’The Girl Effect’: Liberalism, Empowerment, and the Contradictions of Development

Hickel, Jason. 2014. ’The Girl Effect’: Liberalism, Empowerment, and the Contradictions of Development. Third World Quarterly, 35(8), pp. 1355-1373. ISSN 0143-6597 [Article]

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The ‘girl effect’ – the idea that investment in the skills and labour of young women is the key to stimulating economic growth and reducing poverty in the global South – has recently become a key development strategy of the World Bank, the imf, usaid and dfid, in partnership with corporations such as Nike and Goldman Sachs. This paper examines the logic of this discourse and its stance towards kinship in the global South, situating it within the broader rise of ‘gender equality’ and ‘women’s empowerment’ as development objectives over the past two decades. Empowerment discourse, and the ‘capability’ approach on which it is based, has become popular because it taps into ideals of individual freedom that are central to the Western liberal tradition. But this project shifts attention away from more substantive drivers of poverty – structural adjustment, debt, tax evasion, labour exploitation, financial crisis, etc – as it casts blame for underdevelopment on local forms of personhood and kinship. As a result, women and girls are made to bear the responsibility for bootstrapping themselves out of poverty that is caused by external institutions – and often the very ones that purport to save them.

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development, women’s empowerment, gender equality, girl effect, neoliberalism

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3 October 2014Published Online

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17 Nov 2017 11:46

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17 Nov 2017 11:46

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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