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analyzing gender and power

Gender analysis is critical to understand the differences between the lives of women and men as well as girls and boys in terms of their relationships, their roles, their responsibilities, and the gendered expectations placed upon them around what is acceptable, desirable or even possible. 

For CARE’s work, a solid understanding of gender and power is critical to adapt programs to local realities. Solid gender analyses can build a firm and grounded understanding of the diverse needs, priorities, perceptions and interests among members of a community. Further, CARE must understand how dynamics of power and gender roles affect who can participate, who may benefit and who may lose from new interventions.

 Points to Remember

Analyzing gender and empowerment, it is critical to remember that women are diverse in their preferences, identity, interests and experiences and interpretations of inclusion/exclusion, power and empowerment.

Any research on gender must remain aware of how women across different age, race, class, occupational, and other relevant categories may experience and interpret power and empowerment differently. Even within the same categories, studies on women’s empowerment should make space for diverse viewpoints and be aware of generalizing women into a single category.

As we measure gender relations and women’s empowerment over time, we must remember the women's empowerment framework, and position any individual gains within the wider perspective that analyzes the implications of changes in terms of relations and structures.

This “widescreen” perspective helps us understand the implications surrounding women’s lives, in order to develop, adapt and align our strategies in response to a changing environment and in pursuit of a long-term goal.

Power and Gender Analysis

At the heart of many gendered relations and roles are issues of power. Gender analyses must take into account the multiple types of power, and how they relate to CARE’s Women’s Empowerment Framework.  Citing Giddens, CARE’s SII discussions highlight a number of key characteristics of power that should be taken into account for analyses of power and gender.
Characteristics of power 
  1. Women (and men) hold multiple roles and relationships. With each, their level of power can vary. 
  2. Power can be economic, political, social, cultural and symbolic. People are rarely powerful in (nor powerless across) all forms. 
  3. Power is not a zero-sum game. 
  4. Power is socially constructed. 
  5. A person’s experience of power can depend on their gender, race, class, age, etc. 

What does this mean for gender analysis and understanding women's empowerment?

  • Gender and women’s empowerment must be viewed across the multiple spheres and relationships of a woman’s life.
  • It is important to situate analyses of gender and power into the context of economic, environmental, socio-cultural and institutional conditions both at the local and intermediate, as well as the macro level. Further, we can analyze the links between trends and changes across these levels.
  • Gender analysis should touch upon the gender dimensions in economic, political/policy, legal, infrastructure/systems, social, cultural, as well as normative aspects of power.
  • Measuring women’s empowerment must be rooted in a local understanding of gender norms and women’s own definitions of empowerment, which can change over time.
  • Issues of gender and power do not take place within a vacuum. An analysis of gender must take into account the interplay and connections of gender across race and ethnicity, class and caste, age and position within the household, sexual orientation, etc.
  • Further, even within categories of class, race, etc., women are diverse and will experience and define power and empowerment differently. As such, any analysis should take into account women’s diverse interpretations of empowerment and power in their lives, their perceptions of themselves and others, their experiences of inclusion and exclusion, and how their identity may shape capabilities and power.

Understanding Power

Taken together, these concepts on power and empowerment help shape how we can begin to analyze gender across multiple levels and contexts. Thinking about power, requires us to look at characteristics and dynamics of power across:  

Life Cycle Phases

  • From Infancy and Early childhood, through adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood and old age

Levels of Power

  • From the individual to global levels.

Spheres of Power

Various spheres of power comprise a context. For example, Phase III of the SII outlined a number of spheres that it identified as important for its study on women’s empowerment and HIV vulnerability, which include:
  • Economic : access to markets, credit, trade, savings, etc.;
  • Political/policy : social and welfare schemes, women’s representation in administrative structures, changes in policies;
  • Legal : legal and judicial environment and its protection of vulnerable groups
  • Social/cultural : gender roles, interpersonal relationships, attitudes, values and practices around gender-based violence, sexuality and control over one’s body, conflict-resolution practices, etc.;
  • Normative factors : gender norms, systems of inheritance, polygamy;
  • Infrastructures/systems : the conditions in the workplace or in basic services like health, education, etc.; and

Forms of Power

As discussed in the SII Women’s Empowerment Overview, there are various forms of power:

  • Personal power (Power Within, Power To):  The power within and power to know, pursue and achieve one’s interests.
  • Cooperative power (Power With): The power with others to work together to pursue one’s collective interests.
  • Controlling power (Power Over): The power over others through rules and governing processes (visible), through determining who has the right to participate in decision-making and the settings in which people interact (invisible), as well as through the power to define what is possible, reasonable or logical within a given context through shaping ideologies of kinship, capitalism, religion, science and education (hidden).

