Since the mid-1980s, the term empowerment has become popular in the development field, especially with reference to women. However, there is confusion as to what the term means among development actors. This paper analyses the concept of women’s empowerment and outlines empowerment strategies based on insights gained through a study of grassroots programmes in South Asia. The concept of women’s empowerment is the outcome of important critiques generated by the women’s movement, particularly by ’third world’ feminists. They clearly state that women’s empowerment requires the challenging of patriarchal power relations that result in women having less control over material assets and intellectual resources. Women participate in their own oppression so they must first become aware of the ideology that legitimises male domination. The empowerment process starts from within but access to new ideas and information will come from external agents. With new consciousness and the strength of solidarity, women can assert their right to control resources and to participate equally in decision making. Ultimately, women’s empowerment must become a force that is an organised mass movement which challenges and transforms existing power relations in society.
Kabeer, N. (1999) Resources, Agency, Achievements: Reflections on the Measurement of Women's Empowerment. Development and Change, Volume 30, Number 3, July 1999. Blackwell Publishing
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bpl/dech/1999/00000030/00000003/art00125 This paper sets out from the understanding that empowerment is a process by which those who have been denied power gain power, in particular the ability to make strategic life choices. For women, these could be the capacity to choose a marriage partner, a livelihood, or whether or not to have children. For this power to come about, three interrelated dimensions are needed: access to and control of resources; agency (the ability to use these resources to bring about new opportunities) and achievements (the attainment of new social outcomes). Empowerment, therefore, is both a process and an end result. This understanding differs greatly from instrumentalist interpretations which view empowerment purely in terms of measurable outcomes. Instrumentalist interpretations are problematic because they convey the belief that social change can be predicted and prescribed in a cause and effect way and undermine the notion that women’s empowerment should be about the ability of women to make self-determined choices. 4
Oxaal, Z. and Baden, S. (1997) Gender and Empowerment: Definitions, Approaches and Implications for Policy, BRIDGE Report No.40
http://www.bridge.ids.ac.uk/Reports/R40%20Gen%20Emp%20Policy%202c.doc What is women's empowerment? If women are empowered, does that mean that men have less power? Empowerment has become a new 'buzzword' in international development language but is often poorly understood. The need to 'empower' women responds to the growing recognition that women in developing countries lack control over resources and the self- confidence and/or opportunity to participate in decisionmaking processes. At the same time, the realisation that women have an increasingly important role to play in social and economic development has become widely accepted. Unless women are 'empowered' to participate alongside men in the development process, development efforts will only have partial effect. Empowerment strategies must carefully define their meaning of 'empowerment' and be integrated into mainstream programmes rather than attempted separately.
Sen, G. and Grown, C. (1985) Development, Crisis, and Alternative Visions: Third World Women’s...