Alumna Katherine Mann publishes new book 'Aiding Empowerment'

DPIR Alumna Katherine Mann has published Aiding Empowerment: Democracy Promotion and Gender Equality in Politics with Oxford University Press. Katherine co-authored the book with Saskia Brechenmacher, a Fellow in the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Aiding Empowerment provides the first comprehensive analysis of international aid for women’s empowerment in politics. It traces the fight for gender equality in politics over the last three decades and explores how it can be achieved in the future. 

The main questions that Katherine and Saskia ask in their book are:                                                       

  • How has international support for women’s political empowerment evolved over time, and what types of programs are donors funding?
  • How effective have these efforts been, and what are the main strengths and weaknesses of the dominant programming models?
  • What challenges do aid providers encounter in practice, and how do these obstacles unsettle existing assistance approaches?

To answer these questions, the co-authors conducted over 180 interviews with international aid officials in donor headquarters, and with practitioners, advocates and politicians in Kenya, Morocco, Myanmar, and Nepal.

The book tells a story of both ‘gradual learning’ and ‘persistent shortcomings.’ In the 1990s and 2000s, a first generation of aid initiatives focused primarily on getting more women into democratic institutions. International actors successfully advanced the spread of gender quotas, trained women to run for office, and mentored newly elected women politicians. However, the authors say that these early efforts paid much less attention to the 'entrenched institutional and sociocultural barriers' that created 'an uneven playing field' for women in the first place. In response, a second generation of programs has taken shape that places greater emphasis on making the entire political ecosystem more inclusive, rather than simply 'adding more women and stirring'.

The authors go on to argue that this evolution remains incomplete, and that changes in thinking and strategy have in many ways outstripped changes in aid practice. According to their book, aid providers and advocates in many countries confront 'a stubborn gap between progressive formal rules and exclusionary norms and informal practices'. 

At a time when democracy is arguably under threat in many places, the authors opine that challenging gender inequities in politics remains a critical priority. They also say that women’s political empowerment needs to adapt to a changing global context. With this in mind, they therefore recommend practical steps to reform international aid for women’s political empowerment.