The Egyptian revolution and the parable of the man who occupies your house


Mariz Tadros

There is a popular parable (or do I say allegory?) used by some disenfranchised Egyptians to describe the situation they are currently experiencing.  Here it goes: you are living in a house that is your own, a man barges in and occupies one of its rooms. You feel incensed and you pray to God that he will leave and focus your efforts to address this injustice. But then he brings his dog to live in the house – and you have to deal with him howling all night. So you forget about the man who has occupied your house and all you wish is that you would be able to get rid of his dog, that’s all you hope for. Then a donkey is brought into the house, and it is dirty and the stench is unbearable. And you forget about the man and the dog and you focus on the donkey – if only you could get rid of the donkey, that would be your one and only wish in life. But you end up with a state of mind in which you have forgotten about the man who originally occupied the house because the situation has gotten so much worse.

From the dawn of history, popular allegories and parables have been used by the people to articulate what political scientists theorize and render meaning to in highly complex terms. But the fact of the matter is that as many Egyptians tell us – the truth is bare and simple.  This is how the narrative goes, as described astutely by one Egyptian:

The Egyptian people willed to rebel against the status quo – they reclaimed their house, but then through a camouflaged military coup, the man (Supreme Council for Armed Forces) stepped in and occupied the house. People went down to the street and insisted they did not go out and get killed and maimed so that we can have a change of president – what they want is a change of regime – an end to the military hold on power. But then as you struggled to bring about the end of a military regime, the Muslim Brothers were brought in and you were in a situation where you said: forget about the military, let us focus on making sure that the Brothers do not push for a hegemonic hold on the country in the name of religion. Then came the Salafis, the radical Islamists, backed by external powers, who presented a greater danger to national identity, citizenship and social cohesion. You found yourself in a situation whereby you said: forget about the Brothers, let us focus on blocking the Salafis from turning Egypt back several centuries.

Some readers might be offended by this allegory, insisting that it epitomizes the worst forms of Islamophobia. But the fact of the matter is, that what is being discussed is a military regime in alliance with political movements who claim their legitimacy from religion, but who at the end of the day are neither the representatives nor custodians of religion, as much as they like to claim they are. And whether we like it or not, we need to go beyond political correctness and listen to what is being said on the Egyptian street – even if it is not by the majority who can claim their legitimacy from the ballot boxes (parliamentary elections). True,  the Brothers have built a strong constituency over the course of nearly forty years of work through the mosques and the welfare services. But it is also true that there is much to say about the processes and integrity of the elections. Despite all the media hype, we know that the higher authorities turned a blind eye to the abuse of religion by Islamists to win a constituency and demonize the others. We also know that in the Western media’s keenness to celebrate the “Arab spring”, there was a de-emphasis on the way in which the conditions of choice facing citizens did not allow for a fair and impartial consideration for who is the best candidate. The Brothers may have gotten a substantial vote anyway because of their constituency, but would it have secured them the clear majority they have in parliament today?

Looking retrospectively, many activists and revolutionaries are wondering whether they should have done more to prevent the man from entering the house in the first place. Did they as revolutionaries not welcome the man’s entry into the house by celebrating: “The people, the army, one hand!?”. Did they not claim victory too quickly when Mubarak was ousted and should they not have continued to protest until the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ( SCAF) pronounced a clear exit plan? Of course at that point, one of the major weaknesses of the revolutionary forces was that they could not agree on a unified transitional government that would yield power. There was diversity without unity – and that opened the door for the man to come into the house. Others argue, even if they had maintained the struggle for a fully civilian government, were they not already undermined by the fact that there was a done deal between SCAF and the Muslim Brothers? Whatever it be, that political moment is lost now. And the struggle will now be on multiple fronts: against the military, against the instrumentalization of religion by political forces who rule in the name of God, in addition to the struggle for bread, freedom and social justice which the Egyptian people went out for in January 2011. All these struggles are intertwined. And we must not fall into the trap of assuming that parliament is the only source of legitimacy. The Egyptian street will continuously reinvent its strategies of resistance, subversion and entitlements’ making. Whether it reflects the majority of the people or a small group, it does not matter. What matters is that we do not lose our sense of the pulse of the street, even if it is a small alley far from the centres of formal political power.

