The Meaning of Women's Empowerment: New Concepts from Action

The Meaning of Women's Empowerment: New Concepts from Action

This paper analyses how gender power relations can be transformed through women's raised consciousness, resource control and collective mobilisation.

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 organized mass movement that challenges and transforms existing power relations in society.

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