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Understanding and Operationalising Empowerment

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Understanding and
operationalising empowerment
Cecilia Luttrell and Sitna Quiroz,
with Claire Scrutton and Kate Bird
Working Paper 308
Results of ODI research presented
in preliminary form for discussion
and critical comment
Overseas Development
Institute
Working Paper 308
Understanding and operationalising
empowerment
Cecilia Luttrell and Sitna Quiroz,
with Claire Scrutton and Kate Bird
November 2009
Overseas Development Institute
111 Westminster Bridge Road
London SE7 1JD
ww.odi.org.uk
Disclaimer: The views presented in this paper are those of the authors and do
not necessarily represent the views of ODI or SDC.
ii
ISBN 978 1 907288 03 6
Working Paper (Print) ISSN 1759 2909
ODI Working Papers (Online) ISSN 1759 2917
© Overseas Development Institute 2009
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise,
without the prior written permission of the publishers.
iii
Contents
1. Introduction 1
2. The history of debates surrounding empowerment 2
3. Empowerment as a process or an outcome? 5
4. Understanding power 6
5. The agency approach versus an emphasis on structure 9
6. Three continuums of power: The Power Cube 11
7. Empowerment and implications for partnership 14
8. Empowerment: A multidimensional approach to poverty reduction 16
References 17
Annex 1: Linkages between rights-based approaches and empowerment 19
Annex 2: The Power Cube explained 22
Annex 3: The definition and operationalisation of empowerment in different development agencies 27
Boxes, tables and figures
Box 1: Various dimensions of empowerment 1
Box 2: Agency and structure explained 9
Box 3: Tackling discrimination the pros and cons of using visible spaces 13
Table 1: Implications of different dimensions of power 2
Table 2: Examples of outcomes on assets (capabilities) of the different definitions of power
at a variety of scales (individual, household, group, etc.) 8
Table 3: Comparing objectives from an agency and a structural perspective 9
Figure 1: The CapDev Butterfly 7
Figure 2: The Power Cube 11
iv
Acronyms
AIDS Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome
CIDA Canadian International Development Agency
DAC Development Assistance Committee
Danida Danish International Development Agency
DFID UK Department for International Development
EC European Commission
FRIDE Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior
GAD Gender and Development
GP Gram Panchayat (local government unit in India)
GTZ German Development Cooperation
HIV Human Immunodeficiency Virus
IC Intercooperation
ICT information and communication technology
IFAD International Fund for Agricultural Development
IFI International Finance Institution
IMF International Monetary Fund
JICA Japan International Cooperation Agency
NGO Non-governmental Organisation
Norad Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation
ODI Overseas Development Institute
SDC Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
SHG Self-help Group
Sida Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
UNDP UN Development Program
UNHCHR UN High Commission for Human Rights
UNICEF UN Children’s Fund
USAID US Agency for International Development
VDS Village Development Society
WID Women in Development
WTO World Trade Organization
Acknowledgements
This paper was commissioned by the Social Development Division of the Swiss Agency for Development
and Cooperation (SDC). The authors would like to thank Laurent Ruedin and Reto Wieser for their
important contribution and guidance, and Roo Griffiths, Francesca Iannini, Jo Adcock and Josie Tucker
for their editorial support. Useful comments and input were provided also by Jane Carter, Maya Tissafi
and Martin Fischler. Responsibility for the opinions expressed in this report, and any errors, are the
authors’ alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) or
SDC.
1
1. Introduction
This paper presents an overview of the different definitions of and conceptual approaches to
empowerment. It was produced for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) following
publication of an independent evaluation of SDC’s application of empowerment approaches in its
development programming.
Discussions around empowerment are commonly limited to activities associated with ‘economic’,
social and ‘political’ empowerment (see Box 1). Transforming power relations does require
intervention in these different dimensions and levels, but this paper takes the debate beyond such a
sectoral approach to explore a number of conceptual issues that have practical implications for the
operationalisation of empowerment. The main issues covered by the paper include:
The recent history of the use of the term ‘empowerment’ in development;
Different definitions and conceptual approaches to empowerment; and
Various operational implications of these debates, including whether empowerment is viewed
as a process or an outcome; how power operates; strategies for inclusion; and implications of
working on empowerment with partners.
