CGIAR Gender

Webinar: ‘Power through’: a new concept in the empowerment discourse

The CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research hosted and organized the webinar ‘Power through’: A new concept in the empowerment discourse‘ on November 27th, 2.00-3.30pm CET. The webinar is organized in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).


Power through (image credit: A. Galiè)

Webinar recording and presentation slides

Webinar recording

To access the recording, click on this link and enter the password: rPgFce4t.

Presentation slides


To get a better grasp on the concept of ‘power’ within the word ‘empowerment‘ four definitions of power have been developed over time and are now widely used: ‘power within’, ‘power with’, ‘power over’ and ‘power to’. This Perspective builds on qualitative fieldwork conducted between 2006 and 2017 in agricultural communities in Syria, Kenya and Tanzania to explore how farmers experience empowerment. The findings suggest that the four definitions of empowerment, despite their richness and range, fail to capture something important in the way empowerment can be experienced. The concept of power through captures an involuntary aspect of empowerment and disempowerment: that of individual power won, and lost, through changes in the empowerment status of others, or through relating to others.

Purpose of the webinar

To introduce the concept of ‘power through’ and ‘gender norms façade’.


Webinar discussants

Alessandra Galiè is Senior Gender Scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (photo credit: ILRI)

Alessandra Galiè works as a Senior Gender Scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) based in Kenya. Her research integrates gender analysis in livestock value chains with a particular focus on animal genetics and women’s empowerment. Before joining ILRI she worked at the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) undertaking gender research in empowerment, seed governance and participatory plant breeding. Alessandra holds a PhD from Wageningen University, Netherlands, and an MA in Social Anthropology of Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Her most recent publications include: 1. Galiè A. et al 2019: ‘Women empowerment, food security and forage in pastoral communities of Tanzania’. Global Food Security, 23, 125-134. 2. Basu P., A. Galiè and I. Baltenweck 2019: ‘Presence and Property: Gendered Perspectives on Participation in a Dairy Development Project in Kenya and Uganda’. Women’s Studies International Forum, 74, 68-76.

Dr. Cathy Rozel Farnworth is a freelance consultant specialized in gender studies (photo credit: C. Farnworth)

Dr. Cathy Rozel Farnworth has twenty years or so of experience in gender analysis in smallholder farming. She has worked as an independent researcher, as a VSO, and on programme formulation, implementation and evaluation for a variety of organisations ranging from the Government of Kenya to SIDA to NIRAS to Oxfam. Cathy’s doctoral thesis examined whether participation in certified organic value chains promoted farmer conceptions of quality of life in Madagascar, and whether German consumers felt able to support such conceptions. Over time, Cathy has increasingly worked on understanding gender in relation to climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies, and on whether household methodologies are capable of delivering gender transformation. Cathy was the coordinator of the CWANA sub-global report for the International Assessment of Science, Agriculture and Technology for Development (IAASTD), and she also wrote Chapter 5 of the World Bank Gender and Agricultural Livelihoods Sourcebook. Over the past few years Cathy has worked increasingly for the CGIAR, particularly the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and has published a number of research articles in various journals, as well as Guidance Notes. Cathy has worked and lived in many countries, particularly in East and Southern Africa, South East and South Asia, Afghanistan and Syria, and in China. Apart from this, Cathy is a lover of the wild world and offers art and poetry residencies at her home in Cornwall.

Sample publications include:

