American University
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Conceptions of power and empowerment: A case study of women's associations in Segou, Mali

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posted on 2023-09-06, 03:11 authored by Sarah Lockridge

This study explores the similar, but often contradictory, conceptions of power and empowerment held by mainstream development planners versus women participating in arts and crafts associations in Segou, Mali. Development literature has devoted insufficient attention to the relationship between gender and other forms of structural inequality such as class, race, and age, and current empowerment approaches still tend to view women as a monolithic group. Mainstream development planners often perceive social stratification as a source of oppression for low status members and believe democratic organizations based on equal access and equal opportunity are the most effective way to empower women of all social backgrounds. In contrast, some Malian women's associations choose to organize undemocratically and do not always perceive social inequality as an obstacle to empowerment. Because Mali is a gerontocratic society, senior women often have greater power than younger females. Hence, the most predominant social hierarchy that influences Malian women's groups is the age order. In the study, this is referred to as the mother-daughter model. Among other structural inequalities, such as levels of education and wealth, I focus on how the mother-daughter model influences decision making, labor practices, and ultimately, access to income, technical skills, gift-giving networks, and consciousness-raising tactics to eradicate skin-lightening. Anthropological research methods such as semi-structured interviews, life stories, and participant observation were used to collect data. The methodology included interviews with 22 female members from two different arts and crafts associations as well as collaborating NGOs and government organizations. The contradictory views of power and empowerment reveal how people work within their own cultural systems. The findings illustrate how the mother-daughter model can have both negative and positive impacts on empowerment processes. Development planners should consider women's contextual realities and encourage aspects of social stratification that facilitate the empowerment of low status members while discouraging those that do not.







Thesis (Ph.D.)--American University, 2006.


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