Women’s empowerment is an integral part of development work. As a not for profit, which believes in gender equality and equity, we use underlying principles of empowerment to design our interventions and achieve outcomes. Empowerment has been discussed, described and discoursed in several ways by generations of scholars and feminists. According to World Bank, empowerment is the expansion of assets and capabilities of poor people to participate in, negotiate with, influence, control, and hold accountable institutions that affect their lives. Taking a cue from the works of many renowned scholars and works by feminist activists and development professionals like Nanette Page and Cheryl E. Czuba, we understand it as a process can be both at individual and collective levels.
Based on our work so far at Swasti Health Catalyst, we have realised that empowerment can be “ a multidimensional social process through which an individual finds, internalises own inner strength of power within, realizes one’s own full potential, becomes more confident to practice control over one’s own life and claim rights”. The journey starts with self-awareness and realisation of power within and it can be strengthened individually and collectively by learning new skills, building knowledge, making informed choices and such.
At Swasti Health Catalyst, we work with women from various communities and societies to strengthen their capacities with knowledge, information and foundational life and leadership skills. As facilitators of positive change, it is imperative to always ask, “What does empowerment entail?” It is critical to simplify the concept and break it up in a practical manner for NGOs and facilitators to learn, contextualise and adapt various concepts and aspects of empowerment in their program design and implementation. Critical questions should be asked at the beginning, during and at the end of any intervention – Why is empowerment necessary? For whom? How should we design and implement the concept? Do our participants really understand? Is this what they want?
We may approach empowerment by providing life skills on effective communication, negotiation, problem-solving, and decision-making skills which will enable the women to make an informed choice in life, learn to voice an opinion, seek entitlements for social security, and say no to violence and exploitation assertively. However, as facilitators, we need to adapt and practice, “not to become the voices of the community but build community capacities to voice issues, opinion and find solutions”. To enable the empowerment process, a per WDR report, it is critical to identify the major influencing conditions such as the nature of a public action, patterns of exclusion and conflict, the extent of decentralization, strength of local-level institutions and civil society, and extent of political freedom. These are crucial for making informed policy choices and designing the interventions. Evidently, one has to understand the existing social norms and structures to intervene biases, discriminatory beliefs, and inequitable practices.
In the end, it is about an equitable society for all, free from prejudices and exploitation. Women’s economic empowerment is a prerequisite for sustainable development, pro-poor growth, and the achievement of all the SDGs. There is no one single model or approach for empowerment. There is no quick fix and long-term approach backed by effective policies is the only way forward.