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B R SIWAL DEPUTY DIRECTOR, W D DIVISION , NIPCCD , NEW DELHI-16 E-MAIL:email@example.com Empowerment - What Is It? When policymakers and practitioners decide that “empowerment” – usually of women or the poor – is a development goal what do they mean? And how do they determine the extent to which it has been achieved? Despite empowerment having become a widely used term in this context there is no accepted method for measuring and tracking changes. Presumably if we want to see people empowered we consider them to be currently dis-empowered i.e. disadvantaged by the way power relations presently shape their choices, opportunities and well-being. If this is what we mean then we would benefit from being better informed about the debates which have shaped and refined the concept of power and its operation. ‘Empowering women’ has become a frequently cited goal of development interventions. However, while there is now a significant body of literature discussing how women’s empowerment has been or might be evaluated, there are still major difficulties in so doing. Furthermore many projects and programmes which espouse the empowerment of women show little if any evidence of attempts even to define what this means in their own context let alone to assess whether and to what extent they have succeeded. Different people use empowerment to mean different things. However there are four aspects which seem to be generally accepted in the literature on women’s empowerment. Firstly to be empowered one must have been disempowered. It is relevant to speak of empowering women, for example, because, as a group, they are disempowered relative to men. Secondly empowerment cannot be bestowed by a third party. Rather those who would become empowered must claim it. Development agencies cannot therefore empower women – the most they can achieve is to facilitate women empowering themselves. They may be able to create conditions favourable to empowerment but they cannot make it happen. Thirdly, definitions of empowerment usually include a sense of people making decisions on matters which are important in their lives and being able to carry them out. Reflection, analysis and action are involved in this process which may happen on an individual or a collective level. There is some evidence that while women’s own struggles for empowerment have tended to be collective efforts, empowermentorientated development interventions often focus more on the level of the individual. Finally empowerment is an ongoing process rather than a product. There is no final goal. One does not arrive at a stage of being empowered in some absolute sense. People are empowered, or disempowered, relative to others or, importantly, relative to themselves at a previous time.
How Should Empowerment Be Operationally Defined? “Empowerment” has been used to represent a wide range of concepts and to describe a proliferation of outcomes. The term has been used more often to advocate for certain types of policies and intervention strategies than to analyze them, as demonstrated by a number of documents from the United Nations (UNDAW 2001; UNICEF 1999), the Association for Women in Development (Everett 1991), the Declaration made at the Microcredit Summit (RESULTS 1997), DFID (2000), and other organizations. Feminist activist writings often promote empowerment of individuals and organizations of women (Sen and Grown 1987; Jahan 1995; Kumar 1993) but vary in the extent to which they conceptualize or discuss how to identify it. Another line of thought in development promotes social inclusion in institutions as the key pathway to empowerment of individuals and has at times tended to conflate empowerment and participation. Capitalism, top-down approaches to development, and/or poverty itself are seen as sources of disempowerment that must be challenged by bringing “lowers”—the poor and disenfranchised—(Chambers 1997) into the management of community and development processes. The growth of civil society and participatory development methods at both macro and meso levels of society are usually proposed as the mechanisms by which empowerment takes place (Friedmann 1992; Chambers 1997). For example, Narayan et al. (2000a) focus on state and civil society institutions at both national and local levels, including informal institutions such as kinship and neighborhood networks. Institutions at the micro level, such as those of marriage and the household, are not considered part of the state or of civil society, but interpersonal gender dynamics within the household are considered part of the equation of social exclusion and in need of directed efforts at change. Bennett (2002) has developed a framework in which “empowerment” and “social inclusion” are closely related but separate concepts. Drawing on Narayan (2002), Bennett describes empowerment as “the enhancement of assets and capabilities of diverse individuals and groups to engage, influence and hold accountable the institutions which affect them.” Social inclusion is defined as “the removal of institutional barriers and the enhancement of incentives to increase the access of diverse individuals and groups to assets and development opportunities.” Bennett notes that both of these definitions are intended to be operational, and describe processes rather than end points. The empowerment process, as she characterizes it, operates “from below” and involves agency, as exercised by individuals and groups. Social inclusion, in contrast, requires systemic change which may be initiated “from above.” Women and empowerment While the reasons for any particular woman’s powerlessness (or power) are many and varied, considering women per se necessarily involves questioning what we/they have in common in this respect. The common factor is that, as women, they
are all constrained by “the norms, beliefs, customs and values through which societies differentiate between women and men” (Kabeer 2000, 22). The specific ways in which this operates vary culturally and over time. In one situation it might reveal itself in women’s lower incomes relative to men, in another it might be seen in the relative survival rates of girl and boy children and in a third by severe restrictions on women’s mobility. Virtually everywhere it can be seen in domestic violence, male-dominated decision fora and women’s inferior access to assets of many kinds. A woman’s level of empowerment will vary, sometimes enormously, according to other criteria such as her class or caste, ethnicity, relative wealth, age, family position etc and any analysis of women’s power or lack of it must appreciate these other contributory dimensions. Nevertheless, focusing on the empowerment of women as a group requires an analysis of gender relations i.e. the ways in which power relations between the sexes are constructed and maintained. Since gender relations vary both geographically and over time they always have to be investigated in context. It also follows that they are not immutable. At the same time particular manifestations of gender relations are often fiercely defended and regarded as “natural” or God-given. While many development interventions involve challenges to existing power relations it tends to be those which challenge power relations between men and women which are most strongly contested.
Three faces of power Within the social sciences power was first typified as power over. As Robert Dahl defined it “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do” (Dahl, 1957, 202-203). “In this approach, power is understood as a product of conflicts between actors to determine who wins and who loses on key, clearly recognised issues, in a relatively open system in which there are established decision-making arenas”. Subsequently a second dimension or face of power was recognised - the ability to prevent certain people or issues from getting to the decision-making arena in the first place. Bachrach and Baratz argued that political scientists must focus “both on who gets what, when and how and who gets left out and how” (Bachrach and Baratz 1970, 105). This dimension of power is concerned with the rules and methods of legitimising some voices and discrediting others. Stephen Lukes then suggested that perhaps “the most effective and insidious use of power is to prevent such conflict arising in the first place” (Lukes 1974, 24). From this perspective the powerful may win conflicts not only by doing so in open conflict or by preventing opposing voices from being heard. They may also get their own way by so manipulating the consciousnesses of the less powerful as to make them incapable of seeing that a conflict exists. As Sen observes “There is much evidence in history that acute inequalities often survive precisely by making allies out of the deprived. The underdog comes to accept the legitimacy of the unequal order and becomes an implicit accomplice” (Sen 1990, 26).