Spaces of Power

The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) also describes spaces or forums where decision-making takes place and forums for action take shape. Its power cube approach (, identifies three key spaces of power:

  • Closed spaces: spaces where decisions take place that are made by a small set of actors behind closed doors with no intent to broaden inclusiveness. These decisions can have great impact on many people's lives but are off-limits to particular people or groups. 
  • Invited spaces: More inclusive spaces where a broader group of people are consulted in decisions. This space can result from the demands of excluded groups to open previously closed spaces, and may be institutionalized.
  • Claimed spaces: Spaces with less powerful or excluded groups create for themselves to debate, disuss and resist apart from institutionalized (invited, closed) spaces. This may be a more 'organic' space that emerges through popular mobilization.

In studying the dynamics of power, it is not only important to look for various forms, spaces and spheres of power across multiple levels, but to build an understanding of how they inter-relate with one another.

  • How do trends at the national level affect people’s lives at the household level?
  • How do injustices in workplace conditions or service provision (infrastructure) link with gender norms or patriarchal systems (normative)?
  • How does growing confidence and awareness of women on rights and equality (power within) lead them to forge stronger relations with one another and collectively mobilize to ensure their equitable participation in community decision-making (power with).
Gaining a firm understanding of the particular social, economic and political context is essential for clarity on what changes matter for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

CARE's Women's Empowerment Framework

To help teams assess women’s empowerment, CARE’s SII developed a women’s empowerment framework that captures aspects of power to, with and over. Though women’s empowerment varies across specific contexts, the SII understands women’s empowerment as the sum total of changes needed for a woman to realize her full human rights, which involves the interplay of changes in:

Women's Empowerment Domains

  • Agency : a woman’s own aspirations and capabilities
  • Structures : the environment that surrounds and conditions her choices
  • Relations : the power relations through which she must negotiate her path

Each domain - agency, structures and relations - are closely related and interlinked with one another and sustainable progress toward women's empowerment must be anchored in inter-related changes spanning each of these domains.

More detailed discussions outlining the women's empowerment framework, and related resources, can be found at the Women's Empowerment Framework Page of the SII Library.

Other Frameworks for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment

CARE's women's empowerment framework is rooted in these key concepts of power and empowerment, in addition to a review of other existing frameworks for understanding gender and power. While this site does not articulate each of these frameworks in great detail, Oxfam's Guide to Gender Analysis Frameworks offers a helpful explanation, and case studies on each:

  • The Harvard Analytical Framework / People-Oriented Planning Frameworklooks at gendered divisions in both productive (agriculture, income generating, employment) and reproductive (water, fuel, food preparation, health, cleaning, repair) activities. If further explores divisions in access and control over resources and benefits, influencing factors within the environment that contribute to or offer opportunities affecting activities and access, in addition to a checklist of gender considerations for each phase of the project-cycle.
  • The Moser Framework (Caroline Moser) analyzes the multiple roles women take on (reproductive, productive and community). In addition, the framework also analyzes the gendered needs, both practical (those that contribute to women's current activities like water, healthcare and food) as well as strategic (those that would enable the transformation of power imbalance and gender inequity such as gendered division of labor, reproductive rights / violence against women). This model also seeks to disaggregate gendered control over resources and decision-making within the household, and asks teams to reflect with women and partners on how projects may affect each of these dynamics.
  • The Gender Analysis Matrix (Rani Parker), looks across four levels: women, men, households and communities to analyze the dynamics of / impacts on labor, time, resources and socio-cultural factors.
  • Capacities and Vulnerabilities Analysis Framework (International Relief and Development, Harvard University), looks at a) Physical and Material; b) Social and Organizational; as well as c) Motivational and Attitudinal capacities and vulnerabilities in relation to gender and emergencies. Analyses are disaggregated across class (rich, middle and poor) and gender (men and women), and is repeated over time to understand dynamics of change in a given context. 
  • Longwe's Empowerment Framework (Sara Hlupekile Longwe), which views empowerment through a continuum of welfare, access, conscientization, participation and control
  • The Social Relations Approach (Naila Kabeer), which focuses on increasing human well-being and analyzing social relations as well as (state,  market, community, family/kinship) institutions.


For training on power, see the Silent Power Tool


  • Participation, Power and Social Change Team (2010). Powercube website. Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussez:
  • CARE (2009). Women’s Empowerment SII Framework. CARE. Available at CARE’s Women’s Empowerment Strategic Impact Inquiry Library. Available at:
  • D Wu (2009), Women’s Empowerment Overview Discussion. CARE. Available at CARE’s Women’s Empowerment Strategic Impact Inquiry Library. Available at:
  • E Martinez (2005). Basic Concepts of Power. CARE. Available at Module 2 of CARE’s Women’s Empowerment Strategic Impact Inquiry Methodological Compendium:
  • L VeneKlasen and V Miller (2002). A New Weave of Power, People & Politics: The Action Guide for Advocacy and Citizen Participation. Just Associates. Available at:
  • C March, I Smyth and M Mukhopadhyay (1999). A Guide to Gender-Analysis Frameworks. Oxford: Oxfam.
  • S Williams, J Seed and A Mwau (1994). The Oxfam Gender Training Manual. Oxfam UK and Ireland.