Motorways to Nowhere?


Jenny_Edwards200Jenny Edwards

International development agencies have been pouring money into one-size fits all interventions for women and girls’ empowerment. Increasingly the business case ‘Invest in a girl and the world benefits’ is becoming popular among donors, NGOs and private sector supporters. But quick-fix solutions are rarely either the answer or sufficient to deal with what are essentially complex and intertwined problems. The analogy we use within the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Programme is that agencies are building ‘motorways to nowhere’. In focusing on the destination down a zooming highway rather than journeys along more meandering pathways, development agencies may be missing the fact that women’s experiences of empowerment are not straight or straightforward: there are obstacles, they do not travel alone, routes are circuitous and there may be many stops along the way. Donors need to look beyond targets, destinations and tick boxes and explore the complexity of women’s lives and relationships. Feminisms, Empowerment and Development, one of a series of new books from Pathways published by Zed, debates some of these complexities and highlights lessons learned about how women experience change that were uncovered by our research.

What is empowering to one woman may not be equally so for others

One of the important findings from a survey of three generations of women in Ghana which researcher Akosua Darkwah talks about in the book, is this: education for the older generation guaranteed a pathway to valuable formal sector jobs, but this is no longer the sure-fire route to secure, decent work for a younger generation faced with a more unpredictable labour market. In Brazil, Terezinha Gonçalves’ research found that when middle class women employ a domestic worker, it frees them from their chores to pursue empowering professional careers. However, as these women often do not value domestic work as a profession they fail to provide decent pay and conditions to their predominantly, black female staff. These examples highlight the importance of context: geographical, historical, class, race etc. For interventions to be successful they need to be fully appreciative of women’s lived experiences and not see ‘poor women’ as one homogenous group. This need to pay attention to context is demonstrated in Pathways’ survey on work, where for women in Bangladesh and Egypt work outside the home was seen as empowering but not so for women in Ghana where this was something they had always experienced.

Hidden Pathways

The differing experiences of women and girls can be clearly seen in what Pathways’ researchers refer to as ‘hidden pathways’. Focusing only on economic, political and legal routes of empowerment through interventions such as micro-credit, quotas and law reform risks missing some of the less obvious but still important aspects of women’s lives. For instance, although representations of women on television and the media have sometimes proved problematic and disempowering, Aanmona Priyadarshini’s and Samia Rahim’s study in Bangladesh shows how television has captured imagination across classes. Women experience pleasure and hope for their own lives from shared viewing, but also choose, judge or disregard narratives depending on how they connect with them. In Pakistan, a participant in Neelam Hussain’s research explained how watching a woman in a job interview on television helped her to know how to behave in a situation she had yet to experience.

Horizons of Possibility

Expanding the horizons of possibility is one of the key messages of the book. Although economic, legal and political interventions are important they are not enough on their own. The process of empowerment requires ‘creating consciousness’ or helping women to see themselves as equal citizens entitled to rights. Hania Sholkamy says that one of the key elements of a feminist social programme is to support women in recognising their citizenship rights. This importance is clearly demonstrated by Saptagram, a social mobilisation organisation in Bangladesh, the subject of Naila Kabeer’s and Lopita Huq’s chapter. A key element of Saptagram’s strategy was transforming women’s consciousness. As one of its members said ‘I have learnt about our rights. Now I understand I have the same rights as my husband… Whether I get my rights or not, I can still demand them’.

Pathways of Change

So is there an answer, or a solution? Many of Pathways’ messages are not new or earth-shattering but they bear repeating in an age of what Lisa VeneKlasen from Just Associates at a recent Pathways conference referred to as ‘clickivism’: the idea that just pressing one button will lift a woman from poverty. We need to listen to women’s experiences, learn from their lived realities on what works and what doesn’t. We need to support them in realising their rights and give support to women’s organisations to demand these rights. We need to tackle the issues of power that sustain women’s inequality; the deeper issues behind what hinders women’s unequal representation in parliaments and in the board rooms. We need to do more than just give a woman a cow and expect her to change the world. As Hania Sholkamy notes: ‘Alleviating poverty and enabling women to make some income can better lives, but the enabling environment that confirms the right to work, to property, to safety, to voice, to sexuality and to freedom is not created by sewing machines or micro-credit alone’.

Jenny Edwards is Programme Officer for the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Programme, based at IDS. 

Read other posts from Jenny Edwards:

A version of this blog was first published on The Guardian on 23rd July 2014 under the title “We cannot give a woman a cow and expect her to change the world”. 