These three dimensions (or faces) of power over therefore consist of one party getting their own way against the interests of another party either by winning in open conflict, preventing their opponent being heard or preventing their potential opponent from even realising that there is a conflict of interests. These are all examples of a zero sum game i.e. by definition one person’s gain is another’s loss (even if, as in the third dimension above, the loser may not even be aware of her loss). Non zero-sum models of power Other forms of power also appear in the literature where one person’s gain is not necessarily another’s loss. These tend to be referred to as power within, power to and power with. Power within, for example, refers to assets such as self-esteem and selfconfidence. In a sense all power starts from here – such assets are necessary before anything else can be achieved. “[A] woman who is subjected to violent abuse when she expresses her own opinions may start to withhold her opinions and eventually come to believe she has no opinions of her own. When control becomes internalised in this way, overt use of power over is no longer necessary” (Rowlands 1998; 12). The internalisation of such feelings of worthlessness is a well-recognised feature of women’s oppression and therefore many development interventions seek to bring about changes at this level. Joke Schrijvers uses the term “autonomy” and defines it to mean, “a fundamental criticism of the existing social, economic and political order…an antihierarchical concept, which stimulates critical and creative thinking and action… transformation which comes from within, which springs from inner resources of one’s own as an individual or a collectivity” (Scrijvers, 1991, 5-6 quoted in Stromquist, 1995, 15-16) Power to is defined as “generative or productive power (sometimes incorporating or manifesting as forms of resistance or manipulation) which creates new possibilities and actions without domination” (Rowlands 1997; 13). In other words this is power which increases the boundaries of what is achievable for one person without necessarily tightening the boundaries of what is achievable for another party. For example if you learn to read it makes many more things possible for you. It does not restrict me (except, I suppose, from using your illiteracy to benefit myself). Power with refers to collective action, recognising that more can be achieved by a group acting together than by individuals alone. Many interventions aiming to empower women note the importance of creating opportunities for women to spend time with other women reflecting on their situation, recognising the strengths they do posses and devising strategies to achieve positive change. To develop critical minds women need a place where new ideas can be discussed and new demands arise. For Sara Evans, the prerequisites for developing an “insurgent collective identity” are:
• Social spaces where people can develop an independent sense of worth as opposed to their usual status as second-class or inferior citizens • Role models – seeing people breaking out of patterns of passivity • An ideology that explains the sources of oppression, justifies revolt, and imagines a qualitatively different future • A threat to the newfound sense of self which forces the individual to confront inherited cultural definitions • A network through which a new interpretation can spread, activating a social movement Empowerment in development literature As already noted there is no single, widely accepted definition of empowerment. On the one hand it is argued that “it is only by a focus on change to existing patterns of power and its use that any meaningful change can be brought about” (Oakley 2001; 14). On the other hand it can be said to involve “recognising the capacities of such groups [the marginalized and oppressed] to take action and to play an active role in development initiatives” (Oakley 2001; 14). Oakley identifies five key uses of the term empowerment in development studies. These are: empowerment as participation, empowerment as democratisation, empowerment as capacity building, empowerment through economic improvement and empowerment and the individual (Oakley 2001; 43). He considers the link between empowerment and participation as the strongest in practice, The World Bank, for example, “began to recognise several stages of participation: information sharing, consultation, collaboration and finally, empowerment” (World Bank 1998; 19). In this primarily project-based view of empowerment the term is depoliticised, divorced from power structures and inequalities. Oakley cites Oxfam as an example of the more radical view which identifies empowerment as “essentially concerned with analysing and addressing the dynamics of oppression” and “explicitly rejects the notion that ‘participation’ in development in donor-funded projects is a sign of ‘empowerment’” (Oakley 2001; 43). Empowerment as democratisation is concerned with macro-level political activity. Empowerment is seen as the basis on which democratic structures and practices can be built. This approach leads to strategies of support for civil society structures and grassroots organisations. Capacity-building in general is often regarded as empowering, although there are many approaches, some of which seem little more than training. Empowerment through economic improvement is an approach which (unsurprisingly given women’s well-documented relative lack of economic power) has been extensively used with women. Based on the assumption that women’s relative powerlessness is primarily a function of their poverty, such interventions often focus on microfinance and small business development activities, targeted at women.
Empowerment at the individual level is strongly influenced by Freire’s work and includes consciousness raising and the development of a critical faculty (Freire 1974). However, despite its having “identified empowerment as a… primary development assistance goal… neither the World Bank nor any other major development agency has developed a rigorous method for measuring and tracking changes in levels of empowerment” (Malhotra, A. et al 2002, 3).
