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September 7, 2020

How to do Women Empowerment?

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The term ‘empowerment’ is frequently heard today all over the world. It is clearly connected to the word ‘Power’. The term ‘power’ in turn connotes control. In the context of human society, it means control over resources. The resources could be material such as natural resources, financial resources, and human resources such as skills, labor, or intellectual resources including information, ideas and knowledge, etc. Power is a relational dynamic between an individual or between groups of people and is often unequally distributed. The inequality results in control or domination. Many a time the domination is accompanied by exploitation.

According to the New Oxford Dictionary, the term ‘Empowerment’ is derived from the word ‘empower’ which means give (someone) the authority or power to do something or make (someone) stronger and more confident,  especially in controlling in their life and claiming their rights. 

According to the World English Dictionary, ENCARTA, the term ‘Empower’ means, inspire

(someone) with confidence; to give (someone) a sense of confidence or self-esteem.

The word ‘empower’ arisen in the mid-17th century with the legalistic meaning “to invest with authority, authorize”, is not new. Shortly afterward, it began to be used with an infinitive in a more general way, having the meaning “to enable or permit.” Both of these uses survive today but have been overpowered by the word’s use in politics and pop psychology. Its modern use originated in the civil rights movements, which sought political empowerment for its followers. The word was then taken up by the women’s movement. In the feminist and development literature related to women and poverty issues, this term began to be used in the 1980s. Little by little the idea of empowering women-mostly poor women in the third world- has been gaining importance in the agenda of NGOs, national governments, and donor agencies like World Bank.

Definitions of Empowerment 

According to the Collins Cobuild English Dictionary, “The empowerment of a person or group of people is the process of giving them power and status in a particular situation.”

According to the Merriam Webster New World College Dictionary, ‘To empower’ means-

a. To give power or authority to;

b. To give ability,

c. To enable.

According to Oxfam (It is an international organization working on poverty 

and suffering) “Empowerment involves challenging the forms of oppression which 

compel millions of people to pay a part in their society on terms which are inequitable, or in ways which deny their human rights.”

According to Ackerley:

“Empowerment can be considered as a change in the context of a woman or man’s life that enables her/ him increased capacity to lead a fulfilling human life, characterized by external qualities such as health, mobility, education and awareness, status in the family, participation in decision making and level of material security, as well as internal qualities such as self-awareness and self-confidence.”

What Is Women Empowerment?

Half of the human women have been suffering from disability, discrimination, injustice, and inequality all over the world for almost many centuries. They receive a small share of development opportunities, they are often deprived of educational opportunities; better jobs; political systems, or adequate health care facilities. For centuries women have been regulated to a secondary status in the family and society.

All over the world women are always dominated by men on the basis of sex, gender, and patriarchal views. ‘Sex’ is used to indicate the biological differences between females and male i.e. female can bear and nurse children and male cannot. This difference is created by nature but ‘Gender’ represents the socially constructed differences - in terms of accepted attributes, roles, and relationships between women and men and girls and boys in a given society. The concept assumes that the gender differences apparent in every society have been created and reproduced through socio-cultural, religious,. Political and economic factors, which are lenses through which biological differences have been viewed and interpreted. Thus while women’s childbearing abilities are part of their sex, the confinement of women to the home in many cultures is due to their gender.

The notion of ‘biological difference’ is often used to justify discrimination beliefs about women and men’s relative intelligence, emotional behavior or suitability to certain jobs.

Women are commonly portrayed as among the most oppressed people in the third world. Indeed, the experience of the majority of women of the subcontinent is grounded in both poverty and patriarchy. Patriarchy means the rule of the father. Patriarchy is used to refer to male domination, to power relationships by which men dominate women, and especially to the system through which women are kept subordinate. Patriarchy constrains women in all facets of life i.e. women’s reproductive abilities, women’s ownership and control on the property, and other economic resources including access to education and information, etc. Overall structure of patriarchy allows men, in general, more mobility, authority, and control than women in general.

In this socially constructed, rigid, and narrowly defined gender roles, it is ‘woman’ who pays the price in a much more obvious way. Above all issues are women’s issues, they affect women and along with them their families, communities, economies, and societies are also affected. So still more recent is the growing realization and recognition all over the world that women empowerment is absolutely essential for human, national, and real global development. Nobel Laureate Dr. Amartya Sen sees ‘development as freedom’ which in turn empowers. He emphasizes, “Indeed, the empowerment of women is one of the central issues in the process of development for many countries in the world today.

