Accepted Papers:

Discourses of empowerment through cultural equity and participation: from Europe to Africa and back  


Roos Willems (University of Antwerp)

Paper Short Abstract:

Western concepts related to gender, participation and culture are regularly used by development agencies to promote the empowerment of the communities they work with. This paper explores how this approach is conceived and interpreted by local men and women in Senegal, West Africa.

Paper long abstract:

International development NGO's have changed their strategies multiple times over the past decades in the wake of outsiders' criticisms as well as from internal reflections. The top down aspect of imposing "western" development models has made way for the bottom up approach that focuses on the identifying and supporting of local initiatives together with an emphasis on organisational strengthening of local capacities. Concepts of gender and cultural equality together with equal participation are so-called cross-cutting issues that are to be mainstreamed in the programme activities implemented by local partner organizations. This strategy endeavours the empowerment of the individual men and women so as to enable them to take control over their own lives and destinies.

This paper explores how this approach is conceived and interpreted by the men and women that are to be empowered by it in Senegal, West Africa. The field data are based on a two year working experience with an international development NGO that has invested greatly in developing and mainstreaming the concepts of gender, cultural equity and participation. The paper looks into how the idea of cultural equity has been developed in Europe, at the level of the NGOs head office, and subsequently promoted at the level of the field offices in Africa, Asia and Latin America with Senegal as a case study. Experience shows that the content of the term is perceived very differently depending on the socio-cultural context of the geographic location of its application.

Panel W042
European discourse gone global: shaping the lives of people worldwide and being shaped by them