Box 1: Various dimensions of empowerment
Economic empowerment
Economic empowerment seeks to ensure that people have the appropriate skills, capabilities and resources and
access to secure and sustainable incomes and livelihoods. Related to this, some organisations focus heavily on
the importance of access to assets and resources.
Human and social empowerment
Empowerment as a multidimensional social process that helps people gain control over their own lives. This is a
process that fosters power (that is, the capacity to implement) in people, for use in their own lives, their
communities and their society, by being able to act on issues that they define as important (Page and Czuba,
1999).
Political empowerment
The capacity to analyse, organise and mobilise. This results in the collective action that is needed for collective
change. It is often related to a rights-based approach to empowerment and the empowering of citizens to claim
their rights and entitlements (Piron and Watkins, 2004).
Cultural empowerment
The redefining of rules and norms and the recreating of cultural and symbolic practises (Stromquist, 1993). This
may involve focusing on minority rights by using culture as an entry point.
2
2. The history of debates surrounding empowerment
Since the 1980s, the theme of empowerment has become central to the work of many development
organisations. SDC (2004) conceptualises empowerment as an emancipation process in which the
disadvantaged are empowered to exercise their rights, obtain access to resources and participate
actively in the process of shaping society and making decisions. However, there is a range of
definitions and approaches used by different organisations (see Annex. To some, empowerment is a
political concept that involves a collective struggle against oppressive social relations. To others, it
refers to the consciousness of individuals and the power to express and act on one's desires. These
differences stem from the many different origins and uses of the term.
In addition to these differences, the term ‘empowerment’ does not translate easily or equally. The
Spanish word
empoderamiento
implies that power is something provided by a benefactor to a
beneficiary, a clear example of ‘power over’ (see Table 1, which explores different types of power
relations). According to the dictionary,
empoderar
is an obsolete word. Garcia Moreno (2005) asks why
empoderamiento
is used as the translation by development agencies instead of
apoderamiento
or
fortalecimiento
, which come from verbs in current use. He suggests that the term
empoderamiento
allows the perpetuation of an ambiguous discourse, permitting institutions with different ideologies to
establish their own agendas. Bucheli and Ditren (2001) describe how one workshop discussion in
Nicaragua led to a consensus that the term
participación
social’
better reflects the English use of the
word. In both German and French, the English ‘to empower’ can be translated into two different verbs:
ermächtigen/autoriser
(which suggests ‘power over’) on the one hand, and
befähigen/rendre capable
(‘power to’) on the other. There are other possibilities for a French translation: the Quebec French
dictionary uses the word
autonomisation
;
the World Bank (2000, in Doligez, 2003) uses the words
demarginalisation
and
intégration
. Empowerment is also found in the literature as
renforcement des
capacities
and
participation
(Doligez, 2003). In order to promote a common understanding on
empowerment, both terms may be necessary to encompass not only the formal, legal strengthening of
entitlements, but also the
capacity
to make practical use of these formal entitlements.
The roots of thinking on empowerment lie in feminist theory and popular education, which stressed the personal
and inner dimensions of power
The two main alternative roots of influence to the empowerment ‘philosophy’ today appear to be the
work of Paolo Freire and the feminist movement. The concept of ‘popular education’ of Paolo Freire was
developed in the 1960s and became influential in development in Latin America in the 1970s,
associated particularly with literacy projects (Freire, 1970). In the 1980s, empowerment was seen, for
the most part, as a radical project of social transformation, to enable otherwise excluded social groups
to define and claim their rights collectively.
Table 1: Implications of different dimensions of power
Type of power relation
Implications for an understanding of empowerment
Power Over
: ability to influence and
coerce
Changes in underlying resources and power to challenge constraints
Power To
: organise and change existing
hierarchies
Increased individual capacity and opportunities for access
Power With
: increased power from
collective action
Increased solidarity to challenge underlying assumptions
Power from Within
: increased individual
consciousness
Increased awareness and desire for change
Source
: Rowlands (1997).
The actual term ‘empowerment’ was first commonly used in association with the women’s movement,
within a discourse of feminism that drew on the influence of popular education and focused on the role
3
of the individual in politics.