UNIFEM (the United Nations Development Fund for Women) considers that women’s economic empowerment is essential for any strategy of poverty alleviation and defines this as “having access to and control over the means to make a living on a sustainable and long term basis, and receiving the material benefits of this access and control. Such a definition goes beyond short-term goals of increasing women’s access to income and looks for longer term sustainable benefits, not only in terms of changes to laws and policies that constrain women’s participation in and benefits from development, but also in terms of power relationships at the household, community and market levels. Here empowerment is linked specifically to women and this too is now common in development discourse. The Platform for Action and the Beijing Declaration declares the United Nation’s determination to “intensify efforts to ensure equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all women and girls who face multiple barriers to their empowerment and advancement because of such factors as their race, age, language, culture, religion or disability or because they are indigenous people” (United Nations, 1985; para 32). Kabeer, in an influential paper, suggests that “empowerment…refers to the process by which those who have been denied the ability to make strategic life choices acquire such an ability” (Kabeer 1999; 437). This definition makes clear that only those previously denied such abilities can be considered to be empowered and also that the choices in question are strategic. Kabeer defines strategic choices as ones “which are critical for people to live the lives they want (such as choice of livelihood, whether and who to marry, whether to have children etc)” as opposed to “less consequential choices which may be important for the quality of one’s life but do not constitute its defining parameters” (Kabeer 1999, 437). It is worth noting that this use of the term “strategic” is different from that popularised by Moser where women’s “strategic” interests are those which challenge their subordination as women while their “practical” interests are those which help them to carry out their gender-assigned roles more easily. Empowerment is, first and foremost, about power; changing power relations in favour of those who previously exercised little power over their own lives. Batliwala (1993) defines power as having two central aspects -- control over resources (physical, human, intellectual, financial, and the self), and control over ideology (beliefs, values and attitudes). If power means control, then empowerment therefore
is the process of gaining control. An intrinsic feminist mistrust of and discomfort with hierarchy has led to some discussion about the meaning of power itself, a questioning of the ethics of power over others (people, Nature), and its substitution by a notion of power as the ability to be, to express oneself. In the latter sense, the concept of power is quite close to the notion of human capability. One might argue that power in any one sense, extrinsic control or intrinsic capability, can lead to the other. Control over the external world of resources also gives one the capacity for self-expression in a variety of ways. On the other hand, greater self-confidence and a process of inner transformation of one’s consciousness, can enable one to overcome external barriers to accessing resources. In neither case can there be a guarantee that power in one sense will inevitably lead to power in the other sense, but the history of development practice on the ground has plenty of examples of both. Many socialist transformations have started with major shifts in control over material resources between classes in a society, and expanding there from the capabilities and self-confidence of those who previously had been at the bottom of the social ladder. On the other side, many development programmes which did not attempt to challenge the larger status quo, have started by strengthening the consciousness of people about the causes of their situation, and built on this to transform their control over external resources. In whichever order change occurs, genuine empowerment typically includes both elements, and is rarely sustainable without either. A change in access to external resources without a change in consciousness can leave people without the resilience, motivation and awareness to retain and/or build on that control, leaving space open for others to wrest control. Many (especially but not exclusively) government-run development programmes which start with good intentions, degenerate in this way. However, the reverse is also problematic. Programmes which start by raising people’s consciousness but are unable to deliver greater control over material resources, can lead to frustration and high dropout rates. Non-governmental organizations in particular have considerable experience of this pitfall. To be sustainable the empowerment process must alter both people's self-perception and their control over their lives and their material environments. It should be clear from this that empowerment is not something that can be done to someone by someone else. Changes in consciousness and self-perception are one's own, and when they occur, can be the most explosively creative, energy releasing transformations, from which there is often no looking back. They can tap powerful reservoirs of hope and enthusiasm among people who have been used to viewing themselves and their worlds in purely negative terms. External change agents may be needed as the essential catalysts who start it off, but the momentum of the empowerment process is set by the extent and the rapidity with which people change themselves. What this means is that governments do not empower people; people empower themselves. What governments' policies and actions can do is to create a supportive environment or act as a barrier to the empowerment process. . Empowerment is often about both groups and individuals. Because the poor and powerless in today's world lead such fragmented and marginalized lives, group solidarity can be a powerful fostering force. It can make people realize the wisdom of the old fable about the bundle of sticks that is much harder to break than the single
stick. However, developing group processes through sharing visions and supporting each other can sometimes be quite difficult especially where the pressures of intragroup competition and rivalry are strong. Nonetheless, some of the best examples of empowerment from many countries all have used group processes effectively to break isolation and build strength. In some cases, such as that of the Grameen Bank, group processes have also been used to ensure individual accountability. Individuals tend to be more accountable to groups of their peers with whom they have to continue to live and work, than to external agents with whom they do not have to share their daily lives. Although empowerment through group processes can be highly effective, ultimately empowerment must lead to change at the individual level not only in terms of control over extrinsic resources, but also greater autonomy and authority in decision making, assertiveness etc. Some theories of empowerment in the past have ignored or even denied the individual element, believing that a focus on individual autonomy is tantamount to an acceptance of atomisation and a negation of group interests and interactions. In recent times, it is women's movements that have asserted the importance of individual autonomy through the struggle to make the personal political. In order to be truly empowered, poor people must be able to go beyond their consciousness of themselves as eternal victims, to transcend their “ selfperception towards greater control over their lives and environments. This internal change in awareness, while catalyzed by group processes, is profoundly and intensely personal and individual. A final issue for this section on empowerment is its relationship to participation, decentralization, or bottom-up approaches to development. While these concepts have often been used synonymously, they have distinct meanings which are far from identical. Empowerment (of those who have previously been powerless in the social order) is an end in itself, while decentralization, bottom-up approaches, and to a certain extent, participation, may be viewed as means to an end. That end may or may not be the empowerment of the poor. Decentralization of central governmental authority may pave the way for greater control over decision making at the local level, and for development programmes that are more responsive to people’s needs. But decentralization may also imply devolution of resources and power from central to local governments, without any empowerment of the poor.. Participation is a weaker concept than empowerment, in that it is compatible with a multiplicity of conflicting ends. Where its aim is to genuinely involve people, and particularly the powerless, in formulating development strategies and policies, making decisions about programmes, and monitoring and evaluating them, it can create an environment that is conducive to empowerment. On the other hand, spaces may be opened up for groups, communities or localities to participate in government development programmes simply because governments or agencies wish to pass on some of the costs to them, or primarily in the interests of programme efficiency. Indeed, if the intent is not to empower people to have a voice in making decisions, then the leash can be held quite tightly by authorities who will circumscribe and limit the nature of participation. Indonesia's family planning programme is an example. Participation may also be entirely superficial, intended to satisfy donor agencies or to dampen pressures for greater democracy, but consisting in fact of nothing more than
cursory “consultation”. Calls for participation can therefore be sidestepped or subverted unless objectives are clearly specified, and the methods to be used are transparent and genuine.
