- Grassroots citizenship
- New media and citizenship
- Citizenship, conflict, state-society relations and statebuilding
- Case studies
Citizenship is about ‘membership of a group or community that confers rights and responsibilities as a result of such membership. It is both a status (or an identity) and a practice or process of relating to the social world through the exercise of rights/protections and the fulfilment of obligations’ (Meer and Sever, 2004: 2).
Citizenship should be inclusive, incorporating the interests and needs of all citizens. A gender perspective on citizenship begins with an assertion of the rights of all women and men to equal treatment. This needs to be enshrined in constitutions, laws and legal processes. Applying equal standards to all citizens may be insufficient, however, if different groups of citizens face particular challenges and have distinct needs. Women and men may have distinct needs, and women of different ages, classes or ethnicities may also have varying needs that require specific attention. The focus on rights thus requires distinguishing between formal and substantive equality, highlighting outcomes for different groups of women, and tailoring rights construction to the needs of women who are most adversely affected by the lack of rights which the particular reforms target (Mukhopadhyay, 2007).
Citizenship should also be an active concept, beyond mere status and formal rights. Under such a view, citizenship is seen as a relationship that promotes participation and agency. The focus is on how individuals and groups, particularly marginalised groups, claim their rights and pursue social change. It is important to explore and promote forms of dialogue, association and collective action that can provide the space for women’s active participation and mobilisation.
Applying a gender perspective, citizenship goes beyond a relationship between the citizen and the state. It extends to a range of other social institutions, such as the family and the household, traditional systems, civil society organisations, economic and other institutions that affect women’s and men’s lives and opportunities. Although being a citizen allows women to make claims as a citizen in their own right, the identity ascribed to them is still in reality often in relation to a man, whether as a daughter, sister or wife. It is thus important to address not only state-level formal institutional arrangements but also informal institutions in order to improve and guarantee women’s entitlements as citizens.
Mukhopadhyay, M. (2007). ‘Situating Gender and Citizenship in Development Debates: Towards a Strategy’ in Gender Justice, Citizenship and Development, eds. M. Mukhopadhyay and N. Singh, International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, pp. 263-314
How can an understanding of gender and citizenship inform development policy and empower women? This paper discusses gender and citizenship in the context of development debates and research. Development is largely inattentive to the dynamics of state-society relations – preferring instead to create new models of governance that leave untouched the political relationships that animate society and perpetuate inequality.
Meer, S. and Sever, C. (2004). ‘Gender and Citizenship: Overview Report’, BRIDGE Development-Gender, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
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 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 case studies to identify changes in policy formulation, implementation and evaluation which will enable governments and civil society organisations to better serve women’s interests.
Goetz, A-M. (2007). ‘Gender Justice, Citizenship and Entitlements – Core Concepts, Central Debates and New Directions for Research’, in Gender Justice, Citizenship and Development, eds. M. Mukhopadhyay and N. Singh, International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, pp. 15-57
Why have efforts at law reform and progress in exposing gender biases in formal legal systems failed to bring about gender justice? This chapter links current thinking on gender justice to debates on citizenship, entitlements, rights, law and development. It argues that equal citizenship, whilst key to the struggle for gender justice, does not guarantee it. Often, rights are seen as accessed through personal relations rather than a contract between citizen and state. Efforts to promote gender justice must bridge the public-private divide in accountability systems.
Sweetman, C., Rowlands, J. and Abou-Habib, L. (2011). ‘Introduction to Citizenship’, Gender and Development, vol. 19, no. 3, 347-355
This special issue of Gender and Development takes a close look at issues of citizenship. It is described as a perennial concern but also a current hot topic. Citizenship is intrinsically concerned with rights and equality, and thus connects to gender. Citizenship implies equal rights for all, but a gender lens reveals the unequal access of men and women to various aspects of citizenship. Articles in this issue assess the extent to which each of us can secure the protection, resources and entitlements which the state should provide.
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Much of the literature on gender and citizenship discusses the structural constraints that women face in exercising citizenship rights, in terms of laws, policies and formal public institutions. Active citizenship can also be expressed, however, through micro-level, informal community life.
The effective promotion of agency and rights-claiming by civil society actors through various initiatives can result in shaping active citizenship at the grassroots level. The formation of associations, in particular, has been successful in promoting agency. In some instances, women have facilitated community members’ access to services. They have also taken up leadership roles in religious and kin-based institutions. The persistence of male social advantage in more formalised spaces of public life, however, suggests that greater work is needed in order to challenge networks of exclusion.
