Empowerment as a guideline for development policy

Contemporary instruments and challenges

Term Paper, 2010

15 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1. Introduction

2. The emergence and meaning of empowerment as a guideline for development policy
a. The emergence of the empowerment concept out of a gender perspective
b. Dimensions of empowerment
c. Definitions of empowerment
d. Implementing empowerment
e. Measuring empowerment
f. Critique

3. Instruments of empowerment in the public sphere: Budget support
a. Definition, objectives and preconditions
b. Effects, risks and chances

4. Instruments of empowerment in the private sphere: Microfinance
a. Definition, demand and supply, products and services
b. Objectives, outreach and impact

5. Conclusion

6. References

1. Introduction

In 2010, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development is equipped with approximately six billion euros1 – the highest budget it has ever had on its disposal. But still, the choir of critics is growing louder. One group is unsatisfied with the amount of money provided. They claim that the poverty of more than two billion people in the world cannot be overcome with 104 billion dollars – the worldwide amount of development aid in 2006, which is only one third higher than the budget of North Rhine-Westphalia.2 The other group of critics points to the fact that more than 500 billion dollars of development aid have been spent since the 1960s – whereas poverty, public debts and violent conflicts in the Global South3 have not at all diminished.4 They plead for a renewal of development policy concepts. One of those more progressive concepts is the idea of empowerment, which I am going to examine in this paper.

Development theory has undergone significant changes since its rising in the 1950s. From modernization theory according to which “underdeveloped” countries should “catch up” on the level of development the “First World” had already obtained, via the basic needs and adjusted development models which were the first to lay a focus on “self-help”, the latest paradigm named sustainable development gained more and more attention since the epochal world conferences of the 1990s, first and foremost in Rio de Janeiro (1992) and ten years later in Johannesburg.2 Sustainability added new dimensions to the existing development concepts but it also threw light at the effectiveness of development aid. Critics from the Global South, like the Kenyan economist James Shikwati, reckoned that aid had created a lot more dependency than prosperity.4 In Germany, the “Bonner Aufruf” for a different development policy put two assumptions in the center of criticism: first, the Global North could impose development on the Global South and second, more money meant more development.5

In this context, the consciousness is growing that the only sustainable aid is the one which makes itself redundant – by empowering people to lead a self-determined life. In the following, I am going to examine the evolution and actual meaning of the term “empowerment” and its significance to development policy. Subsequently, I will present two types of instruments which are designed to foster empowerment. The first type is linked to the public sector and consists of budget support and participatory budgeting. The second type emerged out of the private sphere and includes microfinance and social business. I attempt to clarify those instruments’ linkages with empowerment and analyze their advantages and disadvantages. Finally, I am going to draw my conclusions and designate questions that might remain unsettled.

2. The emergence and meaning of empowerment as a guideline for development policy

a. The emergence of the empowerment concept out of a gender perspective

Although “empowerment” has become a frequent term in the contemporary development discourse, it is rarely acknowledged where its origin is located. The concept was developed during the mid 1980s and presented publicly for the first time at the Fourth World Conference on Women 1995 in Beijing.6 One of the most important contributions to the concept of empowerment was made by “Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era” (DAWN), a feminist network of activists and researchers. What makes the approach quite singular and authentic is that it is not imposed by the dominant scientific community from the North but a bottom-up approach created by women from the Global South. From this perspective, empowerment “involves the radical alternation of the processes and structures which reproduce women’s subordinate position as a gender”.7 Nevertheless, the forward thinkers of empowerment already showed consideration for the fact that subordination might also exist due to other factors than gender like class and ethnicity. Together with its growing popularity in mainstream development theory the meaning and usage of the idea experienced certain changes. It is not limited anymore to gender issues but puts emphasis on the problem of global inequality. Moreover, “empowerment is often envisaged as individual rather than as collective, and focused on entrepreneurship and individual self-reliance, rather than on co- operation to challenge power structures which subordinate women (or other marginalised groups)”.8

b. Dimensions of empowerment

By empowerment we understand a complex process which takes place on several levels in numerous dimensions that are mutually related and reinforcing.

Empowerment on the personal/individual level is often regarded as a precondition for all following stages. Its core elements are: “self-confidence; self-esteem; sense of agency (being an individual who can interact with her surroundings and cause things to happen); ‘self’ in a wider context (being able to move out of the gender-assigned roles given by culture); and dignity”.9 The next level would be empowerment in the family/close relationships. Here we can state as key elements: “ability to negotiate; ability to communicate; ability to get support; self-organization and management; ability to defend self/rights; sense of ‘self’ in the relationship; and dignity”.10 Third, collective empowerment takes place on the level of the community and is characterized by: “sense of collective agency; self organization and management; group identity; and group dignity”.11 Some thinkers also suggest a macro-level of empowerment which could stretch over nations and continents.

Coming to the diverse dimensions of empowerment, social, political, economic and psychological aspects are mentioned broadly but one could also include legal, cultural and physical dimensions. Friedmann regards (dis)empowerment as a model for understanding poverty which he describes as lack of access to bases of social power. Consequently, empowering people means offering them access to these bases, namely: a defensible life space, surplus time, knowledge and skills, appropriate information, social organization, social networks, instruments of work and livelihood as well as financial resources.12

c. Definitions of empowerment

There are several working definitions of empowerment at hand. However it remains a multi- dimensional, controversial concept that should be kept open for further discussion. Numerous terms are associated with empowerment. “These terms include self-strength, control, self-power, self- reliance, own choice, life of dignity in accordance with one’s values, capable of fighting for one’s rights, independence, own decision making, being free, awakening, and capability—to mention only a few. These definitions are embedded in local value and belief systems”.13

According to Kabeer, empowerment “refers to the expansion in people’s ability to make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied to them”.14 The World Bank suggests that 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”.15 Another definition assumes that empowerment means “a psychological sense of personal control or influence and a concern with actual social influence, political power, and legal rights. It is a multi-level construct applicable to individual citizens as well as to organizations and neighborhoods; it suggests the study of people in context”.16


1 http://www.bmz.de/de/ministerium/haushalt/index.html (Zugriffstag für alle Links: 08.08.2010)

2 http://www.omnia-verlag.de/weltimwandel/php/start.php?id=3915&bc=-3912-3915

3 In my paper, I am going to use the term „Global South“ instead of „Third World“ or “less and least developed countries”.

4 http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/11/14/1037080848089.html

5 http://www.bonner-aufruf.eu/?seite=aufruf

6 Schöninger, 2000 p. 5

7 Young, 1993 quoted in Taşli, 2007 p.30

8 Baden and Oxaal, 1997 p. 5

9 Rowlands, 1997 and Rowlands, 1998 quoted in Taşli, 2007 p.37

10 Rowlands, 1997 and Rowlands, 1998 quoted in Taşli, 2007 p.38

11 Rowlands, 1997 quoted in Taşli, 2007 p.37

12 Friedmann, 1992 p. 66-69

13 World Bank, 2002 p. 10

14 Kabeer, 2001 quoted in Taşli, 2007 p.35

15 World Bank, 2002 p. 11

16 Rappaport, 1987 quoted in Melkote and Steeves, 2001 p. 354

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Empowerment as a guideline for development policy
Contemporary instruments and challenges
University of Applied Sciences Bremen
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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506 KB
empowerment, contemporary
Quote paper
Lisa Wegener (Author), 2010, Empowerment as a guideline for development policy, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/168590


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