1
In contrast with other debates in feminism, which are dominated by
Northern thinking, much of the writing on empowerment and gender emerged from the South. In the
mid-1980s, the ‘empowerment of women’ became an important part of the debate on gender and
development. It has had much influence in subsequent wider development thinking. The concept of
empowerment was propelled further by feminist critiques of development. The Women in Development
(WID) approach, which sought to include women in development for efficiency purposes, was now
accused of not questioning the underlying reasons for female subordination.
Empowerment is associated with the gender and development approach and challenging the way in which the
inclusion of women in the development process can increase their work burden
The gender and development (GAD) approach, which developed in reaction to the WID approach, was
concerned with the way in which the inclusion of women in the development process increased their
work burden or displaced it elsewhere in the family. In so doing, the GAD approach explicitly addressed
the dynamics of gender relations and social context, value systems and, above all, power.
Empowerment was very much connected to the emerging GAD approach, with its associated actor-
orientated and bottom-up methods.
Owing to a heavy association with gender, many organisations only use the term ‘empowerment’ within
the remit of gender issues. Others, however, are clear that empowerment not only is a gender issue but
also concerns a whole host of marginalised groups, encompassing a range of social differentiations
such as caste, disability and ethnicity. For example, SDC works on empowerment of minority Roma
groups in Serbia and Montenegro in order to integrate them equally into the official education system,
at the same time as keeping their identity and cultural heritage alive.
2
Empowerment in the black and civil rights movement of the US was understood mainly in terms of
racial empowerment through the growing influence of African Americans in political and social
participation (Calhoun-Brown, 1998). Similarly, recent ethnic minority movements, such as the
indigenous organisation Inca Atahualpa in Ecuador, have been analysed with an empowerment
perspective that emphasises the political role these movements play in articulating demands for the
recognition of those such as the Quechua population (Cervone, 1997).
In the 1990s, with increasing democratisation in Latin America and the retreat of the state, notions of
participation and empowerment, previously the reserve of social movements and non-governmental
organisations (NGOs), were reformulated and become a central part of the mainstream development
discourse (Van Dam et al., 1992). At the same time, the term ‘empowerment’ was enthusiastically
adopted by international development agencies, influenced by the ideas of Sen (1992) and the
promotion of his ‘capabilities approach’. However, many schools of Latin American literature today
associate empowerment with neo-liberal policies and the World Bank’s development agenda in the
region (Caccia Bava, 2003). Some authors see empowerment as an attempt to co-opt social movements
and popular initiatives for democracy (Larrea, 2005). Others feel that excess enthusiasm for
empowerment, adopted by some international NGOs that work with and support social movements in
the region, has had a detrimental effect on the consolidation of democratic institutions that are able to
build consensus (Toranzo, 2006).
The view of empowerment in some of the French literature is equally critical. Authors such as Olivier de
Sardan (1992) and Grignon and Passeron (1989) discuss the ambivalence between
populisme
(as seen
in writers such as Chambers (1983) who idealise the poor) and
misérabilisme
(those who devalue the
capacities of the poor, and therefore advocate for interventions of outsiders on their behalf). Olivier de
Sardan’s critique of the populist approach refers to the ambiguity and depoliticisation of terminology,
1
According to the Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE, 2006), the current use of the
term empowerment actually appeared for the first time in the book Black Empowerment by Salomon (1976), where it was
used to describe a social work methodology with marginalised African-American communities.
2
See http://www.swisscooperation.org.yu/en/Home/Our_Programme_Lines/Education/IFRC_Social_Welfare_Programme.
4
for example in the categorisation of the ‘poor’ as moral, and the tendency to project simple stereotypes
(discussed further in Brown, 1998).
Lack of attention to underlying structural causes of disempowerment has led to criticism, and a weakening of the
concept
The recent popularity of the concept of empowerment has brought wide concern that the focus has not
brought about any fundamental changes in development practice. Some critiques go further,
suggesting that the use of the term allows organisations to say they are tackling injustice without
having to back any political or structural change, or the redistribution of resources (Fiedrich et al.,
2003). Many claim that the emphasis on personal and collective struggle has been diluted: ‘the
dissonant elements fell away as it came to join words like “social capitalas part of a chain of
equivalence that stripped it of any political potency’ (Cornwall and Brock, 2005). The authors point out
the irony lying in the fact that the feminist emphasis on the politics of the personal and the neo-
populist agenda have been readily taken up by those advocating the positive role of individualism and
free market ideology.