Mariz Tadros is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and has just launched IDS Bulletin 43.1 “The Pulse on Egypt’s Revolt”.

Discrimination, duties and low hanging fruit: reflections on equity in CLTS


Robert Chambers

The equity day at the WSSCC Global Forum in Mumbai (October 2011) made a deep impact on me.  I am ashamed to admit this.  I should not have needed this. I have been banging on about ‘putting the last first’ for years, but the fuller implications of this with sanitation only came home to me on this day. Thank you those who came and shared their experiences with us –rehabilitated manual cleaners, slum dwellers, disabled, minorities… and Louisa Gosling, Archana Patkar and Nomathemba Neseni and who pulled scales from my eyes.

I am not proud that when sanitation as a human right first came up, my enthusiasm was muted.  I was so imbued with the CLTS (Community-Led total Sanitation) philosophy of no hardware subsidy and of people digging their own pits and making their own toilets that I feared that a rights focus would encourage dependent attitudes and undermine CLTS.  People might demand that government provide them with everything. Well, how wrong can you be?  It depends how you see rights. Frame them differently and  you can see that poor rural people have a right not to be marginalised by top down standardised hardware subsidy programmes like the Total Sanitation Programme in India, in its usual and classic form. Instead they have a right to be facilitated, to be enabled to do their own appraisal and analysis and collectively come to recognise the gruesome reality that they are ‘eating one another’s shit’ and decide to do something to stop it.  Before the equity day, that was about as far as I had got.

What hit me on this day went further. The pieces were shaken up and settled to fit in a new pattern.  We have rights-holders, to be sure.  But we also have duty-bearers.  And we are duty-bearers. But how are our duties determined? They have been defined in terms of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), of building up from the base, of filling the empty glass fuller, of achieving targets.  But even achieving the MDG targets would leave hundreds of millions of people still without even the most basic sanitation, still without hygienic behaviour, still suffering the multiple deprivations of Open Defecation (OD) and the horrendous and often cumulative debilitations and sufferings of multiple faecally-related infections.  Not only that, but what does striving for the MDGs in sanitation imply? It implies going for the easy ones, picking the low-hanging fruit. That’s how you achieve targets (or minimise shortfalls).  And that implies neglecting, leaving out, not serving, the more difficult, more challenging, and more deprived ‘last’ whose need is so often greater.  For achieving targets, those who are last are not cost-effective.

And who are these last?  Well, the UNICEF quintile bar charts show how the poor and rich compare: and among these, the charts for India are a stark and shocking indictment of a decade of programme failure on a mega scale: the last who were meant to be served –like the bottom two quintiles – have been barely touched. Then consider who these last are.  Someone said that half of humankind are in some way disabled or specially vulnerable.  I found that difficult to believe until I began to think it through.  Consider who they include: the very poor and destitute; those with the many forms of physical or mental disabilities; people living with HIV/AIDS; those who suffer discrimination – sex workers, LGBTs, low status minorities…; those exposed to and living in insanitary slums and other ‘places of the poor’;  migrant workers, refugees, internally displaced people, and other distress migrants; the chronically sick; and more and more, the infirm aged (unable to walk or walk far, unable to squat…) who are a growing proportion of humankind.  And then, what about vulnerable children?  And all this before considering discrimination against females, or menstrual hygiene. There are shocking answers to questions too, questions I had not asked myself.  How do blind people manage with OD?  Or people who have to crawl? Do they have to go where others go?  Do they get the stuff on their hands? How do they clean up?

As long as any of these ‘last’ are exposed or deprived in such ways, and lack proper access, are we as duty-bearers discriminating by default?  That was the question Archana threw out at the end.  And it will not go away.

So I am in a new space.  With renewed anger.  And asking what the implications are for CLTS. Two stand out straight away. First, with rural CLTS, triggering and/or early follow up must be facilitated so that people identify the ‘last’ in their communities and what needs to be done that they cannot do or be expected to do for themselves.  For the poorer and less able this is already standard good practice but it must go further, and identify those who face physical and other disabilities, encouraging local actions and innovations to provide what is needed.

Second, with urban  Citizen-Led Total Sanitation, when full or even partial self-provision is not an option, rights-based demands, mobilising to secure support and services from the authorities, has to be a major part of the way forward.