Seeing the world through a different lens


Danny Burns2 photo miniDanny Burns

The Secretary-General of the United Nations was expected to publish his report to the General Assembly on the MDGs and the post-2015 development agenda on 12 August. How much of his insight will have been informed by listening to the voices of the poorest and most marginalised?  Participate partners have been critically reflecting  on the participatory methods they have employed in attempts to shift power in policy making.  One such approach, the Participate Ground Level Panels (GLPs) created a participative space for people living in poverty and marginalisation to deliberate what is needed from the post-2015 global policy process.

 In 2013, Participate partners hosted three deliberative meetings between those living poverty and those with political authority through Ground Level Panels (GLPs). The idea for a GLP aimed to provide a mirror to the deliberations of the United Nations (UN) High Level Panel (HLP) but from people who lived in extreme poverty or marginalisation.

The Ground Level Panels took place in Egypt, Brazil, Uganda and India. Each panel comprised a group of 10-14 people with diverse and intersecting identities including urban slum dwellers; disabled people; sexual minorities; people living in conflict and natural disaster-affected areas; people living in geographically isolated communities; nomadic and indigenous people; older people; internally displaced people; and young people. Each panel created relationships, shared experiences, connected the local level to the national and international development contexts and provided a critical review and reality check on the five transformative shifts as outlined by the UN High Level Panel.

The GLPs saw the world through a different lens to the HLP. The people in the Panels understood the dynamics of change facing people living in poverty and this gave them the ability to say if these policies were meaningful. While economic growth is an unchallenged assumption in the HLP for the Brazilian GLP it was seen as part of the ‘death plan’. For the Brazilians the critical issue is not ‘poverty’ per se, but ‘misery’ and ‘dignity’. While the HLP focused on service provision, the Indian Panel’s desired goals largely focus on social norms, behaviour 
and discrimination.

There were some common themes which emerged in all of the Panels. People want to feel that they have meaningful control over the influences that impact their lives. In all cases structures for equal participation were highlighted as foundational. In almost all of the Panels there was a recurring theme of ‘self management’. People don’t want aid. They want the means to generate and sustain their own livelihoods. So if we are serious about moving ‘beyond aid’ in the new development agenda then empowerment must become the priority.

One thing that struck me was the difference in composition of the HLP and the GLPs. The HLP was made up of people largely from an elite political class. There was the odd member of royalty and a few interesting academics thrown in, but by and large they were high ranking politicians. There was very little diversity in the group, and the interests were narrow. The GLPs on the other hand were highly diverse. Slum dwellers sitting side by side with pastoralists, transgender people, and people living in refugee camps … It is easy to stereotype people as ‘poor’and see them as a huge sprawling undifferentiated ‘category’, but they bring far more diversity than people who hold power.

What defines the success of a Ground Level Panel? Is it the response of the national government or within the UN process, or is it also influence on policy at the local levels? For Natalie Newell who led the GLP in Uganda on behalf of Restless Development, the experience demonstrated the importance of the local level. 
”It is important to be clear with all involved about what can realistically be achieved from the GLP process. This includes considering the strengths and weaknesses of this approach, and what it can add to the policy debate. From the perspectives of those that participated in the Uganda process, the changes at the community level and for them as people were an important success.”

Listen to Nava and Richard’s reflections on the Uganda Ground Level Panel.

Read more about the Ground Level Panels in Participate’s latest publication ‘Knowledge from the Margins: An anthology from a global network on participatory practice and policy influence.’

Danny Burns is a Co-Director of the Participate initiative and Team Leader for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS. He can be found on Twitter at: @dannyburns2

Read other posts from Danny Burns

Tackling Homophobia in Brazilian schools: What more needs to be done?


Ilana Mountian

In order to tackle homophobia in Brazil, we need to understand it as a structural matter, part of a complex system. The interactions between educational policies against homophobia with other public policies, such as poverty reduction, work, health and others need to be strengthened.

These are the main finding from my recent policy audit that we undertook as part of the DfID-funded Sexuality, Poverty and Law programme to analyse public policies against homophobia and transphobia in the educational system in Brazil. In order to tackle economic and social inequality, it is paramount to understand that the reproduction of inequalities historically impacts on specific groups. In this audit, the focus is on the impacts of homophobia (and transphobia) on poverty; considering the intersections between gender, sexuality, race, class and age.

