The rhetorical use of ’empowerment’ in the development discourse started taking shape in the mid 2oth century, as a means to challenge power structures for the public good. Since the mid 1990s it has been used profusely across all sectors (including corporations), giving it the nuance of a cliché.

In the same rhetoric, the debate on women empowerment has intensified as a fundamental approach for transforming power relations in favour of women. However, while the term ‘women empowerment’ has been used frequently by policy makers, professionals, and academics; there is little clarity as to how it can be achieved.

That’s why, drawing on my experience as a development professional in PRADAN, working with women’s collectives, women leaders, funders, government and programmes, I attempt to revisit the effectiveness of efforts toward women’s empowerment.

Given the ever-increasing focus of government, funders, and professionals on including women in various schemes and programmes, it is imperative to make a distinction between programmes that are for women, and women empowerment. Because in the present scenario, anything happening with, or for women, falls under the category of ‘women empowerment’.

What makes policy makers and nonprofits think of credit as an empowering mechanism? It stems from the affinity group approach being developed for extending credit to women, which creates an illusion that women congregated in a group and having regular meetings, is sufficient to facilitate empowerment.

There needs to be greater partnership among policy makers, funders, academics, practitioners, and media, to help create an environment of dialogue within communities, and within institutions. This kind of partnership must guarantee that there are constitutional arrangements for safeguarding people’s right to speak up and engage in public discourse. Mere laws and provisions are far from sufficient.

Read the full article about women empowerment in India by Sudarshan Thakur at India Development Review.