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Social Relations Approach

Page history last edited by Alexandra Pittman 10 years, 3 months ago


Naila Kabeer. 1994. Reversed Realities:  Gender Hierarchies in Development Thought. London, UK: Verso.  


The Social Relations Framework was developed by Naila Kabeer [1] (Institute of Development Studies in Sussex).  The Social Relations Framework assesses how gender discriminations and inequalities are created, maintained, and reproduced in institutions (i.e., the household, community, market, and states) as well as aims to involve women in their own development solutions. In this way, it is a political rather than a technical or informational solution.[2]  Social relations shape the roles, resources, rights, and responsibilities that people access and claim. As such, the aim is to assess how inequalities are reproduced in institutions through social relations and to understand the cross-cutting nature of inequalities within and across institutions for project development and planning purposes. The Social Relations Approach uses five concepts to analyze gender inequality.[3]   


Concept 1: Development as increasing human well-being

Concept 2: Social relations

Concept 3: Institutional analysis

Concept 4: Institutional gender policies

Concept 5: Immediate, underlying, and structural causes


The approach assesses the immediate, underlying, and structural factors that maintain and reproduce inequality according the institution type, household, market, community, state. There are five aspects that are shared by all institutions, which shape social relations—

rules, resources, people, activities, and power. Institutions operate in different ways and reflect the undergirding gender policies (gender blind, neutral, aware, specific, or redistributive). 





  • The Social Relations Approach reframes the analysis from individual experiences of inequality and power differentials to understanding the systemic causes and structures of gender inequalities. This deeper analysis can then inform policy or program planning and guide social change interventions and larger advocacy efforts.
  • The focus on identifying spaces where inequalities are constructed and reproduced allows for a dynamic analysis of gender relations.
  • The assessment of a range of institutional gender policies that span from gender blind to gender redistributive provides valuable information for the development of strategic interventions and alternative policy prescriptions.
  • By mapping the actors involved in gender power dynamics, the fundamental importance of social relations to systemic inequalities is highlighted. 
  • The separation of development for efficiency and productivity from development for improving human well-being and empowerment offers important distinctions for purposes of structural transformation.
  • The potential of exploring places where structural catalysts to inequality can be disrupted offers new possibilities for development interventions.


Weaknesses (or not designed for):



  • The Social Relations Approach does not include multiple voices and experiences in the analysis because of its structural bias – e.g., this approach uses an institutional lens to assess and improve policies, which may not fully account for grassroots’ experiences or the contextual specificities of particular minority groups within an institution. 
  • Participation of grassroots actors and voices is limited compared to organizational staff or others with the formal skills required to use this approach. 


[1] Naila Kabeer. 1994. Reversed Realities: Gender Hierarchies in Development Thought. London, UK: Verso. Institute for Development Studies (IDS).

[2] Maitrayee Mukhopadhyay and Franz Wong. 2007. “Revisiting Gender Training. The Making and Remaking of Gender Knowledge.” Gender, Society & Development. KIT and Oxfam.

[3] For a summary and examples of each of these concepts, see March et al. 1999. op. cit.

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