We have analysed key aspects of public policies in education and sexuality in Brazil, which have been designed as part of the wider programme Brazil Without Homophobia (BWH – Programa Brasil sem Homofobia), launched in 2004. The analysis was based on a number of policy material, previous research on the theme, interviews with educators and professionals working directly with the programmes for education without homophobia, interviews with transsexual women and travestis and participation in meetings with transsexual people, educators and policy makers.

While the BWH was an important initiative towards tackling homophobia in Brazil, the analysis shows that there was a range of obstacles that hindered the implementation and access to policies against prejudice and violence. Multi-sector policies operating in an integrated manner were lacking in this context.

To put this into context we highlighted the broad social background and educational issues facing students in Brazil, the high levels of homophobic violence in Brazilian society, how religious discourses operate in politics and everyday struggles for equality, as well as the need for better coordination and implementation of educational initiatives.

What more needs to be done?

In our audit report we have highlighted the following recommendations for ensuring that policies to tackle homophobia have the maximum impact:

  • Homophobia (as well as sexism, racism, classism, discrimination against those with disabilities and others) should be considered as a structural matter.
  • A clearly supported strategy is needed against homophobia and sexism in educational policies and the national curriculum.
  • There is a need to articulate and strengthen the intersectionality between educational policies against homophobia with other public policies, such as poverty reduction, work, health and others.
  • Long-term policies against homophobia should be developed.
  • There is a need to acknowledge and develop strategies to tackle local resistance -e.g. from religious fundamentalist people to policy implementation.
  • Resources are required to support staff promoting equality (information, workshops, protection from abuse, permanent forums).

Initiatives against homophobia and sexism in schools need to be further developed and be part of a wider agenda to tackle homophobic violence and discrimination. Building upon our research, it is fundamental that policies that consider sexuality and gender in Brazil, beyond stereotypical understandings, are developed – and that they also consider the intersections with race, class, age, disability and other factors. These policies have to work as an integrated and coordinated multi-sectoral strategy in order to overcome exclusion, social inequality and poverty. Further investigation is needed into the ability of LGBT individuals and families who live in extreme poverty to access social welfare provisions, like the Bolsa Familia.

Only when homophobia – and other forms of discrimination – are seen as a structural issue of inequality will we see real improvements for tackling homophobia in Brazil.

Ilana Mountian is a post-doctoral researcher at the Universidade de São Paolo.

Read other recent blogs by the IDS Sexuality and Development Programme:

Post 2015 agenda – Listening to the voices of people living in poverty


Susanne SchirmerSue_Schirmer200

‘If democracy binds us as a family, then why do we get excluded and treated differently?’ asked the panelists at a recent Ground Level Panel meeting in India. Meanwhile, their counterparts in Egypt commented on one of the reasons for exclusion: ‘To those who did not educate us, may God forgive you.’

Panelsts in Egypt sitting round tables and talking

Ground Level Panelists in Egypt discussing their vision for development

As the target date for the Millennium Development goals is drawing closer, the UN has established a High Level Panel (HLP) to discuss a new global development framework beyond 2015. In order to bring the voices of those directly affected by poverty and marginalisation into the debate, the Participate initiative, has established a Ground Level Panel mirroring the work of the High Level Panel. During July 2013, meetings were held in four countries bringing together people living in poverty and marginalisation from a huge variety of backgrounds and enabling them to voice their thoughts and recommendations for a new development framework. The blog entries about the meetings give a fascinating insight into what poverty means for people that are directly affected by it – and their views on how this could be changed.

The meeting in Brazil was characterised by the diversity of the people attending it, and each of the participants had different experiences of what ‘extreme poverty’ means for them. The diversity is also expressed in their message to policy makers. Combining an indigenous and a Banto African expression to highlight the interconnectedness of life and the importance of including everyone: ‘Awêre para Kisile’ – ‘That everything goes well for those who don’t have a name yet’.

In Egypt, the Ground Level Panel was not only rich in terms of the content produced, but also it provided a transformative space where panelists were able to challenge their capabilities and self-hindering beliefs. They explored reasons for their marginalisation and found the space to voice their stories and opinions. The process was not only able to prove that citizen’s participation is a right that enlightens, but also it provides a more stable alternative for expression. It also moves the hearts and hands towards a locally-owned change.

In India, panel members from across the country discussed reasons for exclusion and marginalisation, like disabilities and poverty. They then went on to look at the role of different players, stumbling blocks, a way forward and institutional mechanisms for bringing about change.