So thank you WSSCC for the equity day and for the whole Forum, and roll on the next; and by then let’s hope we will have seen big shifts with many actors and champions – in communities, in governments, in NGOs …- turning the MDGs on their heads to put equity first by starting with the last.

Robert Chambers is a Research Associate in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS. . This piece will feature in a forthcoming publication by WSSCC, entitled “WSSCC Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene: Insights on leadership, action and change”.

Reflecting back upon the PPSC team’s activities in 2011


Danny Burns

As 2012 begins, I want to take this opportunity to wish you a happy (and stress free) New Year. In this blog I want to talk offer a few flavours of things that members of the team have been working on; others you will see from recent contributions to the blog; more will follow over the next weeks…

An increasing area of interest for development actors at all levels, from grassroots movements to major donors, is how to better understand the complex, shifting and multi-layered social and political environments in which development and change occur. Many organisations are searching for more relevant tools of context analysis. Jethro Pettit and others have been working on new tools for power and political economy analysis. Popular frameworks like the Powercube (developed by John Gaventa) are being adapted and combined with other approaches. Recent learning partnerships on power have included Oxfam, Novib, Hivos, Christian Aid, the Swedish Cooperative Centre, and Trocaire. Work has also been carried out within the UK voluntary and philanthropic sector with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation,  Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, and the Carnegie UK Trust, Trust for London. This work has included three, year-long action learning processes with dozens of participants from these foundations and more than 20 of their partner organisations Training modules on power have adapted into Spanish and French and facilitated by IDS staff in universities and workshops in Spain, West Africa and Latin America.

The team’s work around “unruly politics” has been growing steadily through the “Summer of Unruly Reading” group facilitated by Akshay Khanna. We have been building a collective conceptual analysis within the team, and growing a work programme with Hivos and their partners.  We have also been building connections with people in the Occupy movement. Mariz Tadros continues to be closely engaged with the emerging situation in Egypt and other parts of North Africa.

PPSC has been contracted to engage in a number of new programmes this year. These include:

  • a three year programme on gender and sexuality funded by SIDA (Sweden)
  • a three year programme with SDC (Switzerland) – on participatory methodologies and developing the resource centre as a hub for materials on participatory methodologies
  • a three year programme with SDC working with the IDS Governance team to support the work of their Decentralisation and Local Governance Network
  • an extension of Gates Foundation funding for our Community Led Total Sanitation Hub

The PPSC team played a major role in designing and delivering the Bellagio initiative on the future of international development and philanthropy in pursuit of human well being which comprised a series of global dialogues, commissioned papers and a major international summit. PPSC fellows – Danny Burns (Delhi and Kinna, Kenya), Patta Scott-Villiers (Kinna, Kenya), Alex Shankland (Sao Paulo) and Mariz Tadros (Cairo) – facilitated four of the global dialogues. Georgina Powell Stevens co-ordinated the summit participation of around 200 participants. In June of this year Alex Shankland and I, will be facilitating another Bellagio conference on Indigenous health with colleagues from KIT (Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam).

Rosemary McGee has recently carried out a major review of accountability and transparency initiatives with John Gaventa. Naomi Hossain continues her longitudinal work with Oxfam and others on food price volatility; Joanna Wheeler, Peter Clarke and I are working on a six country action research programme with VSO and the international volunteering network FORUM on the impact of volunteering on poverty; Joanna Wheeler and Tessa Lewin have been working on a range of participatory video initiatives; Marzia Fontana has been working with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce of Lao PDR on a project which has brought Lao-based women’s groups and international organisations into dialogue with each other. Rosalind Eyben has been organising The Big Push Forward – an international initiative that links practitioners and researchers to identify and share strategies and approaches for fair assessment and evaluation. Patta Scott Villiers is leading a programme of action research in Karamoja Northern Uganda funded by Irish Aid. Alex Shankland is opening up new areas of work on the role of emerging powers in reshaping development especially through civil society.

Pathways to Women‘s Empowerment in the Middle East hosted a UN Women organized conference on “Pathways for Women in Democratic Transitions: International Experiences and Lessons Learned” in Cairo. The meeting featured Michele Bachelet and others discussing legal reform, women’s movements and gender-responsive accountability systems. Mariz Tadros was a speaker on the panel “Building Strong Women’s Movements in Democratic Transitions”.

