The Learning Post: insights from UK Aid Match

Reflections on women's empowerment

Episode Summary

In March 2018, the former Department for International Development, now the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, paid tribute to murdered MP Jo Cox and launched the Jo Cox Memorial Grants in her name. In this episode we speak with Alethea Osborne, Technical Specialist for MannionDaniels on Gender and Social Development about women's empowerment and a new framework on this subject.

Episode Transcription

Laura Else [00:00 – 1:19] Hello and welcome to the Learning Post. A new podcast dedicated to sharing insights and learning from the UK Aid Direct and UK Aid Match funds. My name is Laura Else, and I am the Communications Specialist for UK Aid Direct and your host for this episode.

In March 2018, the former Department for International Development, now the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, paid tribute to murdered MP Jo Cox and launched the Jo Cox Memorial Grants in her name. 

These grants were to come from a one-off, £10 million pot within UK Aid Direct, for projects working on two themes: preventing identity-based violence and conflict prevention, as well as women’s empowerment. 

And women’s empowerment is what I am here to talk about in this episode with Technical Specialist for MannionDaniels on Gender and Social Development, Alethea Osborne. 

Alethea, thank you for joining me. I wonder if you could give our listeners some background on the Jo Cox projects and particularly those working to support women’s empowerment overseas. 

Alethea Osborne [1:20 – 2:37] So, thanks Laura. Yes, as you mentioned the Jo Cox projects are all up and running now and many of them are over one year into implementation. And so we, as fund managers, really wanted to give an opportunity to dig into some of their learnings and think about what women’s empowerment really looks and feels like for them. 

I feel really lucky in my role at MannionDaniels as a Technical Specialist for MannionDaniels on Gender and Social Development because I have the opportunity to look across the different funds we manage and think about what some of these topics and themes really mean for the grant holder. And by looking into that, we can understand what does empowerment in practice look like and therefore how can we best support grant holders who are trying to work on the issue. 

So, within this cohort, Jo Cox Memorial Grants, we have a unique opportunity because they have all started at a similar time, they are all working on similar themes. But having said, that there are huge commonalities and learnings but there are also differences and things that we can take from that. 

There are eight Network and six Strengthening grants in this group and we wanted to create something that was beyond the normal monitoring and reporting and that was instead, a bit of a feedback loop or a community of practice as it were, or a movement building aspect where the grant holders can come together and share their learnings, and by asking them simple things like how they define empowerment and what that means for them and the people that they work for, we can start to understand what that looks like day to day.     

Laura Else [2:27 – 2:49] Alethea, thank you so much. It sounds really interesting. Did you have any expectations as to what organisations would be saying (about women’s empowerment) and were there any surprises maybe from the feedback? 

Alethea Osborne [ 2:49 - 4:26] I think what was really interesting for us in approaching this and what expectations we had was trying to understand what the commonalities are. So, while people are approaching empowerment in different ways - some of them are looking at getting women into politics, some of them are creating economic groups for loans and savings to support different women in the workplace, some of them may be trying to get girls to have different educational opportunities – but what was very clear was that it is actually the intangible bits of empowerment which are most important. And that crucially, creating a space like this is good because those intangible elements can’t always be captured in traditional monitoring and reporting. By intangible, I mean things like a sense of self, a sense of confidence, feeling like you have the right to use your voice in civic space whether formal or just within the community. 

And also, the need to create an enabling environment, it was very, very clear from everyone we spoke to that you can go in with the best intentions to empower the individual, but unless people around them and the community and the structures that are around them, are willing to facilitate and see the value of that, you’re going to have real issues. And so that included tackling backlash, ensuring that men and boys are involved. And for me, that is a really key element to the sustainability of these projects so that beyond the grant life there is a building, this sense of movement and change and understanding the value of women’s empowerment in so many ways. 

Out of these conversations we have produced a new learning brief and I hope that that really highlights some of the framework of these different elements of women’s empowerment, and the way that they are interpreted by grant holders but crucially the way that they need to be context specific and respond to the needs of the community.         

Laura Else [4:27 – 4:47] So, to recap for our listeners, the feedback and conversations with these grant holders has helped to bring together a framework on women’s empowerment, so a learning brief, which is available to download and read from the UK Aid Direct website. Do you think that you have you been able to really define the term ‘women’s empowerment’, and the concepts that underpin them? 

Alethea Osborne [4:48 – 6:02] Yes Laura, so that’s right. So the framework and learning brief on women’s empowerment is available on the website and I think what’s very clear from it is that there are certain trends within what you consider as women’s empowerment – for example, economic empowerment, creating those networks of support, working to get women into politics or to advocate for gender mainstreaming across a spectrum of projects, or as I mentioned earlier, some of those intangible things around self-esteem or ensuring that the environment is enabled. But crucially there is no set way to do this because it has to be rooted within the community itself. And I think that’s really one of the key learnings, the power of this type of grant, is that ensuring that the civil society and the grassroots have ownership over the design and the implementation and that really our role as fund managers is to be able to try and bring that together, to be able to share those learnings, to be able to create a movement and a community where they can talk to one another and understand how others are working and perhaps strengthen their own work through that. And we really hope that by sharing these briefings it becomes an ongoing conversation, that people can respond and perhaps feed in and that this is in no way a static thing, but instead an iterative process, all contributing to the broader, gender equality movement.       

Laura Else [6:03 – 6:44] Fantastic, thank you so much Alethea for your time. 

To find out more about the Jo Cox Memorial grants and learnings of the UK Aid Direct fund, head over to the learning and resources page on the UK Aid Direct website at

Thanks for listening.