Gender - the power relationship that Political Economy Analysis forgot?

13th February 2014

It's easy to forget that 'gender' does not mean 'women' but actually means 'gender relations', or the relations between men and women. Gender analysis examines how power is distributed between women and men, how it operates, who can use it and for what purposes. It's best understood as a system which shapes everything around us – what we think, what we know, whose knowledge is privileged, and which values are supported.

If this isn't political, I don't know what is.

So when I recently wrote a short report on gender in Political Economy Analysis (PEA), I thought it would be fairly easy – a chance to dig a bit deeper into PEA, probably some good resources out there. As a social development specialist, I often work on gender issues and find most development research is well on the way to embedding gender analysis. I was surprised, therefore, to find only a very simple inclusion of gender in PEA.

Helen Poulsen, the DFID adviser in the Democratic Republic of Congo who commissioned the report, has really put her finger on something here. It's odd to find an analytical tool which explicitly discusses the power relations of individuals and institutions but doesn't usually include a gendered analysis.

Where gender is evident in PEA, it's mostly looking at how gender inequalities shape society and how many women are in positions of political and economic power. I found a few PEA studies for DFID that incorporate gender, and these focus on three broad themes:

  • The role of gender in society: such as gender equality in formal and customary law, women's property and business ownership.
  • Women in positions of power and influence: for instance, how many women sit in parliament, how many are business or civil society leaders.
  • The representation and influence of women's groups: whether lobbying groups exist for women's rights, and how much success they have.

A gender analysis would look at these issues but also delve deeper into how political economy affects men and women differently. It would be interesting to review, for example, whether women in positions of power exert real influence over policies. Or how gender dynamics block or facilitate change.

So, for instance, a political economy analysis of Malaysia's economic success ought to consider that it's underpinned by the institutionalisation of gendered and racial inequalities. Businesses regularly recruit female migrants with lower social capital and higher vulnerability, and pay them a lower wage than men (Griffin, 2007).

Where a PEA might ask 'Does the political executive provide for regular, open, inclusive competition for political power?', a gendered PEA would also ask 'Are women and men equally able to access positions of political power?'. Questions about what voters expect their elected representatives to deliver should probably also ask whether men and women want different things from their representatives. Not to mention whether male and female representatives are expected to – or even able to – deliver the same results.

In the short desk-based study I did for DFID, some lessons emerged about how a gender analysis can inform PEAs. Certain sectors are defined in gendered terms – 'women's work' or 'men's work'. Very practically, the interests of bureaucratic agencies can be gendered and have an impact on gender equality; if a ministry of women or social affairs is in charge of a programme, it is more likely to include gender equality goals than a ministry of finance or rural development (Jones and Holmes, 2011). And finally, gender analysis allows the inclusion of different and possibly competing voices.

There are, of course, counter-arguments. PEA does not refer to any specific demographic groups in its tools. So why should an analysis pay more attention to women than, say, ethnic minorities or young people? The argument goes that PEA isn't social analysis, it is – the clue is in the name – political and economic. PEA tools are many, varied, and differently applied. I've reviewed only a small selection, so I expect that some do include gender when it appears relevant.

But the fact remains that PEA is very much about power analysis. This clearly echoes the thrust of feminist and gender studies and yet PEA doesn't appear to draw on this established body of work. It's not in doubt that the political economy of most countries is male-dominated, and that states and governments tend to be patriarchal. But it's rare to find a political economy analyst who uses this as part of their analysis, unless they have an explicitly feminist perspective.

That PEA in general lacks a strong analysis of real politics and power is the central argument of a forthcoming DLP paper by Hudson and Leftwich (summary here, PDF 211 KB). This may partly explain why gendered power is missing from most PEA tools.

As they so succinctly put it (p.3): "Ultimately, if you wish to defeat poverty, prepare to address the power and the politics that keeps people poor. That's why political analysis matters."

And, I would add, also why gender matters to Political Economy Analysis.



Evie Browne

14th February 2014 at 10:17

Thanks Rebecca! It's great to know there are others working on this issue as well. If you have a link for the Nepal work you could post it here. I'd be very happy to collect more good examples of how PEA can include gender, as best practice resources.


Rebecca Calder

13th February 2014 at 17:15

Well done Evie. I have been working for 2 years with AusAID/DFAT in the design and delivery of a poverty and social analysis (PSA) course, In this course we explore and interrogate a number of approaches and frameworks used for PSA analysis. One of the types of analysis we look at is PEA, and a strong critique is always it's gender blindness. As you rightly note, PEA is not intrinsically gender blind, but it does appear to be the way PEA has traditionally been "done". A great exception to this is Lynn Bennett's work in Nepal, on the second Gender and Social Exclusion Assessment (supported by DFID, the WB and ADB). A brilliant piece of PEA, with a liberal dose of gender and social analysis interlaced throughout.

Leave a comment

The views expressed in Opinions posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of DLP, the Australian Government or DLP's partner organisations.


Evie Browne

Evie Browne

Evie is a GSDRC Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham. She can be found on Twitter @EvieBrowne.

