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Repositioning Women through Cooperatives and Dynamics of Social Inclusion

Repositioning Women through Cooperatives and Dynamics of Social Inclusion: An Indian Perspective Bishnu Mohan Dash1

Abstract
The term women’s empowerment has always been a subject of discussion among academicians, development practitioners and policy makers particularly after the failure of trickle down theory implemented during India’s planned development programmes which could not benefit women equally along with men. Further, the Indian patriarchal social structure based on power and control has provided glass ceiling for women and prevented them from making their rightful contributions to the social development. Despite plethora of developmental measures and constitutional legal guarantees, women have lagged behind in almost all sectors. In this context, cooperatives are emerging as a powerful instrument for gender mainstreaming and integrating women into the development process. The role of cooperatives in the empowerment of women is contested in the Indian context; however, several studies show that it has provided women the necessary space and support for promoting economic self-reliance, developing self-confidence, overcoming exploitation and taking effective steps towards achieving greater control over their lives. This paper puts forward how cooperatives have received extensive recognition as suitable institutional mechanisms for empowering the disadvantaged and marginalized women and enabling them to play a significant role in the process of sustainable economic development. The paper also highlights the role of cooperatives as economic agents of change leading to economic emancipation, developing leadership qualities, promoting financial and social inclusion, and ultimately leading to women’s empowerment by giving them the ability to make strategic choices in their lives. It also discusses the Government’s initiatives as well as opportunities and challenges for women-led cooperatives in India. Finally, some suggestions are made regarding strengthening women’s entrepreneurship through cooperatives.

1 Assistant Professor and Head, Department of Social Work, B.R. Ambedkar College (University of Delhi), New Delhi, India. E-mail: bishnudash2006@gmail.com

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SAARC Journal of Human Resource Development 2011

Women’s Empowerment: A Conceptual Understanding
Women’s empowerment has always been a highly contested issue and longstanding debate among academicians, development practioners and policy makers. The word ‘empowerment’ although gained widespread usage in the context of the US Civil Rights and Women's Movements, is nothing but an extension of earlier concepts of equality, justice and freedom which were expressed in many anti-imperialist and political struggles. Empowerment is a social construct and used differently in different perspectives. According to the Country Report of Government of India, "empowerment means moving from a position of enforced powerlessness to one of power”. Empowerment is defined as the expansion in people’s ability to make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied to them (Kabeer, 2001 as cited in Malhotra, 2003). Rappoport (1984) has noted that it is easy to define empowerment by its absence but difficult to define in action as it takes on different forms in different people and contexts. Even defining the concept is subject to debate. Zimmerman (1984) has stated that asserting a single definition of empowerment may make attempts to achieve it formulaic or prescription like, contradicting the very concept of empowerment. Empowerment is a multifaceted, multi-dimensional and multi-layered concept. Empowerment means giving legal and moral powers to an individual in all spheres of life – social, political, economical, psychological, religious and spiritual – which are essential for the survival and overall development of the mankind. Empowerment expresses the bold...
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