Definitions of Women Empowerment

According to Srilata Batliwala:

A well-known women activist has defined women’s empowerment as, “the process by which women gain greater control over material and intellectual resources, and challenge the ideology of patriarchy and gender-based discrimination against women in all institutions and structures of society.”

The Human Development Report 1995, stressed that “Empowerment is about participation: investing in women’s capabilities and empowering them to exercise their choices is not only valuable in itself but is also the surest way to contribute to economic growth and overall development.”

According to Nelly Stromquist 

“Women’s empowerment must include four components :

1) Cognitive,

2) Psychological,

 3) Economic and 

4) political.

The cognitive component refers to women’s understanding and causes of such conditions at both micro and macro levels of society. This component involves understanding of gender relations as well as destroying old beliefs that structure powerful gender ideologies. The psychological component includes the development of feelings that women can act on at personal and social levels to improve their condition. The economic component requires that let women be able to engage in a productive activity that will allow them some degree of authority. The political component encompasses the ability to organize and mobilize for social change.

In the view of Stromquist, an empowerment process must involve not only individual awareness but also collective awareness and collective action. The author says that empowerment is a process to change the distribution of power, both in interpersonal relations and in institutions throughout society.”

The aim of the empowerment of women is to empower women against patriarchy and its control and not against men. The aim of greater empowerment of women is the fuller and wholesome development of stereotyped sex roles which will also free men from the boundaries of their traditional roles and behavioral patterns. The idea is to provide both men and women with opportunities for equal development. The liberalization of men may mean they have to let go of their traditional rights and power over women and they may want to have a relationship with women, which rests on mutual respect for each others’ rights and responsibilities.

The empowerment of women begins when she becomes aware of the socio-psycho-cultural injustice that is being done to her and also how gender inequality and inequity and gender and socio-cultural, economic, and political forces are affecting her adversely in every sphere of her life. It starts when she becomes fully aware of her positive self-image, self-esteem, rights and duties, her capabilities, and potentialities.


As an outcome of industrialization, in Europe, women started working in the factories and also demanded equal treatment as men workers. In a way, it was the commencement of their journey towards liberalization. But the declaration of the United Nations’ charter in 1945 stressing the principle of equality for men and women is considered as the first legal step in the journey of women’s empowerment at a global level. In 1967 the Economic and Social Council of United Nations declared CEDAW and adopted it in 1979. It is, in essence, the International Bill for women. It provided a working agenda for moving towards gender equality.

During the time of the United Nations’ First World Conference on Women in 1975, at Mexico, a world plan of action with equality, development, and peace as its theme was accepted. March 8th, 1975 was observed as International Women’s Day for the first time by the United Nations, and the decade 1976-1985 was declared as ‘the decade for women’s development.’ In 1980, the Second World Conference on Women was held at Copenhagen to review mid-decade progress of women empowerment. In 1986, the third world conference held at Nairobi remained significant with its forward-looking strategies for the advancement of women by the year 2000.

International Conference on Population and Development  1994 for the first time considered women empowerment as an integral part of development. 

The United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women held in 1995 in Beijing was remarkable for the Beijing platform for action. The message of this conference was that women’s issues are global and universal. All these are the landmarks accelerating the pace of women empowerment at the global level. The following are the major efforts taken at the International level for making women economically free and independent. Before 1975 there was a ‘welfarist’ perspective emphasizing delivery of food, family planning, health care, etc. which manifested itself in the forms of subsidies and ffeeships for girls and women in a few programs. But with the 1975’s declaration of UNs, ‘Decade for women’ the focus shifted from welfare to an ‘equity’ approach. This approach recognized women’s active role in the development process as reproductive, productive, and community workers and emphasized the fulfillment of their strategic needs through direct state intervention. Due to its political nature, this approach was not very acceptable to governments, and it was soon replaced by an ‘anti-poverty’ approach which focussed on practical needs surrounding women’s productive role.

While recognizing the validity of the claim that a country’s development prospects largely depend on women’s full participation in social, political, and economic life the focus shifted from an anti-poverty to ‘efficiency’ approach. The ‘empowerment’ approach followed by the ‘efficiency’ approach considers women’s improved condition and position to end in themselves, rather than only a means to broader development goals. This approach focuses on meeting women’s strategic needs but unlike the equity approach, it focuses on a bottom-up process.