The team has recently published a number of IDS Working Papers and Bulletins and will publish a bulletin on Action Research in International Development this spring.

Finally I want to say a huge thank you and good luck to John Gaventa and Kate Hawkins. John has been an inspiration to the PPSC team for more than a decade. He has joined the Coady Institute in Canada as their new Director. Kate Hawkins our sexuality programme convenor who has initiated and developed a great deal of exciting work within the team will be leaving IDS (but will continue to work with us as a free lancer). I would also like to welcome to the team Research Fellow Jerker Edstrom and Jas Vaghadia who will be working on our gender, masculinities and sexuality programmes. Welcome also to Naomi Vernon who is joining our CLTS team.

As I say, just a few flavours of the many different things that are happening. If you want to find out more, follow the links, or contact us directly.

Danny Burns is the Team Leader for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and will be publishing IDS Bulletin 43.3 ”Action Research in Development” in May 2012

Participation team online: blogging highlights from 2011


Stephen Wood

As we move into 2012, I thought it would be interesting to reflect upon some of the blog highlights that were written by colleagues in the Participation, Power and Social Change Team at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) since we launched last year:

  • Aid conditionality dominated the headlines again in the latter part of last year when the British Government made an explicit link between aid and Southern countries’ treatment of LGBT human rights. Research Fellow akshay khanna tackled the political fallout of this announcement head-on in a blog post “Aid conditionality and the limits of a politics of sexuality”, when he challenged the usefulness of an LGBT politics that fails to account for the complexity and variety of sexualities outside of dominant western models and how countries such as India and Brazil are leading the way in developing much more nuanced politics of sexuality.
  • With much internationally attention being paid to efforts to increase economic growth, Research Fellow Rosalind Eyben’s blog post, “Care work should be at the heart of a people-centred economy”, was a timely reminder that discussion is still desperately needed around the vast amount of unpaid work existing outside the market economy, that underpins and sustains human wellbeing and yet is unaccounted for by most development organisations. Those taking on these care responsibilities, mostly women, are usually those with least voice and ability to influence policy change that might account for this within societies across the globe.
  • Finally, as the struggle for democratic representation continues across the Middle East, the reports by Research Fellow Mariz Tadros from Cairo on the unruly politics being conducted by Egyptians protesting in Tahrir Square against military rule have been an eye-opening insight into the hopes, fears and challenges experienced by those fighting for change. Her blog post “From unruly politics to ballot boxes: rethinking the terms of democratic engagement in Egypt” was a particularly thought-provoking contribution.

As always, these recommendations only scratch the surface of the rich discussion and debates we have been conducting on our blog. If you haven’t done so already, I really would encourage you to sign up via email to receive each of our blog posts as they are published and engage our authors in dialogue by commenting upon their work.  As we are building up our audience, if you can recommend us to anyone who might be interested in engaging with our work, we’d be appreciative. We have some really exciting material due in the coming weeks and months that you don’t want to miss.

Stephen Wood is the Team Administrative Co-ordinator for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and is also a member of the IDS Sexuality and Development Programme. He can be found on Twitter at: StephenWood_UK

Intimate connections: International development, sexuality and women’s empowerment


Kate Hawkins

The Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Research Programme Consortium recently conducted a synthesis of learning from their research over the past 4 years. The paper I co-authored with Andrea Cornwall and Tessa Lewin makes the intimate connections between sexuality and women’s empowerment visible and provides some recommendations for decision makers on how they can strengthen policy and programming in this area.

The simple story
The popular video, ‘The Girl Effect’ produced by the Nike Foundation provides a simplified view of how the development sector views the world of a poor 12 year old girl. The Foundation’s aim of alerting the world to the need to support girls and young women is laudable. Unfortunately in the minds of the video makers the world inhabited by poor women and girls is unremittingly grim. As the video illustrates she is surrounded by flies, she is literally squashed and overwhelmed by first a baby, husband, hunger and then HIV – as if one automatically leads to the other – plunging her into a desperate situation. When it comes to sexuality the Foundation’s vision is equally problematic. Its video portrays sexuality is as something that brings pain and ill health. It paints a picture of a girl who is automatically married off by the age of 14, pregnant by 15. If she survives childbirth she will go on to sell sex at the behest of her desperate family – something in the video that automatically leads to the acquisition of HIV and the onward transmission of the virus. Sexuality is portrayed as a set of sinister (black? male?) hands which chase her throughout her short life. In the alternate ‘happy ending’ to this video being in employment prevents HIV, allows her to get married and have children (in that order mind!) and magically her children are healthy.

