SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Women's Empowerment, Neoliberal Development and Global Justice

Professor Andrea Cornwall (School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, UK)

Date: 1 December 2015Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 1 December 2015Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G3

Type of Event: Seminar

Women’s empowerment would, at face value, seem to be an odd vehicle for the development industry to use to pursue the project begun in the era of structural adjustment of the 1980s. Yet it has proven a remarkably successful strategy for enlistment of a diversity of 'investors' - multilateral banks, international NGOs, governments, philanthropic foundations and most recently, multinational corporations. The so-called “instrumentalism” with which women’s empowerment has been enthusiastically seized and put to work by this panoply of actors draws on arguments advanced over the previous three decades by feminist academics that were - paradoxically – largely grounded in materialist concerns about inequality. For the feminists who advanced the notion of empowerment in the 1970s and 1980s, it would have been barely conceivable that a mere three decades later we would witness transnational corporations, conservative governments and banks extolling the virtues of enabling women to enjoy greater economic autonomy and exercise their agency. This disjuncture between feminist definitions of empowerment and their incorporation by the neoliberal development complex is the focus for this seminar, which will look at the rise and rise of "empowering women and girls" in the current conjuncture.


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Women's Empowerment, Neoliberal Development and Global Justice, Andrea Cornwall

Professor Andrea Cornwall is a political anthropologist with expertise in the anthropology of gender, sexuality, democracy, citizen participation and participatory research. Trained at SOAS in Social Anthropology, her work includes explorations into women’s perspectives on family planning, fertility and sexually transmitted infection in Nigeria and Zimbabwe, public engagement in UK regeneration programmes, the quality of democratic deliberation in new democratic spaces in Brazil, the use and abuse of participatory appraisal in Kenya, domestic workers’ rights activism in Brazil, and sex workers’ rights activism in India. She is Director of the Pathways of Women Empowerment research network, Professor of Anthropology and International Development, and Head of the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex.

This seminar is part of the SOAS Department of Development Studies & Bloomsbury DTC for the Social Sciences seminar series for 2015/2016. To see the full event listing click here.


Organiser: Professor Alfredo Saad-Filho & Feyzi Ismail

Contact email:,

Contact Tel: 020 7898 4504 or 020 7898 4723