How can re-framing citizenship from a gender-equality perspective redress the exclusion and impoverishment of women? What policies would promote the expansion of citizenship rights in line with a gender approach? This paper from the Institute of Development Studies critiques traditional conceptions of “universal” citizenship and argues that rights and participatory processes, which fail to acknowledge gender power imbalances, may preserve exclusionary practices. It examines several worldwide case studies to identify changes in policy formulation, implementation and evaluation which will enable governments and civil society organisations (CSOs) to better serve women’s interests.
Citizenship involves membership of a group and entails rights and responsibilities conferred by that membership. Western conceptions of “universal citizenship” have proclaimed equality for all, but women’s traditional social roles have downgraded their status as citizens, compared to men, leading to poverty and political marginalisation. “Tiered citizenship” may better describe the variable statuses conferred on certain social groups like women and migrants.
New trends in development theory and practice, like gender mainstreaming, decentralisation and the Millennium Development Goals, have sought to redress gender inequality. However, the rights-based approach to development has overlooked women’s practical difficulties in claiming their rights, while participatory mechanisms have often failed to implement the gender-centred reforms they have proposed.
A gender perspective recognises that women’s customary social roles, perceptions and statuses challenge traditional conceptions of citizenship:
- Equality is meaningless without an awareness of difference: for example, while men and women both have the right to work, women might need extra support, such as maternity leave.
- Women’s association with the private sphere may marginalise their concerns in the public arena and exclude women from being political actors. Domestic violence may not be considered a crime and women’ interests are not linked to the community’s “common good”.
- For women, citizenship may be more based on their family or community responsibilities than their rights as individuals: their social activity may occur “behind the scenes” rather than in a public setting.
The gendered citizenship approach requires that policymakers and CSOs promote women’s participation and respond to their social needs:
- Policymakers should value gendered interests as citizenship rights without stereotyping women’s social roles. Gender mainstreaming, gender budgeting, targeted policy interventions and affirmative action are effective tools in converting commitments to action.
- Policymakers must recognise gender difference as a factor in policy formulation, implementation and evaluation. Needs assessments through consultations, gender analysis training for practitioners and the use of local gender expertise ensure policy is based on real people’s experiences.
- Practitioners should support women’s participation in civil society. Capacity-building and training for social movements, fostering of dialogue and relationships between CSOs and government and constructing CSO networks can help make women’s voices heard.
- CSOs have an important role in promoting women’s interests. They should focus on finding entry points into policy dialogues, providing information on women’s needs to policymakers, investing in advocacy and lobbying training and developing links with decision-makers.