Collaboration brings its own degree of empowerment

"Women and Empowerment: Participation and Decision Making "
Prepared by Marilee Karl
Zed Books Ltd 
London and New Jersey

There are those who say the product is more important than the process. Others say what counts is the quality of the process, never mind the final product.

In the case of the ten books on "Women and and World Development" produced by the UN-NGO Group on Women and Development in collaboration with the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS), Geneva, both the process and the product can be justly acclaimed.

Launched in 1989 as an interactive, collaborative process of work between various United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the series seeks to present, in a highly readable and interesting way, the outcome of more than a decade of research on world development issues and their impact on women.

To judge the success of the process, one might consider its latest result: the tenth and final volume in the series, entitled: Women and Empowerment: Participation and Decision Making.

Previous titles in the series, which is published by Zed Books Ltd. of London, include Women and Human Rights, Women and the Environment, Women and Work, and Women and the Family. However, inasmuch as participation and empowerment bear upon all of these other issues, Women and Empowerment provides a fitting capstone for the series.

Like its predecessors, Women and Empowerment deals with its subject in a balanced but forceful way: the information is presented objectively, but the additive effect is such that it amounts to a passionate plea for women.

The book draws on a variety of sources, from UN documents to personal interviews to informational material prepared by NGOs. Marilee Karl has fashioned from them a very readable history of women's involvement in politics at all levels: government, trade unions, NGOs, local communities and at the UN itself. It the process, it also provides an insightful summary the latest thinking about how to better grant to women a just share of power and participation in decision-making,

And like other books in the series, it presents this information in a graphically appealing manner, making extensive use of charts, tables, diagrams and various type styles to highlight and emphasize a diverse range of opinions and information.

The book has up-to-date tables on the percentages of women in various national parliaments worldwide, for example, and the status of women's right to vote in each country. One bar chart diagrams how day-to-day work is divided between women and men in Africa. At a glance one can learn that while men do 95 percent of the work involved in clearing the fields, women do 70 percent of the hoeing and weeding, as well as some 80 percent of the transporting and storing of food. Women do 90 percent of the work involved in carrying water and fuel, and 95 percent of the work involved in feeding the family.

What makes the book especially valuable, however, is the degree to which it provides a summary of the latest thinking about the issue of women and empowerment - which will be perhaps the central issue to be discussed in September at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

In a chapter on Women and Development, for example, the book presents the range of policy approaches to the issue, showing how thinking has evolved from the "residual model of social welfare under colonial administration" in the 1950s to the "empowerment and self-reliance" approach which has been advocated by grassroots women's organizations and feminist writers in the Third World.

The book is also replete with examples of various experiences and projects that exemplify current efforts to promote the advancement and empowerment of women. A project sponsored by the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Bahá'í International Community is highlighted as one example of how gender awareness training can be used at the grassroots level as an instrument for change. The project seeks to empower women by using traditional media, such as song and dance, to reach both men and women.

More than 100 organizations from five continents participated in various aspects and stages of the production. They included major UN agencies, such as theInternational Labor Organization and UNICEF as well as NGOs ranging rom the Center for Women's Global Leadership to the Young Women's Christian Association.

Yet, unlike the mish-mash that is too often the result of production by committees, the series suggests that the results of such cross-sector cooperation and collaboration can be sterling indeed.