This article takes an experience from Irian Jaya to clarify the centrality of popular participation to development. It explores the ways in which a focus on class and gender takes participatory development to a new level; and considers how development agents can support transformational development. Integrating the strengths of political economy and gender planning into a participatory methodology yields an approach that puts people first; that does not isolate or privilege particular sectors; that places subjugation alongside poverty as social evils to be overcome, not simply alleviated. An emancipatory concept and practice of development, in which inequalities and inequities are addressed together in order to re-configure society to the benefit of the majority, will empower people to develop themselves as they see fit. This demands a delicate and evolving balance between guidance and support, facilitation and response, on the part of the development agent.
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