Is there an alternative vision?
I haven’t the space in this blog, and it’s not my intention, to provide a wide ranging critique of these videos. Needless to say HIV is treatable and many people live healthy lives with HIV, give birth to healthy babies and protect their sexual partners’ health. Sex education for young people and access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and commodities allow them to make informed choices about risk and when to become pregnant. There are many men who support their daughters, colleagues, friends and wives. Governments and society as a whole – not just young women – are responsible for tackling inequality, poverty, war etc.

It is important to review the messages these videos provide about young women’s sexuality since it is clear that they are being used as teaching aids in schools. Whilst marketing can be a blunt tool, and I am sure that the Foundation’s funding and programming is far more nuanced, what the videos provide us with is the short hand script that is often used by development agencies when they are advertising their work with women. You can confirm this with a quick google search!

WAIT…another world is possible
Our report looked at research on women’s empowerment using a sexuality lens. Sexuality is not simply a matter of sexual orientation or preference. Whether or not a woman is lesbian, same-sex desiring, heterosexual, bisexual or asexual, she will experience, at different times in her life, constraints, restrictions, pleasures and possibilities that derive from her sexuality.

We sought to understand how narratives of sexuality change and can be changed. Our research prioritised popular culture as the most important vehicle for changing narratives. Second, we gathered examples of initiatives that sought to transform sexual cultures in a very practical way.

The key findings are worth repeating in full:

  1. Sexuality is integral to women’s political and economic empowerment. Women need control over their bodies, be able to assert their right to physical autonomy and protection from abuse, and realise sexual rights such as the right to a safe and satisfying sex life. If they do not have this, women have limited scope for making claims in other areas of their lives.
  2. Women’s intimate relationships can be a vital source of support in their pathways of empowerment. But where those relationships undermine or deplete women’s resources or well-being, and where women are unable to forge relationships of their own choosing because of prevailing sexual norms, they are unlikely to gain the personal sustenance that we have found to be essential in supporting empowerment.
  3. Norms and structures that regulate sexuality can prevent women from leading fulfilled lives. Conforming with norms related to sexuality can sometimes lead to material benefits for women. But it can also lead to a loss of control over their lives. The regulation of women’s sexuality affects their ability to organise and engage politically, to access social services, to earn a living, to learn and to impart information, to enjoy the kind of personal and family life that they desire and to maintain bodily integrity.
  4. Challenging norms about women’s sexuality can lead to exclusion, marginalisation and impoverishment. It is vitally important to support women who are marginalised because of their sexuality and to see their political struggles as legitimate sites of resistance to injustice and inequality.
  5. Action on injustice related to sexuality is a priority. This could mean challenging the ways in which women who do not conform to social, economic and political norms are isolated, or pressing for policy and law reform to create an enabling environment for the positive enjoyment of sexuality.
  6. International development has dealt poorly with sexuality issues. This has a negative impact on the effectiveness of interventions to support women’s empowerment. A sexuality lens can provide new ways of looking at seemingly intractable development problems such as tackling poverty, preventing violence against women, and improving access to education. Struggles for social justice and equality can intersect with the realisation of sexual rights.

Pathways research demonstrates that women in diverse settings consider their sexuality as a source of power and a mechanism for shaping and controlling their destinies. An overwhelming negative focus on women’s sexuality and the victim narrative that often accompanies it can be disempowering. It does not provide women with opportunities to express their desires and to imagine and work toward a positive vision of sexuality. It can also dovetail with conservative narratives about the inherent vulnerability of women and the need to protect them from male sexuality which is usually depicted as beastly, uncontrollable and violent. Acceptance of these stereotypes does nothing to challenge them.

Read the report in full here.

Kate Hawkins is the Convenor for the Sexuality and Development Programme, based in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.