The panelists in Uganda identified common challenges that their ommunities faced, like access to health care and issues around land and peace. They then expressed their shared hopes for their country: ‘Our Vision for Uganda is that it respects the rule of law, human rights, and transparency to ensure that services are delivered to everyone equally without any segregation or misappropriation of national resources.’

Panelists in India giving a presentation on a podium

Indian panelists presenting their views

Find out more and read the communiqués from each of the panels on the Participate blog.

Sue Schirmer works as Communications Coordinator for the  Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS. Participate is hosted by the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS and Beyond 2015, it provides high quality evidence on the reality of poverty at ground level, bringing the perspectives of the poorest into the post-2015 debate.

Read other recent blogs about Participate:

Is this that time? (Será este aquele tempo?) – Images from Brazil, words for everywhere


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Poem by akshay khanna
photographs by Luan Citele and Renan Otto

Is this that time?

Será este aquele tempo?

Is this that time?
That time foretold
in our sweaty dreams
That time
When the earth trembles
Beneath our feet
The rhythm of
A billion
Trampling underfoot
The delicate glass
Of ‘That’s just how things are’

Is this that time
When we realise
That the door
which the guard stood
Guns and towers
And coca-cola signs
Was already
And we just needed to walk through?

Is this that time when
We feel the blood
No, Not pumping through our veins
But splashing
On faces bodies gritted teeth
Like so many colours
Of a riotous holi?

Is this that time
That we will look back upon
Hear a song
And cry
Tears of neither joy nor sadness
But tears of something
That cannot be named

Come clench my hand
And let me hold yours
In this time of
Tectonic shifts
flashes of
Smoke bombs
and the screeching sound of metal
Being crushed

For this is that time
When another world is not just
She is
Already here.
Listen. Carefully in the noise.
You can hear her laughing.

Será este aquele tempo?
Aquele tempo pressagiado
em nossos sonhos suados
Aquele tempo
Em que a terra treme
Sob nossos pés
O ritmo de
Um bilião
A esfera delicada
De vidro
De ‘É simplesmente assim que as coisas são’

Será este aquele tempo?
Em que nos apercebemos
Que a porta
a qual o guarda estacou
Armas e torres
E placards da Coca-Cola
Esteve quem sabe
E simplesmente precisávamos

Será este aquele tempo em que
Sentimos o sangue
Não, Não correndo em nossas veias
Mas salpicando
Em caras corpos dentes cerrados
Na profusão de cores
De um caótico carnaval?

Será este aquele tempo
Ao qual voltaremos
E ouvindo uma melodia
Lágrimas nem de alegria
nem tristeza
Mas lágrimas de algo

Venha apertar minha mão
E me deixe segurar na sua
Nesse tempo de
Mudanças tectônicas
lampejos de
e o som estridente de metal
Sendo esmagado

Pois é este aquele tempo
em que outro mundo é não apenas
Ela já
Está aqui.
Oiça. Cuidadosamente no ruído.
Pode ouvi-la dando risadas.

akshay khanna, tradução de Pedro Miguel Patraquim

Can the protests push Brazil to rediscover democratic innovation?


Alex ShanklandAlex_Shankland200

In an earlier blog article I argued for the need to look at both the state and the citizen sides of the democratic equation in order to make sense of the recent unrest across Brazil. Here, I argue that the Workers’ Party (PT)’s period in national office may turn out to have been a period of dangerous stagnation on the ’state side‘ of the democratic innovation equation.

At first sight, it seems absurd to speak of ‘stagnation’. Since President Lula came to power in 2003, the number of national policy conferences – large-scale deliberative-democratic processes that engage literally millions of citizens in discussing priorities in different policy sectors – has grown significantly. Public investment in training and resources for the tens of thousands of participatory management councils that oversee health, education and other services across Brazil’s 5,500 municipalities has also been boosted. At a conference I attended in Brazil in April on ‘Participation, Democracy and Public Policy’, the Director for Popular Participation in the President’s Office, the highly-respected former civil society activist Pedro Pontual, outlined the government’s commitment to enshrine in law a ‘national system of popular participation’.

Where is the next generation of innovations?
The conference reflectedthe vibrant state of Brazilian research and practice in the field, through a mass of well-attended panels and a rich series of plenary debates. Yet, despite its positive atmosphere, I felt a certain uneasewhich stemmed from the fact that most of the research discussed at the conference had focused on well-established forms of participation. Where was the next generation of the innovations that we have come to expect from Brazil, as the world’s leading laboratory for participatory democracy? The policy conferences, deliberative councils and participatory budgeting processes analysed were mostly based on models that have been around for the best part of two decades. Despite the massive social, economic and political changes that Brazil has undergone during this period, they still follow much the same format as when they were introduced.

