UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Empowerment power : NGOs and feminisms in Dar es Salaam Allan, Emily


In this thesis, I examine circulating discourses of “women’s empowerment” in Dar es Salaam, one of Africa’s urban epicentres of NGOization. Through the ethnographic fieldwork that I conducted in Dar es Salaam’s NGO sphere from May to August of 2016, I illustrate why development critique and intersectional feminisms must emphasize agency and variation, and avoid falling into binaries and Eurocentrism. Based on participant observation in “local” and “expat” circles, and formal interviews with Tanzanian NGO workers, I address the following questions: how does development discourse in Tanzania use tropes of women’s empowerment? Whom do these discourses serve? In what ways do participants’ comments on development speak to their geopolitical locations, race, class and gendered positionalities? I argue that “empowerment” language is easily co-opted to obscure structural inequalities among international and local agents, as well as the state and its citizenry. I caution against simplistic and prescriptive applications of critiques of “Western” development activities and white liberal feminism in an analysis of how empowerment discourse too often produces narrow images of power, recognizing that empowerment discourses are strategically activated within differing contexts and must be examined in their particularities.

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