Empowerment Consensus on Conceptualization Given the diversity in the emphases and agendas in discussions on women’s empowerment, we found greater consensus in the literature on its conceptualization than expected. There is a nexus of a few key, overlapping terms that are most often included in defining empowerment: options, choice, control, and power. Most often these are referring to women’s ability to make decisions and affect outcomes of importance to themselves and their families. Control over one’s own life and over resources is often stressed. Thus, there is frequent reference to some variant of the ability to “affect one’s own well being,” and “make strategic life choices.” For example, G. Sen (1993) defines empowerment as “altering relations of power…which constrain women’s options and autonomy and adversely affect health and well-being.” Batliwala’s (1994) definition is in terms of “how much influence people have over external actions that matter to their welfare.” Keller and Mbwewe (1991, as cited in Rowlands 1995) describe it as “a process whereby women become able to organize themselves to increase their own self-reliance, to assert their independent right to make choices and to control resources which will assist in challenging and eliminating their own subordination.” Also appearing frequently in definitions of empowerment is an element related to the concept of human agency— self-efficacy. Drawing mainly from the human rights and feminist perspectives, many definitions contain the idea that a fundamental shift in perceptions, or “inner transformation,” is essential to the formulation of choices. That is, women should be able to define self-interest and choice, and consider themselves as not only able but also entitled to make choices (A. Sen 1999; G. Sen 1993; Kabeer 2001; Rowlands 1995; Nussbaum 2000; Chen 1992). Kabeer (2001) goes a step further and describes this process in terms of “thinking outside the system” and challenging the status quo. Gender equality discourse in empowerment Similarly, “women’s empowerment,” “gender equality” and “gender equity” are separate but closely related concepts. The recent policy research report by the World Bank (2001a) employs the term “gender equality,” which it defines in terms of equality under the law, equality of opportunity (including equality of rewards for work and equality in access to human capital and other productive resources that enable opportunity), and equality of voice (the ability to influence and contribute to the development process). Gender equality implies “equivalence in life outcomes for women and men, recognizing their different needs and interests, and requiring a redistribution of power and resources.” Gender equity “recognizes that women and men have different needs, preferences, and interests and that equality of outcomes may necessitate different treatment of men and women” (Reeves and Baden 2000:10). The current popularity of the term empowerment in development coincides with
recent questioning of the efficacy of central planning and the role of ‘the state’, and moves by donor governments and multilateral funding agencies to embrace NGOs as partners in development. Political and institutional problems have gained prominence on the development agenda with a focus on human rights, good governance and participation. (Razavi and Miller, 1995). Recent UN conferences have advocated that women’s empowerment is central to development. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) Agenda 21 mentions women’s advancement and empowerment in decision-making, including women’s participation in ‘national and international ecosystem management and control of environment degradation’ as a key area for sustainable development (quoted in Wee and Heyzer, 1995: 7). The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, discussed the population issue not just as a technical, demographic problem, but as a choice that women should be empowered to take within the context of their health and reproductive rights. The Copenhagen Declaration of the World Summit on Social Development (WSSD), called for the recognition that empowering people, particularly women, to strengthen their own capacities is a main objective of development, and that empowerment requires the full participation of people in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of decisions determining the functioning and well-being of societies. The Report of the UN Fourth World Conference on Women called its Platform for Action ‘an agenda for women’s empowerment’ meaning that ‘the principle of shared power and responsibility should be established between women and men at home, in the workplace and in the wider national and international communities’ (UN, 1995a, no. 1). The empowerment approach to women in development offers a number of attractions for development agencies over the other approaches. Because its origins are often stated as being from the South, it may appeal to Northern development institutions who wish to avoid charges of cultural imperialism, especially in relation to gender policies.3 The bottom-up characterisation of the empowerment approach can be regarded as more in tune with the growing interest in participatory forms of development4. Current enthusiasm for NGOs, for ‘bottom up development’ and for empowerment, from both advocates within development organisations and from outside activists, can also be understood as a reaction to the frustrating experience of attempts to institutionalise gender in mainstream development policies and programmes (Razavi and Miller, 1995). Empowerment as a process Empowerment is essentially a bottom-up process rather than something that can be formulated as a top-down strategy. Understanding empowerment in this way means that development agencies cannot claim to ‘empower women’. Women must empower themselves. Devising coherent policies and programmes for women’s empowerment requires careful attention, because external agencies/bodies tend to be positioned with ‘power-over’ target populations. The training of development professionals, in government, NGOs or donor agencies does not always equip them to consult and involve others, which supporting empowerment requires.