  • Galiè, A., and Farnworth, C.R. (2019) Power through: a new concept in the empowerment discourse. Global Food Security. Volume 21, June 2019: 13-17.
  • Farnworth, C.R., López, D.E., Badstue, L., Hailemariam, M. & Abeyo, B.G. (2019) Gender and agricultural innovation in Oromia region, Ethiopia: from innovator to tempered radical, Gender, Technology and Development.
  • Farnworth, C. R., Jafry, T., Lama, K., Nepali, S. and Badstue, L. (2018). From working in the wheat field to managing wheat: Women innovators in Nepal. European Journal of Development Research.
  • Farnworth, C.R. and Badstue, L. (2017). Enhancing the gender-responsiveness of your project’s technical farmer training events. GENNOVATE resources for scientists and research teams. CDMX, Mexico: CIMMYT.
  • Farnworth, C.R., Baudron, F., Andersson, J.A., Misiko, M., Badstue, L., & Stirling, C.M. (2015) Gender and Conservation Agriculture in East and Southern Africa: Towards a Research Agenda. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability.
  • Galiè A., J. Jiggins, P. Struik, S. Grando and S. Ceccarelli 2017: ‘Women’s empowerment through seed improvement and seed governance: evidence from participatory barley breeding in pre-war Syria’. NJAS: Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, 81, 1–8
  • Galiè A. 2013: ‘Governance of seed and food security through participatory plant breeding: Empirical evidence and gender analysis from Syria’. Natural Resources Forum (NRS), a United Nations Sustainable Development Journal, 37, 31-42
  • Basu P., A. Galiè and I. Baltenweck 2019: ‘Presence and Property: Gendered Perspectives on Participation in a Dairy Development Project in Kenya and Uganda’. Women’s Studies International Forum, 74, 68-76.
  • Price M. J., A. Galiè, J. Marshall and N. Agu 2018: ‘Elucidating the linkages between women’s empowerment in livestock and nutrition: A qualitative study of smallholder livestock raisers in Tanzania’. Development in Practice, 28, 4, 510-524.
  • Galiè A., N. Teufel, L. Korir, K. Yount, A. Webb, P. Dominguez-Salas and I. Baltenweck 2018: ‘The women’s empowerment in livestock index’. Social Indicators Research, 142, 2, 799–825.

26 Responses to Webinar: ‘Power through’: a new concept in the empowerment discourse

  1. (From Caroline Mukeku) What strategies can we use from a project implementation level targeting HH and institutions? …. to include men as possible change agents

  2. There are some well-developed household methodologies which are worth investigating. These methodologies (HHM), particularly the GALS, can also be used at all levels to help plan fairer value chains, strengthen producer organisations, etc. Below are some links to IFAD, which is mainstreaming the GALS in project implementation (and case studies using other HH methodologies). We also suggest you locate and work with men’s organisations working for women’s empowerment. Links to a couple below as well.

    1. HHM: This is background information.
    2. This is a toolkit and there are a number of case studies on different approaches.
    3. Through search engines you will find more information, particularly on the powerful Gender Action Learning System (GALS).
    4. This is a journal paper I led on regarding the application of the GALS in Malawi (using controls and treatment villages).
    5. Men’s organisations working for gender equality. and in Kenya please see

  3. (From Aman Omondi) On access to opportunities and control of resources. Would you think intra-household contradictions represent ‘gender facade’ or ‘tensions associated with gender empowerment’?’ What then for gender transformative research/action?

  4. Indeed, a facade is a facade, and it can be designed to screen processes, and evidence for, disempowerment. This is part of what you are saying, right?

    As you know, we talked only about how women and men may use their agency to present a gender norms facade that ‘pretends’ inequality whilst actually hiding processes / evidence for empowerment processes leading towards ‘equality’ within the household. Gender-sensitive/ aware research using a variety of tools (FGDs, individual interviews, more quantitative work etc) can help to uncover widely prevailing gender norms, roles and relations in the community or society being researched. This should allow the purpose of a gender norms facade, if it exists, to become apparent.

    Once the analysis is done and the purpose of the gender norms facade (and more broadly how women and men use their agency) is better understood, then an intervention can be designed. As we said in the presentation, a facade has a purpose. When this is to allow empowerment processes within the household to proceed without community censure, then we argue the facade should not be exposed. However, this does not mean that gender-transformative research or action cannot take place. In fact, the gender norms façade can be transformative if it allows space for deep behaviour change to take place without e.g. deviants having to ‘pay sanctions’ for their behaviour.

    However, the starting point has always got to be the people themselves and a ‘gender ambition’ (gender-aware, gender-responsive, gender-transformative) can never be imposed. An action learning process which starts with the people themselves may have the most potential. It can be disruptive but the people themselves are in charge.

    Let us add a bit more in relation to the transformative component: as we pointed out towards the end of the webinar, we believe power through to be an important means to better enhance women’s empowerment by understanding its relational and involuntary nature. This understanding is important to effectively bring about gender transformation towards equality. ‘Power through’ has a strong transformational potential. The concept is not to be used to say something like: ‘let’s focus on empowering men only because women will automatically be empowered as a result’.