Women Movements in Pre-Independence Era: During the 19th and 20th centuries, the social reformation movements in India played a very significant role in changing the status of women through legislative reforms along with a change in social attitudes. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Mahatma Phule, Maharshi Karve had fought very hard for changing some of the traditional values and practices that had been suppressing women. They had addressed a wide range of issues such as women’s education, child marriage, widow remarriage, and abolition of Sati tradition. As a result of this struggle, some progressive legislation that gave women better rights was passed.

The freedom movement played a very significant role in creating space for women and bringing them to the forefront. Mahatma Gandhi encouraged women to participate in the freedom movement, women came out of their homes and joined the freedom struggle. During this period several organizations were established for the advancement of women’s education and empowerment. Then a strong women’s movement emerged which fought for greater space for women in society.

Constitutional Provisions:

The Constitution of India is one of the most advanced constitutions in the world which have attempted to remove every kind of discrimination against women in the legal and public domain of the republic. Article 15 prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the ground of sex whereas article 14 confers equal rights and opportunities on men ami women in the political economy and social spheres. The Article 51A(e) imposes a fundamental duty on every citizen to renounce the practices derogatory to the dignity of women. Article 39 ensures equal pay for equal work for both men and women.

The Post-Independence Era:

In India the efforts have also been made through five year plans to attain women's advancement in all walks of life. But its initial journey was not specifically directed towards women empowerment. The approach in the first and the second five-year plan was developmental, concentrating on women's need for education, health and welfare, etc. But the government approach till the 5th Five Year Plan was condemned in the report of the Committee on the status of women in India for having a failure in addressing the major problems of poverty, illiteracy, non-enrollment and drop-out rates of women. At the time of the 6th Five Year Plan (1980-85) women organizations began to make an impact on the planning process. A memorandum submitted by seven women members of Parliament persuaded the Planning Commission to incorporate for the first time in Indian planning history a chapter on women and

development. In the 7th Five Year Plan, the strategy of organizing women around socio-economic activities was reiterated. The landmarks in the history of women empowerment in India are the establishment of Department of women and Child Development (1986) and National Policy on Education (1986). This policy for the first time indicated a government system to shoulder major responsibility for the genuine empowerment of women by changing the social construction of gender. The 8th Plan (1992-99) indicates the gradual shift from development to the empowerment of women. It has been said in this plan that women must be enabled to function as equal partners and participants in the development process. The 8th Five Year Plan focussed on violence against women and “Situational Analysis” highlighting the problems of higher mortality, lower education, and increasing unemployment of women. The most drastic development in this plan is the passing of the 73rd and 74th (Constitutional) amendment in 1993. It has given the opportunity for women to come into the decision making positions in governance by being elected to one-third of the membership reserved for women in Panchayat Raj and Municipalities. The 9th Five Year Plan declared the empowerment of women as one of the objectives of the plan. It caused for reliance on women’s self-help groups as a strategy. Indian government declared the year 2001 as ‘The Year of Women Empowerment’ which is considered a milestone in the journey of women empowerment in India. The National Policy for Empowerment of Women was declared this year to prescribe strategies and action which pointed to bridge the gap between the equal de-jure status and unequal de-facto position of the women in the country. It also suggested the gender mainstreaming perspective to be used at all levels for the advancement of women. The contribution of NGOs and various women organizations in the women empowerment movement also cannot be ignored. They have also contributed a lot to enhance the progress of women empowerment. 


While nature has made men and women differently, society and culture determine the roles that they perform and the value accorded to each. Their status, therefore, depends on the attitudes of the society towards men and women according to the various roles they play at home and in society. For centuries women have been neglected to secondary status in the family and in society. The following some indicators show the secondary status of women in society.

Indicators of Women’s Secondary Status :

Sex Ratio:

This is an important indicator that is used to measure women’s status. The sex ratio means the number of females per thousand males. In all but few countries in the world, there are 1050 females per 1000 males. In industrialized countries, the adult sex ratio is 1060 females. However, of the total population of 1.4 billion in the south Asian states, only 48% are girls and women.

In South Asia, excluding Sri Lanka, there is evidence of inequitable feeding practices for boys and girls from infancy. It is not a mere coincidence that there are lesser women than men in India. While the arrival of a male child is celebrated, the birth of a female child is often seen as an occasion for sorrow and ill luck. In many parts of the country, families go to the extent of killing their daughters before they are born, by finding out the sex of the unborn baby through ultra-sound tests. The adverse sex ratio can be attributed to a number of factors, the most striking being the male preference.