3
Empowerment’s wholehearted adoption by the World Bank has added to this
suspicion.
3
Others take this further to suggest that the empowerment agenda has become a means to control the social protests and
movements of those whose lives have been negatively affected by neo-liberal trends (Falquet, 2003; Lautier, 2001).
5
3. Empowerment as a process or an outcome?
Many view empowerment as both a process and an outcome. Others take only an instrumentalist view
of empowerment, focusing more narrowly on the importance of process. On the other hand, those who
take a transformative approach question the way in which participation alone can be empowering
without attention to outcomes. These distinctions have obvious operational implications. An emphasis
on process leads to a focus on organisational capacity building or an increase in participation of
previously excluded groups in the design, management and evaluation of development activities. An
emphasis on outcomes leads to a focus on economic enhancement and increasing access to economic
resources.
Moving beyond mere participation in decision making to an emphasis on control
A framework developed by Longwe (1991) provides some useful distinctions between different degrees
of empowerment (with the numbered list below moving up towards increased empowerment):
1. The welfare ‘degree’: where basic needs are satisfied. This does not necessarily require
structural causes to be addressed and tends to view those involved as passive recipients.
2. The access ‘degree’: where equal access to education, land and credit is assured.
3. The conscientisation and awareness-raising ‘degree’: where structural and institutional
discrimination is addressed.
4. The participation and mobilisation ‘degree’: where the equal taking of decisions is enabled.
5. The control ‘degree’: where individuals can make decisions and these are fully recognised.
The Longwe framework stresses the importance of gaining
control
over decisions and resources that
determine the quality of one's life and suggests that ‘lower’ degrees of empowerment are a prerequisite
for achieving higher ones.
6
4. Understanding power
Achieving empowerment is intimately linked to addressing the causes of disempowerment and tackling
disadvantage caused by the way in which power relations shape choices, opportunities and wellbeing.
There is a range of debates about the concept and operation of power and its operation, which results
in a variety of interpretations of empowerment. Again, insights from gender theory into the
empowerment debate have increased clarity over this issue, most notably that power is about more
than just ‘power over’ people and resources. Rowland’s (1997) categorisation of power is of great
analytical and practical use here. She categorises four types of power relations to stress the difference
between
power over (ability to influence and coerce) and power to (organise and change existing
hierarchies),
power with (power from collective action) and power within (power from individual
consciousness) (see Table 1).
Empowerment based on a view of power as ‘power over’ emphasises the need for participation in
existing economic and political structures but does not involve changes to those structures. If power is
defined as
‘power over’, it is seen as something that is wielded by those who are dominant and can be
bestowed by one person on another. It is also seen to be in finite supply (zero sum) and that the only
way to gain it is to take it from the more powerful. For example, a zero-sum approach to political
empowerment might focus on increasing the political representation of the poor relative to the rich, so
that voting rates are inclusive and representatives who reflect poor people’s interests are elected. One
way of doing this is through public financing of campaigns and secret ballots to stop the non-poor from
dominating political processes. A ‘positive-sum’ approach, on the other hand, would focus on
increasing political participation and the demands that voters have on political candidates over the
management of public interests and policies (Knack, 2005). The feminist approach emphasises that
empowerment is not about replacing one form of power with another: they do not want a ‘bigger piece
of the cake but a different cake’ and the increased choice (or ‘cake’) that power brings should not
reproduce social inequalities or restrict the rights of others (Kabeer, 2001a).
4
Power with’ stresses the way in which gaining power actually strengthens the power of others rather
than diminishing it, as occurs with power over. This raises the distinction between personal and
collective empowerment. However, definitions of empowerment are often couched in individualistic
terms, with the ultimate aim being to increase individual choice and capacity for self-reliance.