  5. (from Margreet vd Burg) I think it can also be taken into account when we talk about generations, how to work around your parents or kids when fearing of disempowerment?

  6. We understand this point to mean that power through can also help better appreciate the relational nature of empowerment when dealing with inter-generational power dynamics. We agree, it is certainly true that empowerment and disempowerment processes within the family affect family members very differently. There is evidence that young women and men can feel very disempowered in their families and this may be a driving force for them to want to leave home. This is an interesting article you may enjoy on these processes. An earlier paper by Farnworth and Sillah (2013) examines case studies for working with young women (including young women with different abilities) in Kenya and Sierra Leone and this shows how different the challenges for young women compared to young men can be. “Involving young women in agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa: Some lessons learned” (see page 66 in

  7. (From Jennie Dey De Pryck) Your examples of “power through” are individual but couldn’t we combine the different definitions of “power”, especially “power with”, to look at how women working in GROUPs may counteract the influence of the “significant others” on their power?

  8. We agree that the different forms of power interact e.g. power with may be supported or undermined by power through or vice-versa. For example, a woman may gain power (be empowered) from being part of a co-op and becoming a trader. This may affect positively or negatively (depending on the 3 pathways we presented) the empowerment status of those around her e.g. her husband may become empowered because he is now the ‘husband of a trader’ or – in a community where women are not supposed to be traders – then he may become disempowered). The concept of critical mass is useful. In some situations, taking your ‘power with’ example of women working in groups, it is surely possible that if enough women are doing something different and appear to be successful at it, that this may not only counteract the influence of significant others on their power, but transform the norms shaping the dynamics of ‘power through’.

    However, it is important to appreciate the existence of these various forms of power to better understand how they may interact and why. The examples about power through were about individuals, as you mention above, but the key point is that ‘individual power’ is affected by a relational or ‘shared’ component (so not so ‘individual’ after all).

  9. (From Ruth Meinzen-Dick) This is a very interesting concept. Mapping this into the Kabeer framework, I wonder if this maps to social and cultural capital under resources, and to prestige or reputation as an achievement.

  10. It may map to social and cultural capital indeed. It probably maps to other domains depending on what form ‘power through’ takes, and its outcomes. For example, power through can affect your social status and may result in increased control over land as an achievement.

    Gennovate data from CIMMYT in Ethiopia showed very clearly that women benefited strongly from their status as wives of successful male innovators in maize and wheat. They were able to fulfil gendered norms much better – their children were widely acknowledged to be eating nutritious full meals, and going to school. The women themselves dressed well in clean clothes, and were often said to “walk differently”. Overall, they became empowered in the eyes of the community through the success of their husbands and they were respected (more prestige as an achievement). The data needs to be examined in more detail, though, to see if women were able to translate their “power through” status into increased control over resources.

  11. (From Anne Rietveld) I quickly browsed through the paper and you mention that measuring women’s empowerment vis-a-vis that of individual men in their HH is not valid when considering ‘power through’ (no WEIA thus?!) what would be valid quan methods?

  12. Not sure that we talked of ‘not valid’, but we do argue that the power through concept is part of a wider concern around the limitations of measurement frameworks that posit a normative man and then seek to measure a women’s relative empowerment to him. It conceptualises: ‘my empowerment’ vis-à-vis ‘your empowerment’ thereby overlooking the shared component of empowerment; it focuses on how ‘my empowerment’ may take shape vis-à-vis ‘your empowerment’ rather than appreciating that ‘our empowerment’ takes shape vis-à-vis ‘what the community thinks about us’. Gennovate research in Nepal showed how important extended families could be to actually empowering women (whose husbands have out-migrated) to take agricultural decisions ( and this is supported by a wide qualitative literature.

    The quantitative research paints a more depressing picture – this suggests that something important is not being captured in the ways in which women are being empowered, and view their own empowerment. It may not be ‘more’ or ‘less’ but rather (as to an extent in the Nepal case study work) allow women and men to more closely achieve fit with certain cultural norms that are important to them and which do not disempower women

    So far, as you have alluded, quantitative tools that pick up much more strongly on how to capture relational decision-making etc remain to be developed. Their potential is huge, however, for capturing more nuanced understandings. It is important to make progress on conceptual understandings of empowerment to then be able to adapt/develop tools that capture it properly.