Appropriate external support and intervention, however, can be important to foster and support the process of empowerment. Development organisations can, under some circumstances, play an enabling or facilitating role. They can ensure that their programmes work to support women’s individual empowerment by encouraging women’s participation, acquisition of skills, decision-making capacity, and control over resources. Agencies can support women’s collective empowerment by funding women’s organisations which work to address the causes of gender subordination, by promoting women’s participation in political systems, and by fostering dialogue between those in positions of power and organisations with women’s empowerment goals. However, caution should be exercised against assuming that promoting a certain type of activity will necessary lead to ‘empowerment’, as will be illustrated in section 2. Empowerment cannot be defined in terms of specific activities or end results because it involves a process whereby women can freely analyse, develop and voice their needs and interests, without them being pre-defined, or imposed from above, by planners or other social actors. The assumption that planners can identify women’s needs runs against empowerment objectives which imply that women themselves formulate and decide what these interests are. Planning suggests a top-down approach, and yet women may define their interests differently from planners (Wierenga, 1994). Planners working towards an empowerment approach must therefore develop ways of enabling women themselves to critically assess their own situation and create and shape a transformation in society. To some extent this may run against the logic of ‘planning’, because the content of such a transformation cannot be determined by planners in advance, if it is to be truly empowering to women. Wierenga (ibid.) argues that this transformation should be seen as part of an ongoing process rather than as a fixed goal in the distant future. Current approaches to women’s empowerment A number of areas of activity in development have become closely associated with the promotion of women’s empowerment, such as microcredit, political participation and reproductive health and much innovative work has been done in these areas. However, there are clearly limits on the extent to which such activities in and of themselves can be said to be genuinely empowering. There is a tendency to assume that increasing access to resources, or decision-making power in one area, will necessarily carry through into other areas. It is not the delivery of credit per se, but the context in which credit is delivered is which is vital in ensuring that women’s control over resources and bargaining power is increased. Similarly, increased decision-making power at individual level and greater access to economic resources of women do not necessarily translate into greater representation or power of women within political institutions, an area which has proved remarkably resistant to change. Conversely, empowerment in one area cannot be sustained without attention to other facets. Reproductive and sexual rights, for example, cannot be fully exercised where women’s lack of independent economic resources undermines their freedom to make
choices and bargaining power. Implementation of an empowerment approach in the context of hierarchically organised development organisations may prove difficult, where organisational cultures are biased against the participation and autonomy in decision-making of beneficiaries. This suggests that not just activities and policy frameworks but also organisational structures and processes need to be examined in promoting ‘empowerment’ and that personnel may need to alter their style of working. The emphasis on participation adopted by many development agencies is significant for empowerment, as projects and programmes should seek to be accountable to those they claim to be empowering. Such issues of accountability may present a challenge to donor agencies, whose ultimate responsibilities lie elsewhere than with target groups or beneficiaries. Empowerment is demonstrated by the quality of people’s participation in the decisions and processes affecting their lives. In theory, empowerment and participation should be different sides of the same coin. In practice, much of what passes for popular participation in development and relief work is not in any way empowering to the poorest and most disadvantaged people in society (Oxfam 1995:14). For participation to promote empowerment it needs to be more than a process of consultation over decisions already made elsewhere. Strategies to support women’s empowerment should encourage women’s participation at all stages of projects, including evaluation. Attention to location and timing of meetings are also important to ensure women’s participation. In this way, the process of participation should itself be empowering. More research is needed to bring a gender perspective into the current debates on participation. Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and other approaches such as action research, and community research by women (e.g. on health issues) can be explored as methods which increase female participation and control over knowledge. However, such methods should not be adopted uncritically, since they can silence dissenting perspectives, including those of women (Mosse, 1994). Participation may arouse conflict between different groups in a community especially when the basic principles of an aid agency differ from views within a particular community (e.g. on gender equality). Participation should not involve ignoring these conflicting interests in order to reach consensus (Oxfam, 1995). Supporting women’s organisations is one broad approach to promoting women’s empowerment, which takes account of the collective aspects of empowerment. However, this can prove difficult, or backfire, if the availability of external funding and organisational changes which this brings about, undermine accountability to membership or creates internal tensions. Women’s organisations are very varied and may not always serve the interests of poor women, or work in ways which support empowerment. Women’s organisations which are empowering to women should by definition be accountable to their membership rather than an external agency. When organisations accept funding from an external source, they become accountable to the donor, as well as their members, sometimes leading to changes in structures and
procedures, or tensions over how to allocate newly generated resources. Women’s movements or networks may be loosely constituted and may be reluctant to accept funding either for ideological reasons or because of the level of formal organisation it can entail.
Feminist notions of Empowerment The feminist notions of empowerment see women as acting agents and not as beneficiaries, clients, participants, etc. and they deal with the question of power. In analysing the literature on empowerment Jo Rowlands has made following classifcations of power (1998): • power over: controlling power over some one and something. Response to it can be compliance, resistance or manipulation • power to: generative or productive power that creates new possibilities and actions without domination • power with: power generating a feeling that the whole is greater than the sum of individuals and action as a group is more effective • power from within: a sense that there is strength that is in each and every individual. The recognition of one´s own self-acceptance and self-respect enables the acceptance of others as equals Most of the definitions on empowerment imply the dimension of „power over“, i.e. access to decision-making, etc. In contrast, „power with“ relates to a notion of collective power. Medel-Anonuevo has suggested that many women´s NGOs in the South relate to this kind of understanding where changes are brought about by a sense of „together with others“ (Medel-Anonuevo 1996). Naila Kabeer (1994) subscribes not so much to „power over“ but to „power within“ yourself that needs to be strengthened. She undertakes a deconstruction of the notions of power and unfolds the theoretical and practical potential of empowerment. „Power within“ needs recognition by experience and analysis of the subordination of women. According to Kabeer, such power cannot be given, it has to be self-generated and taken. Empowerment is a process where women are able to change from a state of powerlessness („I cannot“) to a state of collective selfconfidence („we can“). Besides the notion of power any attempt to theorise empowerment would involve in framing the concept in cognitive, psychological, economical and political aspects (Stromquist 1993). The cognitive aspect refers the ability of women to understand the situation of subordination in society at the micro- as well as macrolevel and also to take decisions that are against the cultural and social norms. It involves learning other notions of gender relations and the dismissal of beliefs that structure the powerful traditional gender ideologies. Cognitive dimension includes knowing about one´s sexuality and demystifying old taboos, knowing one´s fundamental rights, unpaid work and also elements that constitute life in marriage, with children and in the household.
The psychological aspect refers to the developing of the feeling that women can make a contribution to improve their situation and that their action will be successful. It includes developing self-esteem. However, self-respect and self-esteem cannot be taught rather a situation must be created where these can develop. There needs to be space where women can assert themselves. Though the psychological aspect is important it needs to be strengthened by economical aspects. Reducing economic dependency can be a basis for empowerment. Women need to be engaged in a productive activity that gives them some financial autonomy. The political aspect involves the capacity to analyse a situation in a political and social context. It includes the ability to organise and mobilise for social change. The process of empowerment covers not only awareness at the individual level but also at the collective level. This results in collective action which again is the precondition for collective change.
Empowerment as a relational category Processes that were supposedly to bring empowerment have in fact meant disempowerment to women. In historical terms, modernisation processes were also legitimised by arguments of empowerment of women. However, modernisation has resulted in more disempowerment of women in some parts of the Third World (Boserup 1970, Mies/Shiva 1993). The introduction of the cash economy can disempower women (Afshar 1989). Also, empowerment does not effect everyone in the same way. It is necessary to study empowerment in relation to disempowerment. Empowerment of some can mean disempowerment of others. Nira Yuval Davis has pointed out the problem of conflicting interests that needs to be handled. Hence empowerment must be seen as a relational category.