Mahmud, S. and Musembi, C. N. (2011). ‘Gender and Citizenship at the Grassroots: Assessing the Effect of NGO Initiatives in Social Mobilization and Political Empowerment in Kenya and Bangladesh’, Citizenship, Participation and Accountability – Development Research Centre
Can women’s participation in associations and civil society initiatives reduce gender inequality? This study assesses the extent to which social mobilisation and political empowerment initiatives led by NGOs have influenced gender dynamics in Kenya and Bangladesh. It focuses on gender dynamics in everyday expression of citizenship at community level. It concludes that the NGO initiatives studied have played a role in placing women in both formal and informal spaces of leadership and visibility. However, the persistence of male social advantage in the more formalised spaces of community public life still needs to be challenged.
Caiazza, A. (2005). ‘Called to Speak: Six Strategies That Encourage Women’s Political Activism’ Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Washington DC
This report explores the values, experiences, and leadership development of women involved in religious, and particularly interfaith, social justice organising. It aims to show how women’s religious activism intersects with women’s organising, and to contribute to a greater understanding of the values women share in support of social justice issues and causes. The six strategies are:
- Provide political role models of women who break the mould
- Provide space for women to address their fears and embrace their anger
- Build connections across lines of race and class
- Gently push women into political leadership (with force if necessary)
- Develop mentoring programs with activist components
- Meet women where they are
New media and citizenship
The communication system of industrial societies was based on mass media, involving the distribution of a one-way message from one-to-many. The widespread diffusion of the Internet, mobile communication, digital media and a variety of social software tools throughout the world has transformed the communication system into interactive horizontal networks that connect the local and global. New forms of social media (also referred to as information and communication technologies – ICTs), such as SMS, blogs, social networking sites, podcasts and wikis, cater to the flow of messages from many-to-many. They have provided alternative, accessible media for citizen communication and participatory journalism. They have contributed to the transformation of citizenship practices of women, and other individuals and groups, who have been on the margins of political and civic life.
These social media have opened up the space for the emergence of previously unheard voices and for women to renegotiate their rights, exercise their citizenship and shape discourses of citizenship. In the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, social media and ICTs were crucial in many places for spreading messages, disseminating news, and amplifying voices (Radsch, & Khamis, 2013). It is uncertain, however, to what extent these new voices and discourses can lead to lasting changes in notions of gender and citizenship.
Women and girls still face many barriers to accessing new technologies and social media. These include inadequate education, lack of skills and knowledge and lack of confidence to access ICTs. English is often a requirement, which makes it difficult for women and girls with only basic literacy to access such technology. Time use is another barrier: girls’ domestic roles mean that they have less free time than boys to explore new technologies. They may also have less freedom to frequent internet cafes on their own. Women and girls may also have less financial resources to pay for a mobile phone and its upkeep or to access the internet (van der Gaag, 2010).
CITIGEN (2011). ‘Gender and Citizenship in the Information Society (CITIGEN) Research Programme’, Report of the Review Meeting, 26-28 April, New Delhi
The CITIGEN research programme, launched in 2010, aims to explore the notion of marginalised women’s citizenship as a normative project or an aspiration for equitable social membership in the context of the information society and emerging new techno-social order. This report is based on a three-day review workshop of the programme.
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Chong, I. I. and Wan, L. O. (2012). ‘Women’s Online Participation and the Transformation of Citizenship: A study in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, Gender and Citizenship in the Information Society (CITIGEN), Bangalore, India
This research brief provides insights into women’s online engagement and citizenship in China. It reviews four organisations and their networks, and conducts a content analysis of online debates. It finds that women with institutional resources tend to work with the government for legal and policy reform, and less established organisations tend to take a more participatory approach. Individuals appear more able to critique the state.
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van der Gaag, N. (2010). ‘Because I am a Girl: Digital and Urban Frontiers 2010’, Because I am a Girl Series, Plan International
This comprehensive global report covers many of current issues facing girls, through the lenses of urbanisation and technology. It explores different aspects of this changing landscape and how this affects girls and gender relations.
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Radsch, C. C., & Khamis, S. (2013). In Their Own Voice: Technologically mediated empowerment and transformation among young Arab women. Feminist Media Studies, 13(5), 881-890.
