Linda Kelly, Director of Praxis Consultants and co-Director at the Institute, discusses the importance of including those excluded from mainstream development when thinking and working politically.
Ongoing research and practice experience suggests that allowing more control and direction by those excluded from mainstream development is often the best way to ensure both innovative and effective development strategies.
For example, development work has embraced the idea that thinking and working politically (TWP) provides new insights and new approaches to supporting positive change. The approach has led to some considerable challenge to conventional development strategies. However recent review has identified the lack of gender analysis within the essential tools that underpin TWP (Brown 2014). Further, that tools such as political economic analysis (PEA) are in danger of becoming reduced to technical fixes, rather than the transformative processes originally intended (Fisher & Marquette 2014). This in turn undermines the potential for PEA and TWP to support development agencies to work in creative ways for change. Inequalities are simply maintained and reproduced in programs. Development remains transactional and rarely transformational.
An alternative approach is to start by thinking and working politically from the perspective of those people excluded by the current political and social conditions. This includes women and people with disability.
This is far from easy. Often the starting point is less about the identified problem and more about facilitating the conditions of empowerment and connection that are required for women and others to apply their knowledge about the situation and have space to start to create solutions. Two brief examples from PNG illustrate what this might mean in practice.
The first is the campaign that emerged following the sorcery killings in PNG. While the motivation for the campaign of action was undoubtedly triggered by the horrendous killings and subsequent publicity, the effective outcomes appear to have been driven by informed analysis from multiple perspectives across organisational, economic and social lines. Women from within government and the public sector bureaucracy came together with women from church agencies and community groups and each contributed to strategies that shifted what had been a recalcitrant government towards action in a short space of time. The strength of the campaign appear to have been the diversity of women and organisations involved, inclusiveness of the campaign and its highly informed insight into who had power and what needed to be challenged. But the women driving this campaign did not emerge by accident. Many of the leaders are women who have worked for a long time in their communities and organisations for change. They have well-developed and well-tuned analysis of politics and power in Papua New Guinea. In order to have maintained and obtained their positions in the public service, private organisations and community leadership they have had to think and work politically every day.
A further example is the FHI360 program. What started as a HIV prevention activity in PNG shifted to focus on sexual violence and challenging social norms that perpetuated this violence. The program utilised community mobilisers in the provinces and worked with those mobilisers, mostly women, to support their sense of agency and enable them to develop skills in organising and communication. The women brought contacts, local knowledge and experience of lack of power and a fined tuned understanding of what maintained the situation for themselves and other women. Over time the mobilisers were supported to act in the local community to facilitate positive social change. In turn this increased their sense of agency and community standing and thus their opportunities for action within the community. From this position they could then draw upon their analysis and understanding of the local situation to start to challenge persistent norms which underpinned situations of violence and danger for women.
These examples suggest that thinking and working politically might therefore involve supporting programs of empowerment for excluded groups so those people gain the skills, agency and opportunity to work for change; to enable people to analyse and challenge their current situation and to ask questions about ‘how it can be different?’ These processes take time and require donors and NGOs work with excluded groups rather than on their behalf. However for those interested in TWP as a transformative change process they may well be essential inclusions.