An extensive literature is dedicated to examining the proliferation of private sector-led, market-based approaches to address gender inequality. Drawing on insights from feminist environmentalism and environmental sociology, I explore how and why this phenomenon is connected to the environmental crisis. First, I analyze the World Bank’s gender strategy papers for 2001–2023. I highlight the organization's role in entrenching a neoliberal discourse of women's empowerment that erases socio-ecological contexts. Next, I provide an overview of Project Shakti, a women’s empowerment program run by Hindustan Unilever, a subsidiary of the Unilever conglomerate and a corporate partner of the World Bank. Secondary data on program outcomes show that the organization’s selective use of gendered ideologies has increased HUL's rural market share. On the other hand, the benefits for participants are less clear, particularly when considered in the context of the program’s social and environmental footprint. Finally, I present the Exxon Mobil's Foundation's gender portfolio to illustrate how exclusive networks and non-participatory program evaluations have been used by private sector actors to normalize an understanding of women's wellbeing that is devoid of environmental considerations. Together, these cases illustrate how feminist ideals have been used to support elite economic agendas with high environmental costs, while also marginalizing those who seek sustainable development through systemic reform. This phenomenon exacerbates an environmental crisis that disproportionately affects the people these programs purport to empower.
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Research Article| September 29 2020
The Empowerment Paradox: Exploring the Implications of Neoliberalized Feminism for Sustainable Development
Sociology of Development (2020) 6 (3): 296–317.
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Orla Kelly; The Empowerment Paradox: Exploring the Implications of Neoliberalized Feminism for Sustainable Development. Sociology of Development 29 September 2020; 6 (3): 296–317. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/sod.2020.6.3.296
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