The CapDev Butterfly (see Figure 1) makes a distinction between competencies accruing to the
individual, to the group and to organisations, as well as to networks and systems. The metaphor of the
butterfly is effective, as it shows the need for attention to
all
of these components for empowerment to
be achieved. Collective and organisational development may depend not only on individuals’
competencies but also on relationships with other institutions. Poor women, for example, may not be
able to participate in ‘collective’ empowerment activities before they are able to tackle the power
dynamics at the household level that constrain them. For many, however, collective organisation is
seen as an essential element of empowerment. Oakley (2001) stresses the importance of ‘apex-
organisation building’, where networks and alliances are able to connect vertically to enable lobbying
for marginalised groups at higher levels, and in so doing can bring about the ‘institutionalisation’ of
legally based rights.
4
Equally, just as if women can be empowered without disempowering men, men could be freed from the image of being an
oppressor (Batliwala, 1995).
7
Figure 1: The CapDev Butterfly, emphasising the importance of coordinating the various scales at
which empowerment can occur
Potentials,
opportunities
Individual
competencies
Organisational
development
Development
of networks
Development
of the system
Autonomy and empowerment
Source
: SDC (2006).
‘Relational’ empowerment moves beyond the concept of individual or collective empowerment to
include a consideration of the importance of individuals (or groups) developing the ability to negotiate
and influence the nature of the relationships with other institutions.
A focus on ‘power to’ has led to an emphasis on access to decision making, whereas an emphasis on
‘power within’ has led to a focus around building self-esteem. The process of acquiring such power
must start with the individual and requires a change in their own perceptions about their rights,
capacities and potential.
Table 2 teases out some of the operational implications of the different definitions of power in relation
to different assets, with reference to the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) poverty capabilities
(DAC, 2001).
8
Table 2: Examples of outcomes on assets (capabilities) of the different definitions of power at a
variety of scales (individual, household, group, etc.)
Type of power
relation
Economic
capability
Human and
social capability
Cultural and
psychological
capability
Political and
legal capability
Protective
capabilities
Power Over
: the
ability to coerce
and influence
the actions and
thoughts of the
powerless
Women gaining
increased control
over income from
loans, saving and
household
production.
Ethnic minorities
increase their
ability to challenge
discrimination in
access to resources
and markets.
Wives gain control
over productive
assets and
property.
Women increase
control over
household
consumption
and decision
making.
Immigrant groups
are able to
challenge cultural
perceptions at
community and
household levels.
Involvement of
ethnic minorities
in formal
decision making.
Engagement with
positions of
authority by low-
caste groups.
Children
increase their
individual
ability to
defend against
violence.
Power To
: the
capacity to act,
to organise and
change existing
hierarchies
New immigrants
increase their
access to income
and microfinance.
The burden of
unpaid work and
childcare on
women is reduced.
Increased literary
skills among
Afro-Caribbean
boys.
Improved health
and nutrition
status among
those with HIV.
Urban migrants
increase their
awareness of,
and access to,
public welfare
services.
Increased mobility
and access beyond
household for the
disabled.
Knowledge of
legal and
political
processes and
removal of
formal barriers
suffered by low-
caste groups.
The reduction
of risk,
vulnerability
and insecurity
for the over-
70s.
Power With
:
increased power
from collective
action, social
mobilisation
and alliance
building
International
women’s groups
collectively
challenge
discrimination.
NGO coalitions
develop joint
action for
increased public
welfare
provision.
Increased status
and dignity among
dalit
groups.
Participation in
movements by
informal sector
workers to
challenge
subordination.
National
networks of
community
forestry groups
lobby for their
interests.
Access to
networks by
the disabled
which provide
support in
times of crisis.
Joint action
ethnic
minorities
groups to
defend others
against abuse.
Power from
Within
:
increased
individual
consciousness,
self-dignity and
awareness
Increased levels of
self-esteem and
recognition of
individual
economic
contribution among
immigrant groups.
Desire by women
for equal rights to
resources.
Increased
confidence and
happiness of the
over-70s.
Desire by the
disabled to take
decisions about
self and others.
Desire by
informal sector
workers for equal
wellbeing.
Increased
assertiveness, self-
esteem and sense
of autonomy
among sex
workers.
Recognition of the
need to challenge
cultural
subordination by
dalits.
