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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Liberal Visions and Actual Power in Grassroots Civil Society: Local Churches and Women's Empowerment in Rural Malawi
Author:Von Doepp, Peter A.
Periodical:Journal of Modern African Studies
Geographic term:Malawi
political systems
Religion and Witchcraft
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Women's Issues
Cultural Roles
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/3876280
Abstract:This study, which is based on research carried out in rural Malawi in 1996, speaks directly to contemporary debates about civil society. Investigating the role of local churches in empowering citizens, the study found that the local Catholic church was more effectively fostering a nascent sense of political efficacy among women than were local Presbyterian churches. Explaining this finding, the article presents two issues that, together, expose problems in the liberal understanding of civil society, while underscoring important themes raised in critical discourse. First, the study reveals that organizations characterized by decentralized authority structures and internal democracy may fail to contribute to the empowerment of marginalized citizens. Such organizations are prone to reproduce and exacerbate local inequalities and conflicts within their structures. Second, corroborating critical views, the study highlights the importance of recognizing how power relations affect the character and operation of civil society organizations. Within the Catholic organizations, conventional public gender roles were modified in such a way as to allow women to take advantage of participatory opportunities. The adjusting of power relations was thus a prerequisite to these organizations serving an empowering role. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum.