Decentralization, Local Power and Women’s Rights

IDRC International Development Research Centre, CRDI Centre de Recherches pour le Développement International


Decentralization has become a widespread development strategy in the global South, and is transforming the structure of governance. Decentralization policies have often been presented as strengthening democracy and citizen participation, particularly among those who have been marginalized from government decision-making. Defined as the transfer of authority and responsibility from central to regional, municipal or local governments, decentralized local governance has also been espoused as a means to promoting the more equitable sharing of economic opportunities and responsibilities.

Women, in particular, should benefit from decentralized public services, resources, and decision-making because it is felt that they are more likely to be concerned with things that are homebound and local. But is this really the case?

Since 2004, IDRC has supported more than 14 research projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America to find out more. This research has shown that while women’s political participation and representation in decision-making may have increased in certain instances, decentralization reforms do not automatically benefit women, and can even put them at a disadvantage.

This page features the research findings from these projects. It also contains links to the presentations and results of an international conference on Decentralization, Local Power, and Women’s Rights held in Mexico City in November 2008 and co-hosted by IDRC, the Government of Mexico, and the United Nations Development Programme, along with several other key organizations.​ This conference brought together more than 500 policy-makers, national and local government officials, researchers, civil society and grassroots activists as well as representatives of international agencies from more than 50 countries. As a result of the conference, a set of policy recommendations were developed which time, define a global agenda on gender and decentralization. It is intended as a resource for action, to be taken up by policy-makers, politicians, multilateral, bilateral and donor agencies, and civil society organizations seeking to promote and protect equal, equitable, and effective citizenship for all people. These can be found here.



Universitas Forum is produced by the Universitas Programme of the KIP International School (Knowledge, Innovations, Policies and Territorial Practices for the UN Millennium Platform).

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