Desire of
immigrants to
engage in
cultural, legal
and political
processes.
Recognition of
the need among
ethnic minorities
to challenge
legal
discrimination
and political
exclusion.
Increased
resilience for
low-income
groups to
shocks,
disasters,
economic
crises.
9
5. The agency approach versus an emphasis on structure
At the root of these different categorisations of power is the debate about whether change is brought
about or constrained by forces beyond peoples’ control (social structures such as class, religion) or
through individual and collective action (agency) (see Box 2). On the one hand, some people argue that
individual people have a great capacity for acting freely. On the other hand are those who argue that
social systems greatly constrain, or determine, the actions of individuals. Many dismiss this dichotomy
and claim that structure and agency are complementary and dynamic forces: structure influences
human behaviour, and humans are capable of changing the social structures they inhabit.
Box 2: Agency and structure explained
The term ‘agency’ refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.
The term ‘structure’ covers the rules and social forces (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, customs,
etc.) that limit or influence the opportunities that determine the actions of individuals.
Much thinking about empowerment originated at the grassroots level and was based on the core
elements of agency and the importance of self-esteem. Many writers lay a special emphasis on self-
respect: ‘There is a core to the empowerment process which consists of increases in self-confidence
and self-esteem, a sense of agency and of “self” in a wider context, and a sense of
dignidad
(being
worthy of having a right to respect from others)’ (Rowlands, 1997). This led to a focus on transformation
through education and organisational capacity building.
More recently, however, there has been increased recognition of the need for an explicit consideration
of structural inequalities that affect entire social groups rather than a focus only on individual
characteristics. It is this focus that is often combined with a rights-based approach. The operational
implications of these different approaches are outlined in Table 3.
Table 3: Comparing objectives from an agency and a structural perspective
Type of power relation
An ‘agency’ approach to empowerment
Transforming ‘structures’ for
empowerment
Power Over
: the ability to
coerce and influence the
actions and thoughts of the
powerless
Changes in power relations within
households and communities and at the
macro level, e.g. increased role in decision
making and bargaining power
Respect equal rights of others,
challenge to inequality and
unfair privileges
Power To
: the capacity to act,
to organise and change
existing hierarchies
Increased skills, access and control over
income and resources, and access to
markets and networks
Increased skills and resources
to challenge injustice and
inequality faced by
others
Power With
: increased power
from collective action, social
mobilisation and alliance
building
Organisation of the less powerful to
enhance abilities to change power relations
Increased participation of the less powerful
Supportive organisation of
those with power to challenge
injustice, inequality,
discrimination and stigma
Power from Within
: increased
individual consciousness, self-
dignity and awareness
Increased confidence and awareness of
choices and rights; widened aspirations
and ability to transform aspiration into
action
Changes in attitudes and
stereotypes; commitment to
change
Source
:
Adapted from Mayoux (2003).
The debate is reflected in the choice of interventions and activities chosen to bring about
empowerment. For example, it is common for empowerment projects to have economic objectives such
as attracting capital and integrating small producers into the global markets. However, these projects
often ignore structural issues, and this can lead to an assumption that access to resources leads
automatically to increased choice and therefore to empowerment. Behind the delivery of microcredit
programmes, as an example of one empowerment activity, is the assumption that improving women’s
access to income-earning opportunities will increase their decision-making powers in both the
household and the public sphere, through their greater economic autonomy. However, it is not the
10
delivery of microcredit in itself that may empower but the
context
in which it is delivered that might
enable women to get control over resources and increased bargaining power (Oxaal and Baden, 1997).
Work by Goetz and Sen Gupta (1996) in Bangladesh shows that a large percentage of women’s loans
were controlled by male relatives; women had to mobilise funds elsewhere to repay them.
Equally, supporting capacity building of local organisations is a common approach to promote
empowerment but it may not automatically serve the interests of the poor. A number of commentators
(Alsop and Norton, 2004; Mosse, 2005) question the focus on the development of village-level
associations, suggesting that such associations can become dominated by more affluent and more
powerful members of society, thus perpetuating existing power structures and limiting the capabilities
of the poor.