Read more

Related items

Gender in impact evaluation: norms as well as numbers

Sex-disaggregated data tells us little about the gender-related impact of an intervention, argues DLP research fellow Gillian Fletcher, since gender is a process of judgement linked to norms about femininity or masculinity.

Opinion by Gillian Fletcher27th November 2015

Pacific power: new femininities and women's leadership in the Pacific

The educated, internationally connected women who are changing the way 'development' is done

Opinion by Ceridwen Spark24th June 2014

Climate change and adaptation in the Pacific Islands: watering down women's security?

Beyond 'adaptability'? In this guest post, Nicole George highlights the work of women leaders who are challenging a narrow adaptation agenda.

Opinion by Nicole George7th March 2014

Political analysis as the practical art of the possible

Bringing politics back into PEA - a new paper with Adrian Leftwich

Opinion by David Hudson24th July 2014

More room for politics in the inequality debate?

Inequality, a hot topic since Pikettymania, and the theme of the DLP conference earlier this year, has resurfaced with a vengeance.

Opinion by David Hudson24th June 2015

Cancer and the links between medicine and development

DLP Senior Research Partner discusses what cancer has taught him about the links between medicine and development. Guest post for From Poverty to Power.

Opinion by Chris Roche15th April 2015

What's in a name? Leadership as more than the 'big men' and 'big women' of history

A more nuanced understanding of good developmental leadership demands a shift away from the conventional focus on 'big' individuals.

Opinion by Heather Lyne de Ver11th February 2014

Forgotten South Sudan tangled in factionalism and failed politics

A toxic blend of complex historical identity politics and short-term elite politicking

Opinion by Jonathan Fisher4th September 2014

'Sticky’ change: What international development can learn from adaptive management

Promoting and sustaining individual behavioural change is as important as building flexibility into development programming.

Opinion by Greg Power2nd December 2016

Developmental leaders, 'dirty hands', and the dark side of collaboration

Should donors support developmental leaders who gain or keep power through questionable means? 

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi11th December 2013

The politics of redistribution: we need you

Share your thoughts on episodes of redistribution that have helped redress inequality, and help us shape new research into the politics behind them. 

Opinion by David Hudson16th October 2014

Politics shape services; and services shape politics

How governance and sector specialists can help each other understand the politics of service delivery

Opinion by Richard Batley19th June 2014

Somaliland's route to peace

Have donors overlooked the role played in development by secondary education? Reflections on new research on peacebuilding in Somaliland. 

Opinion by Sarah Phillips12th December 2013

The curious case of Indian autocracy and what it tells us about 'thinking and working politically'

The history of India’s largely forgotten shift to autocracy and its return to democracy can tell us much about how change happens.

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi25th June 2015

Welcome to DLP's blog

Welcome to DLP's new blog on politics, power, policy and developmental leadership

Opinion by Heather Marquette10th December 2013

Taking the Results agenda to the next level?

In The Politics of Evidence and Results in International Development, Chris Roche and his fellow editors examine how practitioners have navigated, resisted and used the ‘results agenda’ for more transformational ends.

Opinion by Chris Roche15th July 2015

Thinking about women and girls makes development work better for everyone

A look at what happens when gender analysis is placed more squarely at the heart of governance work. (Guest post in The Conversation)

Opinion by Orlanda Siow7th March 2017

The Medellin model: don't forget the political processes

Medellin's transformation has not just been a technical fix. The political changes behind social urbanism are an essential element of understanding what has happened in the city.

Opinion by Kate Maclean2nd November 2015

Parliamentary strengthening: the IDC report

Parliaments - and the political parties that populate them - are the institutions people trust least. Guest post for ODI's Shaping Policy for Development blog.

Opinion by Tam O'Neil9th February 2015

Connections, contradictions and the political economy of attention

Thoughts on two sources of new and useful ideas about the deeper structures that might shape creativity.

Opinion by Chris Roche7th May 2015

When the stars align to tackle inequality

Reflections on the 2015 DLP annual conference.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal18th February 2015

Medellin - more than a miracle

Bad news sells. And for news editors looking for horror stories to recycle, Colombia's second largest city used to be a reliable source.

Opinion by Cheryl Stonehouse4th March 2014

Two remarkable transitions: lessons from Oman and Somaliland

What we can learn from areas of stability and calm in regions where near neighbours seem to be struggling to resolve strife.

Opinion by Sarah Phillips20th July 2015

It's all about inclusion, but how?

Shifting the focus of development intervention from form to the actual practice and distribution of power. (Guest post for the World Bank Governance for Development blog)

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal6th April 2016

Gender analysis, and thinking and working politically – bridging the gap

Guest post on Devpolicy  introducing panels at this week's Australasian Aid Conference

Opinion by Chris Roche14th February 2017

Politics - the problem and solution to poor services?

One of the most influential and enduring World Development Reports ever produced – Making Services Work for Poor People – is a decade old this year.

Opinion by Claire Mcloughlin13th March 2014

Perceptions of women in politics in Fiji: how to accelerate change?