Literacy and Education :

Education is a process of human enlightenment and empowerment for the achievement of better and high-quality life. A sound and very effective system of education will result in the unfolding of human potentialities, enhancement of their competencies, transformation of their interests, attitudes, and values. Actually, the literacy rate of females is not satisfactory. The reluctance to educate girls is rooted in society’s overall perception of the status of women. While educating the boys is regarded as an investment for future economic returns, educating girls is understood to give fewer returns. Without education, the option for further development is restricted to the girls. South Asia presents a shocking profile of educational deprivation of women:

• More than half of South Asian adult illiterates are women

• More than two-thirds ofSouth-Asian, out of primary school children, are girls

• Nearly two-fifths of girls enrolled in primary school, drop out before grade 5.14

In India, the female literacy rate according to the 2001 census was 54.03% as against 75.64% males. Illiterate girls grow into illiterate women. Without education, women are unable to exercise their rights and access health care services with confidence. Their opportunities for employment get narrowed and restricted. 

Women’s Health:

Studies from developing countries reveal that women are more prone to disease than men. Most women generally suffer from chronic energy deficit, due to insufficient caloric intake, which is 500 to 700 calories less than recommended. The women are susceptible to many life-threatening diseases including vicious malnutrition - disease cycle, tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/ AIDS physiological stress, etc. They face the risk of malnutrition and disease, right from infancy and early childhood to reproductive and post-menopausal phases, in almost all stages of life. Health seeking behavior varies according to whether the patient is male or female. Among children too, the male child receives preference. The girl child gets less nutrition and health care. Every year, of the 12 million girls born in India, 1.5 million die before their first birthday and another 8,50,000 die before their fifth birthday. Only 9 million live to the age of 15. This discrimination continues throughout adolescence and womanhood. Women are unable to get access to medical health services for a number of reasons including neglect of women’s health and sickness. 

According to a 1996 World Bank’s report on health, an Indian woman is 100 times more likely to die during or after the childbirth than a woman in the west. In the low socio-economic rural milieu of our country, boys are 50 times more likely to be treated for malnutrition than their sisters, even though the condition is 4 to 5 times more prevalent in girls.

Work and Employment:

Though women who previously only used to confine themselves to household boundaries have started taking up employment outside the home, now are facing a double burden because of their duel role as homemakers as well as bread earners. But still, the percentage of women working outside the home is very negligible. In developing countries, women have very fewer job opportunities. The employment participation rates of women are an average 50% of those of men and most of them work in the informal sector. In the industrial sector, women are mainly employed as labor. Very few become supervisors or managers. Even when women do find work, they tend to get paid much less. Wage discrimination related to women can be observed in any field. Women have been traditionally denied the role of entrepreneurs in spite of being good managers, persistent, committed, and hard workers by nature, on the basis of gender factors like bias, their lower level of literacy, and lack of access to credit.


One of the most obvious forms of oppression that women have to face because of their unequal status is violence which has led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of women’s full advancement. Violence against women encompasses the following issues :

Physical, sexual, and psychological violence occurring in the family, including beating, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, etc.

Physical sexual and psychological violence occurring in the community -including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, trafficking in women, and prostitution.

Physical, sexual, and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the state wherever it occurs. Worldwide, 20% to 50% of women experience some degree of domestic violence during married life. A quarter of all women are raped during their lifetime. Depending on the country, 25 to 75% of women are regularly beaten at home. Over 20 million women have undergone female genital mutilation. In India rape takes place every 54 minutes and dowry death every 1000 minutes. There was an increase of 169% in dowry deaths from 1987 to 1991.

Women’s participation in Decision Making and Political Activities: Even when women become economically independent, they have not assumed responsibility for major decisions in the home. Women are generally restricted to take decisions regarding the traditional spheres or are allowed to assume some responsibilities in the latter years of their lives. Relatively few women have a say in, how and when the family finances are to be invested, what crops to grow, and what decisions should be taken regarding assets and property, etc. The majority of South Asian women are illiterate, in poor health, invisible in the system of national accounts, and suffer legal, political, economic, and social discrimination in all walks of life which results in the lowest rates of their participation in governance and decision making posts. In South Asia - Women occupy only 7% of parliamentary seats, only 9% of cabinet members are women, only 6% of position in the judiciary are held by women and only 20% of members of local government are women. This minimum share of women shows, Asian women’s poor representation at the decision making posts. It indicates that in most countries there is gender discrimination which is responsible for the poor representation of women in the political sphere and in the process of decision making.