Individual vs. collective In the prevailing literature empowerment is located to a large extent at the individual level. The individual notion must be contrasted to the notion of „entrepreunal selfreliance“ that is prevalent in mainstream development. Developing self-esteem is an important prerequisite. However, in order to enhance changes in women´s power within society the individualistic notion does not suffice. Personal empowerment is one of the factors of a holistic understanding of empowerment. Also, it does not automatically lead to empowerment between relationships. It is the collective ways of learning and collective ways of acting and resisting that brings about change. Empowerment is achieved if and when women set the agenda, organise mutual selfhelp in the neighbourhood, group or network, demand accountability by the state and society for change. It is the women´s needs and visions that are at the centre
point (Young 1993). Since the beginning of the 90s with the World Conference on Environment and Development the global perspective has become increasingly important in the political arena. This found its reflection in the slogan „Think globally - act locally“ that initiated processes of environmental protection all over the world, but especially in Northern countries. The accelerating process of globalisation has necessitated local as well as global action. However, how global is „global“ though? And how local is „local“? „Local“ could be associated with things happening in the neighbourhood, municipality community, city or a region. But increasingly groups at the grass-roots level in the South articulate issues that are primariliy global. Enviromental action or activisim in free trade zones are examples of local action with a global perspective.
On the other hand, there are groups and governments predominantly in the North (but also in the South) that claim to have a global perspective but actually turn out be very parochial. The Rio-Conference 1992 was supposed to be on global environement aiming to save the planet and solve problems considered to be a concern of the humankind as a whole. But at the same time the US President Bush insisted that the American lifestyle is not at the disposition. In the name of global thinking and action there was assertion of the resource consuming lifesyle affordable to very few and at the cost of the majority of the people on earth. Similar interpretations of the „local“ and „global“ can be found even in action of the international women´s movement. At the Cairo-Conference, the major issue of development was sidelined, abortion turned out to be the major issue which lead to unholy coalitions of women from the North and the conservative forces. Women from the South raised many issues from development, health, education to human rights. It could be said that the Southern women were more global whereas the Northern women were „monolithising abortion“ (Spivak 1996)
Empowerment's Potential - Typology and Examples The examples in this section are drawn from recent Indian experiences, but similar cases exist elsewhere, and the typology is more generally applicable. There are three main types of empowerment, when cases are classified by the nature and role of the change agent: (i) those that are catalyzed by NGOs, (ii) those that develop as people's movements in which the change agents may be external or internal, and (iii) joint government-NGO initiatives. Each type has specific strengths and weaknesses. NGO based experiments have the plus of being innovative, flexible, and responsive in both their substantive content and their methods. One reason is that, with a few exceptions, they tend to start small and remain small. Thus, while they can generate interesting new experiments, their results are not easily replicable or expandable. This problem is often compounded by the fact that key personnel are few in number, and the leadership structure of many organizations is quite thin. Although many NGO tend to guard their autonomy quite fiercely, the kind of work they generally do - providing different services, or supporting functions - can mean that they have to work within the larger political if not social status quo without
challenging it directly. This constraint is probably less strict for advocacy NGOs than for those providing services. People's social movements, unlike NGO, are not constrained in this manner, and many quite consciously set out to alter the social and political status quo. By the very nature of their work, if successful, they tend to be large and may extend beyond specific locales. Their strength is that they are able to go directly to the heart of the causes of poor people's lack of power and work to transform them. But this can also mean that they may face opposition (sometimes violent) from those who control resources, a violence from which they may not be able to insulate their weakest and most powerless members. Interestingly, some of the most exciting of recent empowerment experiences in India are the result of joint actions by government and the non-governmental sector. As we will see in some of the examples below, these are able to avoid the NGO problem of small size and weak replicability, as well as to use the power of the state (to some extent at least) to tackle the vested interests of the powerful. But their strength can also be their weakness, in that they are constantly under pressure to adapt to the needs and methods of government; the danger of cooption or of succumbing to bureaucratic or political pressures from within government are ever present. Programme-related indicators of empowerment Hashemi et al (1996) undertook ethnographic research in six villages for four years to measure the effects of programmes on the empowerment of women. Two villages were Grameen Bank villages, two were BRAC villages, and the other two had no credit programmes. They used a model based on eight indicators of empowerment which were: • mobility; economic security; • ability to make small purchases; • ability to make larger purchases; • involvement in major household decisions; • relative freedom from domination within the family; • political and legal awareness;and involvement in political campaigning and protests
CIDA argue that because of the complex nature of measuring empowerment, qualitative and quantitative indicators need to be underpinned by qualitative analysis. Some key questions for the qualitative analysis suggested are: • How have changes in national/ local legislation empowered or disempowered women or men (e.g. concerning control over resources such as land)? • What is the role of local institutions in empowering/disempowering women/men?
• Is the part women as compared to men, are playing in major decisions in their locality/household increasing or decreasing? • Is there more acknowledgement of the importance of tasks customarily carried out by women, e.g. child care? • How are women organising to increase their empowerment, for example against violence? • If employment and education for women are increasing, is this leading to greater empowerment? Measuring Empowerment from a Universalist Perspective As we move from a discussion of conceptualizing empowerment to measuring it, it is important to note that measures of empowerment must involve standards that lie outside localized gender systems and a recognition of universal elements of gender subordination (Sen and Grown 1987; Bisnath and Elson 1999; Nussbaum 2000). It is clear from the literature on gender and empowerment that the role of gender in development cannot be understood without understanding the sociocultural (as well as political and economic) contexts in which development takes place. The concept of empowerment has meaning only within these specific contexts. At the same time, operational definitions (e.g., definitions embodied in indicators to be applied in the context of development assistance policies, programs, and projects) should be consistent with the spirit of international conventions to which countries providing international development assistance have been signatories. The approach based in universal human rights offers the best operational framework for this task. Local structures of gender inequality are typically experienced as “natural,” and therefore may seem unalterable to actors in a particular social setting. Kabeer (2001) elaborates on this point drawing on Bourdieu’s 1977 idea of “doxa”—the “aspects of tradition and culture which are so taken-for-granted that they have become naturalized.” When women internalize their subordinate status and view themselves as persons of lesser value, their sense of their own rights and entitlements is diminished. They may acquiesce to violence against them, and make “choices” that reinforce their subordinate status. For example, in her life cycle, a South Asian woman may “graduate” from the comparatively subservient position of daughter-inlaw to that of mother-in-law, and in this role she may dominate her son’s wife. Based on the “agency” criterion for describing something as empowerment, one might call this behavior empowered. As a mother-in-law, the woman gained the ability to exercise agency (in the form of power over another person), in a way that she could not when she was a young woman herself. But, we would argue against such a use of the term empowerment. The mother-in-law is acting within an inequitable gender system that severely constrains her ability to make strategic life choices. The system lets her exercise power, but only in ways that reinforce the system. This sort of agency is similar to what Kabeer (2001) describes as choices that reflect women’s consent and complicity in their own subordination. When they lack agency in a broader sense, women should not be considered to be making empowered choices.