Women are widely seen as entirely capable of taking on political leadership in Fiji. Yet when asked to think about 'leaders', many automatically see men in the role.

Opinion by Rachel Fairhurst20th January 2015

Politics, risk and development: three takeaways

Reflections from last week's Australasian Aid Conference and DLP’s 2016 Annual Conference, both hosted at Australian universities. 

Opinion by Chris Roche19th February 2016

Adding gender and power to the TWP agenda

Gender relations are full-blown power relationships. Yet in the development context, they are too often seen as value-neutral cultural arrangements. 

Opinion by Sally Moyle6th August 2015

Fiji's Roshika Deo - outlier, positive deviant or simply feisty feminist?

Priya Chattier will speak at DLP's 2016 Annual Conference. Her post here begins a short series on the conference theme of Power, politics and positive deviance.

Opinion by Priya Chattier 1st February 2016

Rules of thumb for women leaders in the Pacific, and beyond

Guest post for The Interpreter on 'Being the First'

Opinion by Ceridwen Spark22nd February 2018

Is developmental patrimonialism a dead end?

The key role of leadership succession rules and effective institutions in sustaining the success of high-growth autocracies.

Opinion by Tim Kelsall27th September 2016

What do we do on Monday? Political settlements in theory and practice

Can donors, researchers, policymakers and practitioners all agree on what we mean when we talk about 'political settlements'?

Opinion by Edward Laws15th July 2015

Inequality – the politics behind the policies

On the eve of the 2015 DLP Conference, Deputy Director David Hudson kicks off discussion on the conference theme - the politics of inequality.

Opinion by David Hudson11th February 2015

Using aid to strengthen Parliaments: fix the car, or worry about the driver?

Parliaments have always been treated as the poor cousins of democracy assistance efforts. (Guest post for From Poverty to Power)

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal24th November 2014

#Feminism: Digital technologies and feminist activism in Fiji

Guest post on Devpolicy on DLP work with research partners at University of the South Pacific.

Opinion by Tait Brimacombe14th March 2017

Gender and power: six links and one big opportunity

Donors have recently made great efforts to understand power in partner countries. Yet they have largely ignored one of the most pervasive power relations – gender.

Opinion by Diana Koester21st May 2015

Identifying rebels with a cause (and effect)

The Developmental Leadership Program will host its 2016 Annual Conference at La Trobe University in Melbourne on 8 February. Its theme is Power, politics and positive deviance.

Opinion by Chris Roche1st December 2015

What's so 'African' about African leadership?

Does a focus on 'African' leadership obscure the rich and diverse nature of Africa's many states and get in the way of useful lessons from other parts of the world?

Opinion by Suda Perera1st April 2014

Creative expression and women's empowerment in the Pacific

Through photography, theatre, dance and song, young Fijian women are finding new avenues for public expression and activism.

Opinion by Tait Brimacombe19th March 2015

The road to transparency in resource-rich Myanmar

Myanmar's resource management transparency process has joined government, business and civil society actors in collective action for the first time.  

Opinion by Taylor Brown1st April 2016

Education against the odds: the work of a women's coalition in Papua New Guinea

PNG's BPW Port Moresby, a case study for a DLP research project, is an impressive example of local women networking without donor assistance to advance gender equity.

Opinion by Ceridwen Spark14th January 2016

How can a gendered understanding of power and politics make development work more effective?

Guest post for From Poverty to Power on the launch of the 'Gender and Politics in Practice' findings

Opinion by Helen Derbyshire13th February 2018

Gender - the power relationship that Political Economy Analysis forgot?

While most development research is well on the way to embedding gender analysis, PEA - many donors' key analytical tool - largely ignores it.


Opinion by Evie Browne13th February 2014

Coalitions for inclusion in Indonesia: communities and government tackling discrimination together

Following up to Luke Arnold on coalitions for disability inclusion in Indonesia, Angie Bexley introduces broader work on the inclusion of six marginalised groups.

Opinion by Angie Bexley22nd August 2016

Don't give up on government

Can the World Bank's flagship World Development Report inspire a good governance revolution that delivers development gains?

Opinion by Dan Hymowitz3rd February 2017

Political settlements: people and the landscapes of power

The inescapable conundrum that politics involves actual politicians is one reason why the subject of political settlements generates so much debate.

Opinion by Alan Whaites24th July 2015

Bringing Political Economy Analysis in from the cold

Once seen as a 'transformative' tool to change donor thinking, does much PEA now do little to help staff think and work politically?

Opinion by Jonathan Fisher6th May 2014

What are governance advisers missing with 'Political Economy Analysis'?

DLP's contribution to a new-style field guide for development practitioners. Guest post in FP2P

Opinion by David Hudson8th October 2015

Uncounted: has the post-2015 data revolution failed already?

The Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report tells us that how we measure affects what we do; and if our measurements are flawed, decisions may be distorted.

Opinion by Alex Cobham12th May 2015

DLP political settlements workshop: reflections

A practitioner considers how the intangible nature of power can be discussed and included in a policy framework. 

Opinion by Astrid Jamar22nd July 2015