how we define and address the development challenges we trying to solve. Carol Bacchi’s’What’s the Problem Represented to be (WPR)’approach offers a useful starting point for framing the problem of gender in PEA that opens up a range of questions by exploring the underlying assumptions around the ‘politics of the problem’: what’s the problem represented in a specific context; what are the underlying assumptions in the representation of the problem; how has this representation of the problem come about; what are the existing silences in the problem identification; What effects are produced/reproduced in the way problem is represented; and how could the representation of the problem be questioned, replaced, or disrupted?
Third, we need to unapologetically and yet rigorously employ ‘feminist methodologies and theories’ to avoid a static analysis or understanding of power relations. There is a need for PEA approaches to include qualitative feminist research methods, such as participant observation, interviews, and focus group discussions, as well as participatory research methods that ensure voices of marginalised groups and across multiple social hierarchies/identities are included in the power analysis.
It is about time we address gender in the way we think and work politically. When thinking politically, we must recognise gender as a fundamental political issue. Not just by ‘adding women’ to a PEA stakeholder map—that does little to define and address the problem of gender power imbalances, much less work out what to do about it. Instead, we need to more systematically interrogate how different systems of power, how access and distribution of power, and how resources have an unequal impact on different groups of people in society, half of whom are women and girls. This then sets us to work in gender responsive (and politically-informed) ways – such as finding entry points that allow women to act as champions of change, or addressing barriers to critical legislative and policy reforms for women and girls.
We will explain all this in our forthcoming Gender Responsive PEA paper.
 Because there is still a degree of “please”, “sorry but I have to say this”, and “forgive me” surrounding raising of gender issues in some government and governance circles (although thankfully fewer and fewer over time).