Internalized subordination receives particular attention among writers on international education, informed by a Freirian perspective on raising the critical consciousness of the poor (Freire 1994). For example, Stromquist writes that empowerment includes cognitive and psychological elements: It involves “women’s understanding of their conditions of subordination and the causes of such conditions at both micro and macro levels of society…. It involves understanding the self and the need to make choices that may go against cultural and social expectations” (1993:14). Thus, universal standards are necessary to identify empowerment.
Multidimensionality and Existing Frameworks As early as 1981, Acharya and Bennett noted that status is a function of the power attached to a given role, and because women fill a number of roles, it may be misleading to speak of “the status of women” (p. 3). Another early writer on the topic, Mason (1986), pointed out that the phenomenon of gender inequality is inherently complex, that men and women are typically unequal in various ways, and that the nature or extent of their inequality in different settings can vary across these different dimensions (as well by social setting and stage in the life cycle). Since that time, a number of studies have shown that women may be empowered in one area of life while not in others (Malhotra and Mather 1997; Kishor 1995 and 2000b; Hashemi et al. 1996; Beegle et al. 1998). Thus it should not be assumed that if a development intervention promotes women’s empowerment along a particular dimension that empowerment in other areas will necessarily follow. It may or may not. Several different efforts have been made in recent years to develop comprehensive frameworks delineating the various dimensions along which women can be empowered. In Appendix A, we present the essential elements of the empowerment frameworks developed by selected authors. These frameworks employ different levels of specificity. For example, the CIDA (1996) framework includes four broad dimensions of empowerment, while Kishor’s (2000a) framework includes broad (e.g., valuation of women, equality in marriage) as well specific (e.g., lifetime exposure to employment) elements. In Table 1, we synthesize and list the most commonly used dimensions of women’s empowerment, drawing from the frameworks developed by these various authors. Allowing for overlap, these frameworks suggest that women’s empowerment needs to occur along the following dimensions: economic, sociocultural, familial/interpersonal, legal, political, and psychological. However, these dimensions are very broad in scope, and within each dimension, there is a range of sub-domains within which women may be empowered. So, for example, the “sociocultural” dimension covers a range of empowerment sub-domains, from marriage systems to norms regarding women’s physical mobility, to non-familial social support systems and networks available to women. Moreover, in order to operationalize these dimensions, one should consider indicators at various levels of social aggregation -- the household and the community, as well as regional, national, and even global levels. In the table we group commonly used and potentially useful
indicators within various “arenas” or spheres of life. Some of these indicators have been suggested within the frameworks referenced above, while others are a first effort on our part to “flesh out” this schematic for application in development assistance contexts.
Table 1. Individual/household-level indicators of empowerment used in empirical studies.
Most-Frequently-Used Indicators Domestic decision-making Finances, resource allocation, spending, expenditures Social and domestic matters (e.g., cooking) Child-related issues (e.g., well-being, schooling, health) Access to or control over resources Access to, control of cash, household income, assets, unearned income, welfare receipts, household budget, participation in paid employment Mobility/freedom of movement Less-Frequently-Used Indicators Economic contribution to household Time use/division of domestic labor Freedom from violence Management/knowledge Farm management Accounting knowledge Managerial control of loan Public space Political participation (e.g., public protests, political campaigning) Confidence in community actions Development of social and economic collective Marriage/kin/social support Traditional support networks Social status of family of origin Assets brought to marriage Control over choosing a spouse Couple interaction Couple communication
Negotiation and discussion of sex Appreciation in household Sense of self worth Table -2 Dimensions of empowerment in the household, community, and broader arenas. Dimensi Household Community Women’s control over income; relative contribution to family support; access to and control of family resources Women’s access to employment; ownership of assets and land; access to credit; involvement and/or representation in local trade associations; access to markets Women’s visibility in and access to social spaces; access to modern transportation; participation in extra-familial groups and social networks; shift in patriarchal norms (such as son preference); symbolic representation of the female in myth and ritual Shifts in marriage and kinship systems indicating greater value and autonomy for women (e.g., later marriages, self selection of spouses, reduction
Broader Arenas Women’s representation in high paying jobs; women CEOs; representation of women’s economic interests in macroeconomic policies, state and federal budgets Women’s literacy and access to a broad range of educational options; Positive media images of women, their roles and contributions
Women’s freedom of movement; lack of discrimination against daughters; commitment to educating daughters
Participation in domestic decision-making; control over sexual relations; ability to make childbearing decisions, use contraception, access abortion;
Regional/natio nal trends in timing of marriage, options for divorce; political, legal, religious support for (or lack of active opposition to) such shifts; systems
control over spouse selection and marriage timing; freedom from domestic violence Legal Knowledge of legal rights; domestic support for exercising rights
in the practice of dowry; acceptability of divorce); local campaigns against domestic violence Community mobilization for rights; campaigns for rights awareness; effective local enforcement of legal rights
providing easy access to contraception, safe abortion, reproductive health services Laws supporting women’s rights, access to resources and options; Advocacy for rights and legislation; use of judicial system to redress rights violations Women’s representation in regional and national bodies of government; strength as a voting bloc; representation of women’s interests in effective lobbies and interest groups Women’s sense of inclusion and entitlement; systemic acceptance of women’s entitlement and inclusion
Knowledge of political system and means of access to it; domestic support for political engagement; exercising the right to vote
Women’s involvement or mobilization in the local political system/campaigns; support for specific candidates or legislation; representation in local bodies of government Collective awareness of injustice, potential of mobilization
Self-esteem; self-efficacy; psychological well-being
Dimensions of Empowerment Proposed by Selected Authors