This peer-reviewed article explores how young Arab women used cyberactivism to participate in the Arab Spring. It argues that these activists leveraged social media to enact new forms of leadership, agency, and empowerment, since these online platforms enabled them to express themselves freely and their voices to be heard by the rest of the world, particularly the global media. This article suggests that this was a turning point for women’s participation, and that they will remain in the public sphere. It concludes that the ‘Arab Spring’ is not just a political revolution, but also a personal, social, and communication revolution as Arab women activists change traditional norms of participation and visibility and bring new issues into the public sphere.
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For further discussion and resources on new media, see the social media section in the Communication and Governance topic guide.
Citizenship, conflict, state-society relations and statebuilding
For discussion on gender and citizenship in the context of post-conflict recovery and statebuilding, see GSDRC’s Topic Guide Supplement on State-Society Relations and Citizenship in Situations of Conflict and Fragility
Reyes, M. and Asinas, A. (2011). ‘Locating Young Women in a Plethora of Issues: Reflections from the Tenth Young Women Leader’s Conference 2010’, Gender and Development, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 423-439
The article assesses the outcome of the tenth Young Women Leaders Conference. Its main objective was to inquire into the connections between thinking on citizenship and Filipino young women’s activism. The workshops revealed that young women continue to face traditional structural barriers that inhibit them from actively participating in political debate and public life. However, they have created new spaces for asserting varied (re)conceptions of citizenship and gender justice, often mediated by rapidly changing information and communication technologies. Likewise, they are increasingly on the move: the face of labour migration in the Philippines is that of a young woman. How then might migration change our understandings of citizenship?
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Muñiz, S. and Beardon, H. (2011). ‘Supporting the Collective Power of Bolivian Women to Attain Citizenship Rights: the Raising Her Voice Project’, Gender and Development, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 383-393
‘Raising Her Voice’ (RHV) is a global programme from Oxfam GB to promote poor women’s rights and capacity to participate effectively in governance at every level: raising women voices, increasing their influence, and making decision-making institutions more accountable to women. This article is based on the findings of a case study of the Bolivian RHV project. The case study was developed using participatory methods to encourage a wide range of perspectives and deep, collective reflection on the challenges and achievements, to date, of the Cochabamba Platform of Women for Citizenship, and the contribution of RHV to these achievements.
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Jahan, F. (2011). ‘Women’s Agency and Citizenship across Transnational Identities: A Case Study of the Bangladeshi Diaspora in the UK’, Gender and Development, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 371-381
This article focuses on agency and citizenship from the point of view of Bangladeshi immigrant women who have been living in UK for the last two generations. They have a transnational identity, living between two cultures, which often have contradictory elements. The article challenges the notions that immigrant women shaped by Bangladeshi culture are victims of patriarchal ideologies, and that Bangladeshi culture hinders women from development. It rather suggests that it is not Bangladeshi culture or religion that hinders women from exercising agency, but their identity as immigrants.
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Cooper, M. (2011). ‘Preventing the Gendered Reproduction of Citizenship: the Role of Social movements in South Africa’, Gender and Development, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 357-370
Social movements have an important role to play in shaping our understanding of the entitlements and human rights related to citizenship. Feminist movements, in particular, actively challenge and reshape gendered perceptions of citizenship generated by the state. This article focuses on the ‘One in Nine Campaign’, which advocates for, among many things, legal changes in relation to genderbased violence in South Africa. Research into the campaign reveals the utility in legal mobilisation as a strategy for feminist organising. It also raises fundamental questions, however, about different understandings of citizenship and citizenship rights.
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Abou-Habib, L. (2011). ‘The “Right to have Rights”: Active Citizenship and Gendered Social Entitlements in Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine’, Gender and Development, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 441-454
This article summarises the key findings of regional research on active citizenship, gender and social entitlements in Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine. It focuses on the role of the state and NGOs in channelling basic services to women and men. The article argues that women are often remote from the state, and have their rights mediated and decided by social institutions (including families and communities) that do not necessarily recognise women’s ‘right to have rights’. The result is the failure of public institutions to deliver and secure women’s entitlements.
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KIT (Royal Tropical Institute) (eds.). (2004). ‘Gender, Citizenship and Governance: A Global Source book’, KIT, Amsterdam, and Oxfam, Oxford
This resource book explores some of the experiences of Southern practitioners and experts working in the field of gender, citizenship and governance. It provides four case studies that demonstrate citizen action to promote awareness of women’s entitlements, participation in government and accountability of governance institutions. They cover: India, Pakistan, South Africa, and Namibia. The book also provides an overview of the debates within development on citizenship and governance and how they relate to gender equality.
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See also Gender, Citizenship and migration on Eldis.