The PT governments of the 2000s have helped these innovations from earlier decades to gain greater solidity and scale, but they have neither enabled them to fulfil their potential as sites for genuine deliberation nor matched them with further innovations in participatory governance in areas that are now being contested by the protestors – a gap that is particularly crucial in the infrastructure sector, as Leonardo Avritzer has pointed out.

Even the impressive promises of the ‘national system of popular participation’ seemed to emphasise more of the same rather than radical new departures. Above all, the proposed system seemed to assume that Brazilian citizens would continue participating in future as they had done in the past: either discussing face-to-face in neighbourhood participatory budget meetings, or accepting that their engagement with the state would be mediated by the collective actors of the post-1988 settlement: progressive political parties and labour unions, or community associations and social movements that have adopted the formal structures that are required for the state to recognise them as part of ‘organised civil society’.

Only a few speakers at the conference recognised that this assumption may no longer hold. One of them, a representative from the PT municipal government of Canoas said that the Canoas municipal administration was no longer relying on dialogue with collective actors and on the institutionalised ritual of the participatory budgeting cycle. Instead, it was now trying to link these into a much larger ‘ecosystem’ of participation channels (including an online ‘Virtual Agora’), as part of an attempt to elicit constructive engagement from citizens who are ‘both more atomised and more connected than ever before’.

Old-school participatory politics
President Dilma Rousseff’s  response to the protests did not suggest that she has taken the opportunity to learn from the experience of her party’s administration in Canoas. When the President finally made a televised address to the nation after more than a week of protests, she recognised that ‘in order to deliver more, institutions and governments have to change’. But her concrete proposals seemed either timid
or over-hasty: first offering to meet the heads of Congress and the judiciary
to urge them to work better together, then proposing to summon a Constituent
Assembly – only to downgrade this to the promise of a plebiscite on reform of
the party system.

The President spoke eloquently about the ‘need to inject oxygen into our political system’ and ensure that institutions become ‘more easily-permeated by the influence of society’, emphasising that ‘the voice of the street should be heard’ and priority should go to listening ‘to citizens and not to economic power’. But her first effort in this direction was all old participatory politics, based on the assumption that social movements necessarily have structures and leaders who can be engaged as partners in governance without losing popular legitimacy. Showing little awareness either of the reality of citizens, or of the protestors’ rejection of institutionalised mediation, she offered to meet in person ‘the leaders of peaceful protests, the representatives of youth organisations, labour unions, workers’ movements and peoples’ associations’.

A group from the Movimento Passe Livre (MPL, free transport movement), which called the initial protests at bus and metro price increases in São Paulo, did take up the President’s offer, but they left the meeting in Brasília on 24 June saying that they had found the Presidency ‘completely unprepared’ to discuss the economic feasibility of their demand for free urban transport, and stating that their willingness to hold a dialogue with the government did not mean an end to the struggle in the streets. The MPL stopped well short of an outright rejection of dialogue, but its representatives’ comments contain plenty of echoes of the scorn that the new voice of the Brazilian street has so far shown for all kinds of institutionalised political engagement.

Going forward
The national PT government will need to move beyond this old politics thinking if it is to recover the party’s reputation for skill and creativity in bridging ‘both sides of the equation’. It has already lost much of this reputation by allowing democratic innovation to stagnate while seeming to ride roughshod over local concerns in the drive to push through big infrastructure projects.

This is about much more than the fate of a single political party, however: the Brazilian state as a whole badly needs to recover its capacity for democratic innovation, or the post-1988 flowering of effective strategies for institutionalising non-violent citizen-state engagement risks becoming a footnote in the country’s history rather than the turning-point and template for the future that many (including me) hoped and believed it to be.

Alex Shankland is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

This is the second post in a short serious of blog posts on the state of democracy in Brazil. Read other blogs by Alex Shankland:

The crisis of Brazilian democracy, as seen from Mozambique


Alex ShanklandAlex_Shankland200

I’ve been in Maputo for the last few days, working with colleagues at IESE on some research into the riots that brought this city to a standstill in 2010. This work is part of a four-country comparative study of the ‘moral economy’ that underlies efforts to secure accountability for hunger, whether through institutionalised lobbying or through ‘unruly‘ popular political action. Rather than Maputo’s own riots, however, much of my time here has been has been spent talking to puzzled Mozambican colleagues about the massive wave of protests that has surged across Brazil.