  13. (From Jennie Dey De Pryck) Are women who have influential “significant others” (eg a powerful father or husband) more likely to become leaders in women’s or community groups? ie does the association with these powerful males ( power through) give them leadership positions?

  14. We have not researched this, but certainly there is a lot of anecdotal evidence which suggests that powerful male leaders may stand behind powerful wives. A Mexican colleague in fact reported precisely this situation in certain women’s fishing cooperatives. They collapsed completely when party allegiances changed and powerful men lost their position. Their previously powerful wives lost all status. Also, such women, when in power, were able to determine which women could be included in the cooperative, and which were excluded.

    However, it probably still depends on the local context. If a man’s power is for example, in a given context, partly dependent on having a submissive wife, then a wife that becomes a leader may partly disempower her husband and in turn disempower herself in the eyes of the community. The question still remains on ‘who decides who is empowered?’ individuals themselves, their community, the researcher etc.

  15. (From Esther Ndacyayisenga) I personally believe that religion is not a bad thing. But could religion be hindering the attainment of women empowerment?

  16. Certainly religion (it does not matter which one!) can be empowering or disempowering depending on how it is being interpreted. We have met some Christian practitioners who conduct couple training for couples (in Kenya) with the specific purpose of strengthening women’s agency in such relationships, for example. In other cases it is clear that some expressions of religion specifically aim to crush women’s empowerment.

  17. (From Sugandha Munshi) What are the steps involved while explaining empowerment is relational to men and society

  18. It depends on whom you are talking to. Probably the first step is to think of women’s empowerment in relation to local gender dynamics. It is important to clarify that human beings do not live in a vacuum but, rather, are part of the social fabric that entail relations: ‘I am who I am because I am so and so and I am partly similar to you and partly different; if you change I am likely to change too’. Change in an individual that does not translate in any ways in the individual’s relations to others creates the preconditions for empowerment – but is unlikely to have empowerment outcomes.

  19. (From Margreet vd Burg) I am still wondering how we can use it for looking into the sophisticated ways women do and can more ‘use’ men for have it their way as they do?

  20. It is useful to consider our concept as a starting point for developing further research. One of us is working on a paper examining the different strategies women in 6 communities in five States in India have developed to deploy their agency in their gender interests. This paper has developed a typology of six strategies which range from barely challenging to almost outright transformation of gender norms which privilege male decision-making. It will be published in the European Journal of Development Research next year.

  21. (From Charity Osei-Amponsah) This is interesting. How does one operationalise power through in research to understand empowerment and gender norms in a situation of women’s cooperatives which are led by men (who play the roles of patrons)?

  22. Power through mostly applies to people associated to an individual (family, close friend). So it may not necessarily apply to members of a cooperative. However, if for example, one member of the co-op is doing something extraordinary that is highly visible, then other members of that co-op can probably benefit. It’s a bit like going to a University with a very high reputation. If you have the name of that Uni on your CV people automatically assume you are really good. This may help explain some of the dynamics within the co-op: e.g. why some members strongly oppose some deviant behaviour… because they fear they themselves may pay the consequences of the other member’s behaviour.

  23. (From Sounkoura Adetonah) Is it possible to empower women without men at the household level? If yes How can do it?

  24. The so-called household methodology (HHM) discussed above are equally applicable to women (or men) operating on their own. Do you mean female-headed households? If so, such methods are very helpful to help women set goals and action plans to achieve them (particularly the Gender Action Learning System – GALS). Working in cooperatives, women’s groups can also be useful, if you are alone. Even so, it is useful to consider gender dynamics, which necessarily include men. It is this relationship which is at the heart of inequalities. Unless this changes it is hard to imagine real permanent change happening.

  25. (Comment from Sughanda Munshi): Not a question but an experience where here in India, state of Bihar a pilot on paddy nursery enterprise is being led by women farmers . can directly associate with need of power though &its crucial when &how to involve men, social norms affecting her

  26. It would be really good to learn more!!

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