Legal empowerment Political empowerment Economic empowerment Social empowerment Knowledge autonomy Decision-making autonomy Physical autonomy Emotional autonomy Economic and social autonomy and self-reliance Financial autonomy Participation in the modern sector Lifetime exposure to employment Sharing of roles and decision-making Family structure amenable to empowerment Equality in marriage (lack of) Devaluation of women Women’s emancipation Marital advantage Traditional marriage Mobility and visibility Economic security Status and decision-making power within the household Ability to interact effectively in the public sphere Participation in nonfamily groups Cognitive Psychological Economic Political Absence of gender inequality in: Mortality rates Natality rates Access to basic facilities such as schooling Access to professional training and higher education Employment Property ownership Household work and decision-making
A. Sen 1999
Difficulties in Measuring a “Process”
Many writers describe empowerment as a “process,” as opposed to a condition or state of being, a distinction that we have emphasized as a key defining feature of empowerment. However, as “moving targets,” processes are difficult to measure, especially with the standard empirical tools available to social scientists. In this section we discuss the major methodological challenges in measuring the process of women’s empowerment, including: the use of direct measures as opposed to proxy indicators, the lack of availability and use of data across time, the subjectivity inherent in assessing processes, and the shifts in relevance of indicators over time. Some authors who have made efforts at empirically measuring empowerment have argued that as a process, it cannot be measured directly, but only through proxies such as health, education level, knowledge (Ackerly 1995). For example, Kishor (2000a) has argued that while the end product of empowerment can be measured through direct indicators, the process can be measured only through proxies such as education and employment. Several large-scale studies of relationships between gender and economic or demographic change have used proxy variables. However, an increasing body of research indicates that commonly used proxy variables such as education or employment are conceptually distant from the dimensions of gender stratification that are hypothesized to effect the outcomes of interest in these studies, and may in some cases be irrelevant or misleading (Mason 1995, p.8-11; Govindasamy and Malhotra 1996). Studies have found that the relevance of a proxy measurement of women’s empowerment may depend on the geographic region (Jejeebhoy 2000), the outcome being examined (Kishor 2000a), or the dimension(s) of empowerment that is of interest (Malhotra and Mather 1997). Mainstreaming gender in UNICEF: the Women’s Empowerment Framework UNICEF has adopted the Women’s Empowerment Framework, developed by Sara Longwe, as an appropriate approach to be used in mainstreaming gender. The framework states that Women’s development can be viewed in terms of five levels of equality, of which empowerment is an essential element at each level. The levels are: 1. Welfare: this addresses only the basic needs of women, without recognising or attempting to solve the underlying structural causes which necessitate provision of welfare services. Women are merely passive beneficiaries of welfare benefits. 2. Access: equality of access to resources such as educational opportunities, land and credit is essential for women to make meaningful progress. The path of empowerment is initiated when women recognise lack of access to resources as a barrier to their growth and overall well-being and take action to redress this. 3. Awareness-raising: for women to take appropriate action to close gender gaps or gender inequalities, there must be recognition that their problems stem from inherent structural and institutional discrimination. They must also recognise the role that women themselves often play in reinforcing the system that restricts their growth. 4. Participation: this is the point where women take decisions equally alongside men. Mobilisation is necessary in order to reach this level. Women will be
empowered to gain increased representation, by organising themselves and working collectively, which will lead to increased empowerment and ultimately greater control. 5. Control: The ultimate level of equality and empowerment, where there is a balance of power between women and men and neither has dominance. Women are able to make decisions regarding their lives and the lives of their children and play an active role in the development process. The contributions of women are fully recognised and rewarded. Legal empowerment Indicators include: • the enforcement of legislation related to the protection of human rights; • number of cases related to women’s rights heard in local courts, and their results; • number of cases related to the legal rights of divorced and widowed women heard in local courts, and results; • the effect of the enforcement of legislation in terms of treatment of offenders; • increase/decrease in violence against women; • rate at which the number of local justices/ prosecutors/ lawyers who are women/men is increasing/decreasing; • rate at which the number of women/men in the local police force, by rank is increasing or decreasing. Political empowerment indicators include: • percentage of seats held by women in local councils/ decision-making bodies; • percentage of women in decision-making positions in local government; • percentage of women in the local civil service; • percentage of women/men registered as voters/ percentage of eligible women/men who vote; • percentage of women in senior/junior decision-making positions within unions; • percentage of union members who are women/men; • number of women who participate in public progress and political campaigning as compared to the number of men. For economic empowerment, changes should be noted over time: • changes in employment/unemployment rates of women and men; • changes in time use in selected activities, particularly greater sharing by household members of unpaid housework and child-care; • salary/wage differentials between women and men; • changes in percentage of property owned and controlled by women and men (land, houses, livestock), across socio-economic and ethnic groups; • average household expenditure of female/male households on education/ health; ability to make small or large purchases independently;
• percentage of available credit, financial and technical support services going to women/men from government/ non-government sources. Social empowerment, changes over time of: • numbers of women in local institutions (e.g. women’s associations, income generating groups etc.) to project are population, and numbers of women in positions of power in local institutions; • extent of training or networking among local women, as compared to men; control of women over fertility decisions (e.g. number of children, number of abortions); • mobility of women within and outside their residential locality, as compared to men. In addition to these quantitative indicators are a series of suggested qualitative indicators comprised of indicator questions to assess empowerment: • To what degree are women aware of local politics, and their legal rights? Are women more or less aware than men? Does this differ by socio-economic grouping, age or ethnicity? Is this changing over time? • Do women and men perceive that they are becoming more empowered? Why? • Do women perceive that they now have greater economic autonomy? Why? • Are changes taking place in the way in which decisions are made in the household, and what is the perceived impact of this? • Do women make decisions independently of men in their household? What sort of decisions are made independently?
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