My Mozambican friends can understand a protest being triggered by a bus fare increase – after all, it wasn’t only the price of bread but also a rise in the cost of the chapas (semi-formal minibus routes on which most urban Mozambicans depend to get to work) that set off the 2010 riots here, and threatened to do so again when another fare increase was brought in last year. The potential for anger at police brutality to intensify popular mobilisation, as happened in São Paulo in the initial phase of the Brazilian protests, is another familiar feature here. And they recognise that anger at corruption – another key issue for Brazil’s protestors – was a factor in the Maputo riots in 2010, and may yet trigger more violent protests here, as a tiny elite continues to hoard the rewards from Mozambique’s mining and energy boom.

But many Mozambicans are perplexed by the other apparent triggers of the Brazilian protests  Why do the protestors seem to hate the Workers’ Party (PT), when under the recent PT governments Brazil has achieved ’zero hunger‘? Why are they so critical of public health and education, when the country’s expansion of access to these services is the envy of many countries in Africa and beyond? Surely Brazil’s recent programme of infrastructure investment is as necessary as that on which Mozambique has itself recently embarked, with Brazilian as well as Chinese assistance? And surely Brazil – unlike Mozambique – has a flourishing democracy in which the state has pioneered many new ways of listening to citizens, so that they don’t have to take to the streets in frustration? Or is Brazilian participatory democracy actually not all it’s cracked up to be?

Here, Brazilian democratic innovations such as participatory budgeting and local policy councils have become part of the good governance packages promoted by the donor community. The need for democratic reform in Mozambique has never been more apparent as a standoff between the government and the opposition party (and former guerrilla movement) Renamo turns dangerously violent, and the tensions that triggered the 2010 riots continue to build in the street markets, chapa stops and back alleys of Maputo. Brazil is ever more visible in and from Mozambique, thanks to a growing presence in the country that ranges from evangelical pastors and mining companies to soybean farmers and social movement activists. As Camila Asano has argued in a recent OpenDemocracy article, democratic Brazil ’is in many crucial ways in a stronger position than its fellow emerging powers to achieve great things on the international stage‘. It thus seems enviably placed to set an example for the future of democracy in Mozambique – but which example, exactly?

Working on both sides of the equation
Looking at Brazil from Mozambique, I’m reminded of the work of our former IDS colleague John Gaventa, who argued that efforts to promote democracy should include ’working both sides of the equation‘, and who led a decade of work under the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability which reached the conclusion that successful democratic change depended on ’blurring the boundaries‘ between citizen and state. Brazil was a model case, one to be looked to and learned from by anyone interested in a democratic future for countries like Mozambique. Now it seems to me that these protests represent the boiling-over of a frustration that derives from failures on both sides of the Brazilian democratic equation – and that they reveal how blurred boundaries have given way to a new divide.

Since the country’s post-dictatorship ’Citizens’ Constitution‘ came into effect in 1988, the Brazilian state, with leadership often coming from the PT, has promoted an unprecedented series of participatory and deliberative innovations. These have deepened and broadened engagement, and successfully kept a democratic conversation going despite the country’s vast size, glaring inequalities, endemic violence and corrupt electoral politics.

On the other ’side of the equation‘, since the mass mobilisations that marked the transition from dictatorship to democracy in the 1980s, Brazil’s citizenry has opted for forms of collective action that could be linked with,though never confined to, an ongoing process of institutionalised dialogue with the state. Unruly political actions by marginalised groups – ranging from peasants’ land occupations to the invasion of government buildings by bow-and-arrow-wielding indigenous warriors – have continued throughout this period. But they have usually been deployed not as a denial of democratic dialogue but rather as a tactic to force the state to engage more fully in it, and to challenge the use of economic, bureaucratic and political power to close down its possibilities.

The latest protests have broken with this logic in two important ways: they have been led not by the hyper-marginalised rural poor but by middle-class urban youth, and they have systematically denied the legitimacy of institutionalised democratic engagement (whether through political parties or through formally-structured social movement organisations) as a means of converting popular political energy into policy change.

So what has happened and what does it mean for Brazil and other countries? In the next couple of days I will aim to reflect on those questions through a short series of blogs, analysing what has happened on both sides of the democracy equation in Brazil.

Alex Shankland is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.