Feminist Participatory Action Research (FPAR)
Feminist Participatory Action Research (FPAR) is a method consistent with APWLD values and aims. FPAR uses methods that support APWLD’s aims to support and grow women’s rights movements and to advance women’s human rights. FPAR creates new forms of collaborative relationships essential to empower women and to amplify their voices and foster agency. FPAR is a political choice (as is all research) that starts with the belief that knowledge, data and expertise is gendered, has been constructed to create privileged authorities and that women have existing expertise that should frame policy decision making.
Our principal purpose of doing FPAR is to change systems and structures to improve the lives of marginalised women. We interpret ‘Change’ as ‘Structural Change’ or change to structures and systems of oppression particularly patriarchy and the fusion of patriarchy with globalisation, fundamentalisms and militarism. The participants are not subjects on whom research is conducted but rather the subjects of the inquiry who set the agenda, participate in the data collection and analysis, and control the use of the outcomes, including deciding what future actions to take or directions to go.
Our FPAR Principles
- Purpose is structural change: the purpose of our research is to bring about structural changes that women identify as critical to their enjoyment of human rights.
- Amplifies women’s voice: the research gives voice to women as the experts and authors of their own lives and policy decisions. It strategically places them as researchers and experts and promotes them into policy dialogue
- Owned by community: Research decisions are made by the community of women who are the stakeholders of the research project.
- Takes an intersectional approach to identity and experiences of discrimination, exclusion and marginalisation: recognising the diversity of women’s experiences, identities and power;
- Aims to shift power: the research seeks to reconstruct traditional power imbalances such as researcher / subject and also aims to challenge and shift gendered sources of personal, political and structural power
- Fosters movement building / collective action: the research process itself should be seen as a collective process that strengthens solidarity but in addition the research aims to empower women to work collectively for long-term structural change
- Builds capacity of all: FPAR always involves capacity building but also recognises that capacity building and learning is a collective, political action of all the players involved.
- Free prior informed consent of all participants is prioritised in FPAR.
- Safety, care and solidarity with participants is essential.
FPAR builds on research methods developed as Participatory Action Research (PAR) but integrates feminist perspectives and processes. Feminist and PAR are natural allies as both are fundamentally interested in challenging entrenched, unjust power relations.
PAR has been described as:
‘…a method of social investigation of problems, involving participation of oppressed and ordinary people in problem posing and solving. It is an education process for the researcher and participants, who analyze the structural causes of named problems through collective discussion and interaction. Finally, it is a way for researchers and oppressed people to join in solidarity to take collective action, both short and long term, for radical social change. Locally determined and controlled action is a planned consequence of inquiry.’ (Maguire 1987, 29)
Multiple Impact Objectives and FPAR
APWLD works to bring about structural change and build movements. We have identified key areas of change that are required to do that and the use of FPAR allows us to include those multiple ‘domains of change’. The change areas are:
- Developing Capacity and skills of our movement
- Fostering knowledge, data, tools and resources for women’s movements
- Securing space for advocacy to change laws, policies and practices
- Creating movements and collective pressure for structural change
Capacity Building should be incorporated throughout the process and involves all steps. It is important to acknowledge that all stakeholders are part of collective capacity building. FPAR challenges the notion that the communities of study are devoid of knowledge and passive objects of study. In FPAR, any external researchers similarly develop capacity through the process and learn from the community researchers and participants. Collective learning relationships should be articulated from the start of the process. Through FPAR Communities may develop deeper analysis of the problem being analysed, may develop documentation skills, may develop advocacy and campaigning skills and may develop leadership and movement building capacity.
The ‘knowledge’ or research that evolves from the project should be collectively authored and owned by the community. It is made clear in the FPAR process that the research is being developed for a reason and the data and tools developed as a result are designed to bring about change. The knowledge production is strategic and publications and materials produced as a result should be similarly designed.
The authorship of the research gives the community a platform to advocate for change. As such the community researchers become advocates and through FPAR we locate opportunities to utilise the knowledge and engage in evidence based policy debates.
No long-term structural and sustainable change comes about without the support of communities and movements. The largest global study on violence against women found that the most critical criteria for bringing about progressive changes to laws and policies on violence against women was the existence of autonomous feminist movements. An essential element of FPAR is to foster collective movements for change.
We recognise the political nature of methods. Knowledge and method is not separated from researchers, our politics and beliefs and nor is it separated from the structures in which we operate which are gendered, racialised, embedded with meaning from globalising and colonial practices.
FPAR methods should evolve through the participatory process. Decisions about methods should be made by the community. We recognise that methods need to change to the context of the community. In some cases, participatory methods with groups may be selected, in others individual discussion and interviews. What FPAR methods have in common is that they are designed to give the strongest voice to the community and illustrate the experiences and structural barriers they experience.
As such common FPAR methods include focus group discussions (FGD), narration of personal histories and use of diaries, cognitive mapping of problems (or participatory problem structuring), power mapping, community mapping. Methods are selected that are most meaningful to the community so in a community with limited literacy imagery, graphics and oral histories may be prioritised.
Pre-research community consultations
All FPAR projects should start with community consultations before the research has been designed and commences. There may need to be a series of consultations with various stakeholders. FPAR almost always includes consultations with women in women only space to ensure that discussions of gendered power relations and of issues that may not be easy to speak about in front of men are explored.
The objectives of pre-research community consultations should include
- Gaining the support, collaboration and ownership of the community / stakeholders
- Forming a research team with community researchers
- Identifying the problem to be the focus of the project
- Designing methods for the research, questions and objectives
- Developing advocacy plans for long term change (on-going throughout research process)
The ‘F’ in FPAR
A feminist analysis is central to FPAR. While feminists have been more likely to recognise the author’s personal history as relevant, feminist research is not immune from the criticisms of mainstream research. Feminist research may also privilege ‘expert researchers’ and much feminist research is inaccessible and not designed for advocacy and movement building.
While not all members of the research will identify as feminist, FPAR aims to empower women as advocates and authors of policy solutions thus challenging patriarchal systems.
A feminist approach ensures that gendered power relations at all levels are interrogated. A feminist approach means that we recognise and validate women’s experiences and the researchers similarly share and contribute to the knowledge of gendered experience. A feminist approach means that we consider the practical barriers to women’s participation in the project and take steps to ensure all are able to contribute.
Resource link: GAATW Labour Migration from a Human Rights Perspective: The story of migrant domestic workers in the Netherlands http://www.gaatw.org/FPAR_Series/FPAR_RESPECT.2010.pdf
 Mala Htun & Laurel Weldon ‘The civic origins of progressive policy change: combating violence against women in a global perspective, 1975-2005’ American Political Science, 2012