Adele N. Norris Doctoral Candidate Public Policy University of Arkansas Women’s Voices: Intersectionality and the Empowerment of Rural Women Future Research Directions
Rural Poverty Over the years it has been noted that poverty is not a random occurrence but it is more acute among population subgroups defined by race (minority groups), gender (women), and age (elderly and children). Only recently have poverty scholars recognized that severe and persistent poverty is highly correlated with the accumulation of subordinate social identities. Although poverty rates in the rural U.S. have been persistently high, poverty is experienced differently among individuals living in the same communities due to varying social locations. The solutions to ameliorate poverty largely depend on how the poor are perceived by policy makers. These perceptions are shaped by what is reflected in academic research.
Example: Experiences of Poverty by Population Sub-groups R, E, G & A depicted as separate entities? (Henslin, 2006)
Future Policy Research Directions Consequently, the development of more appropriate policies benefiting poor rural women located at the intersection of multiple discriminations necessitate: 1) The development of initiatives beyond the practical approaches to incorporate strategic approaches; 2) That academic research captures how the simultaneity of race/ethnicity, gender, and/or class hinders effective policy approaches; and 3) That the standpoints of diverse social groups are captured, particularly the voices of women who have been historically locked out of mainstream discourse.
Extant ResearchU.S. Microenterprise Research Currently, the emerging U.S. microenterprise research primarily focuses on: Its effectiveness as an anti-poverty strategy; Its capabilities to create jobs and businesses especially from the perspective of barriers to entrepreneurship in the U.S. vs. the developing world; Its ability to revitalize low-income communities; and Its function as an alternative to welfare.
Absent from U.S. Microenterprise Literature A careful deliberation of whether the U.S. microenterprise programs work the same for different stakeholder/beneficiaries, and Do they, in fact, function as a means to increase women’s empowerment? These deficiencies are of particular importance given that a central goal of microenterprise programs is to target small loans toward individuals facing higher levels of adversity.
Women’s Empowerment Scholarship Most of the literature examining women’s empowerment initiatives, including microfinance programs, has emerged out of third world feminist scholarship and grass roots efforts. However, some scholars emphasize that poor U.S. women share some important commonalities with their third world counterparts. Ex. Seitz (1995) examines the needs of marginalized U.S. Appalachia women employing Moser’s 1989 “gender planning” conceptual framework whereby she advances the historically silenced voices of women from this marginalized region.
EmpowermentMultiple Understandings/Measurements within the context of Microfinance Monetary perceive an increase income or savings as a sufficient indication satisfies only the primary objective of the program of poverty alleviation Non-Monetary socioeconomic definitions consider the social milieu whereby women operate at three levels –the individual, household, and the macro decision-making obtaining power (and control over resources) as opposed to decision-making
Empowerment Defined Employing a definition formulated from Moser’s (1993) “gender planning” framework, women’s empowerment is defined according to the capacity policies and programs have to meet strategic gender needs, which includes the increase of self-reliance and decision-making power that contribute to gender equality, directly and/or indirectly through bottom-up mobilization around practical gender needs.
Diversity of Women’s ExperiencesFuture Direction #2 Given the complexity of women’s location at the intersection of gender, race, and class relations, the alternative development framework must acknowledge diversity of women’s experiences and integrate voices marginalized by the existence of multiple inequalities.
Critiques of Extant Race, Gender and Class Research A plethora of race, gender and class research exits carving out an established niche within sociology It is within this context of viewing them as operating independently of one another that intersectionality has emerged as a way to understand their interactive nature. Moreover, the tendency to treat the categories race, gender and class as separate, fixed, and/or descriptive categories engenders profound implications.
The notion of simultaneity purports to explain that the social inequalities based on race, gender, class, & age do not function independently of each other; instead they operate as interlocking structures of hierarchal power relations
Intersecting oppression constructing and influencing a particular social location can be seen as historically and context specific
Any one of the categories, race, gender and class may be more significant, salient or experienced differently in a given situation that can only be discerned via empirical research
Intersectionality Attempts to capture both structure and dynamic consequences of the interaction between two or more axes of subordination Race and gender seemed to be conceptualized as non-overlapping categories; White women have gender, while women of color apparently have only race Allows to view people’s identities as multifaceted and context specific; it crosses disciplinary boundaries
Race, Class, & Gender: The Simultaneity of Oppression Race Gender Class
Proposed Alternative Future Direction # 3 Since community-based participatory research suggest that the individuals for whom programs and/or policies target are the most valuable resources for social change, the lack of input from microenterprise program participants creates an impediment to evaluating the program and developing better solutions. Hence, it is essential that microenterprise literature capture the voices and standpoints of different groups participating in these programs. Community-based participatory research is mutually enhancing with Black Feminist Thought epistemological framework in an effort to bring women’s voices to the center.
First, to synthesize Collin’s (2000) intersectional concept of “the matrix of domination,” which refers to the notion that the oppression of gender, race and class are all interconnected and originate, develop and are reproduced via social institutions such as schools, housing, employment, government, etc. and Moser’s (1993) concept of the “strategic gender needs.”
Second, according to the standpoint and emancipatory practice approaches, it is imperative to highlight the agency of women and women’s voices, especially minority women, to bring their issues to the forefront of various social movements. Moreover, it is imperative to conceive of policy-making as a collaborative process which emerges from the bottom up and to emphasize the importance of having local actors to take on leadership roles at the community level.
Provide insight for future studies investigating the complexities of assessing empowerment among diverse marginalized populations
Encourage a dialogue between an intersectionality perspective, strategic gender needs and women empowerment agendas
Inform policymakers of how policy outcomes may vary contingent upon the social context influenced by individual’s social locations
Inform programs directors and policymakers alike of the complex constraints hindering the program/policy implementation process
Provide policymakers with more constructive information in an effort to design and implement more effective policies and programs that also translate into practice as researchers begin filling in the gap of addressing the lack of understanding regarding women’s complex social locations