Accepted paper:

Agency and 'empowerment' of adolescent girls and young women in Kinshasa

Authors:

Lyndsay McLean (University of Sussex)

Paper short abstract:

Peer-to-peer research undertaken by adolescents and young women in fragile urban Kinshasa demonstrates the complexities of processes of 'empowerment' and how young women exercise agency to navigate precarious circumstances to survive economically and socially and maintain their reputation as ‘good girls’.

Paper long abstract:

In mid-2015, a team of 15 Congolese 'girl researchers' were recruited, trained and mentored by the DFID-funded La Pépinière programme. They conducted peer-to-peer research to explore the experiences, perceptions and aspirations of adolescent girls and young women living in Kinshasa, DRC, in relation to their economic and social empowerment. In this fragile urban context, there are high, and sometimes contradictory, expectations of girls and young women emanating from a mixture of traditional values, religious edicts and modern ideals. Girls and young women must carefully navigate precarious circumstances to survive economically and socially and maintain their reputation as 'good girls'. For most girls and young women in this context, 'empowerment' is viewed as a dual process of gaining economic autonomy and of remaining fully integrated and respected in society by meeting social expectations. The paper argues that it is essential for development programmes to be be grounded in women and girls' own realities and aspirations and a comprehensive understanding of how specific young women in specific contexts see the process of empowerment and exercise agency even in very constrained circumstances. The participatory engagement described here is a way to understand these realities and inform programmes to facilitate women and girls' own agency and journeys of empowerment, rather than to aggravate the risks they face, which are often magnified in rapidly changing urban contexts such as Kinshasa.

panel P083
Coming of Age in a Time of Change: New Forms of Gendered Self-Accomplishment in (East) Africa and beyond