On the other hand, focusing only on transforming underlying power structures, such as the promotion
of democracy or equity in political participation, is meaningless unless people are in the condition (in
terms of health or economics) to take advantage of the opportunities (Larrea, 2005). In some cases, it
has been shown that democratisation and participation projects bring empowerment predominantly to
the middle classes.
Fulfilling immediate needs may be a necessary first step to enable other forms of empowerment. This
suggests that care should be taken not to overemphasise the separation between structure and agency
and that attention should be paid to a combination and a sequencing of both forms of approach.
11
Provided/
C losed
Inv ited C la imed/
Created
SPACES
PLACES
Globa l
National
Loca l
POWER
Visible
Invisible
Hidden
6. Three continuums of power: The Power Cube
Gaventa’s (2003) Power Cube (see Figure 2) presents a dynamic understanding of how power operates,
how different interests can be marginalised from decision making and the strategies needed to
increase inclusion. It describes how power is used by the powerful across three continuums, those of:
spaces: how arenas of power are created; places: the levels and places of engagement; and power:
the degree of visibility of power.
Figure 2: The Power Cube
Source
:
Gaventa (2003).
The use of a cube helps to emphasise that different types of power are a continuum, rather than
presenting power in the oppositional way that it is often conceptualised (the powerful versus the
powerless; the included versus the excluded, hegemony versus resistance). (Empowerment Note 3
provides more details and examples of the use of the Power Cube.) The Power Cube also stresses the
importance of the ability to
exercise power rather than merely its possession
.
By the term space’, Gaventa refers to the different arenas in which decision making takes place and in
which power operates, and how these spaces are created. Understanding these can help identify entry
points for change and encourage self-reflection on the power that different actors exercise. He
distinguishes between three types:
1. ‘Provided’ or ‘closed’ spaces: spaces that are controlled by an elite group. These may exist
within many government systems, the international finance institutions (IFIs) or institutions
such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). Many civil society efforts focus on opening up
such spaces, through greater public involvement, transparency or accountability (Gaventa,
2005).
2. ‘Invited’ spaces: with external pressure, or in an attempt to increase legitimacy, some
policymakers may create ‘invited’ spaces for outsiders to share their opinions. This may offer
some possibility for influence but it is unlikely that these spaces will create real opportunities
for long-term change. In extreme cases, it may act to legitimate the
status quo
or perpetuate the
subordination of those who are delegated with ‘power’.
3. ‘Claimed’ spaces: these can provide the less powerful with a chance to develop their agendas
and create solidarity without control from power holders. An example of this is the participatory
budget process in Porto Alegre.
12
Depicting these different arenas as falling along a ‘continuum’ suggests that moving up from ‘closed’ to
‘open’ spaces creates new spaces but does not necessarily close old ones (as zero-sum theory might
suggest). Power gained in one space, through increased capacity and experience, can be used to enter
other spaces.
Decision making takes place in a variety of arenas or ‘spaces’. Distinguishing between different spaces helps
identify entry points for change
The Power Cube also emphasises the importance of understanding interaction between levels of power
and the ‘places of engagement’ and particularly distinguishes between the international, national and
local levels or ‘places’. In so doing, the Power Cube helps us to understand how global forces can be
both enhancing and marginalising of livelihoods, depending on the circumstances. This is important,
as some approaches to empowerment lay a heavy emphasis on the local.
5
The Power Cube helps us to
understand how, in addition to this, global forces can both enhance and marginalise livelihoods
depending on the circumstances. Parpart et al. (2002) discuss the way in which globalisation can lead
to increased opportunities for some marginalised groups, such as increased opportunities to engage in
markets. However, the authors also highlight the way in which shifts in trade have led not only to
opportunity but also to the feminisation of some labour sectors, which can result in additional work
burdens for women.
On a global scale, women own little property and are rarely in control of financial and export flows of
global enterprises (Marchand and Runyan, 2000). They therefore tend to be involved in globalisation
through access to labour markets (as is the case for Filipina domestic workers) rather than through
financial or production markets. A big question remains as to how those who are currently marginalised
can be empowered to take advantage of markets they cannot access. Gaventa (2003) is also keen to
avoid the ‘false dichotomy between evil global power holders and virtuous social movements’ as both
can suffer from unequal power relations. By emphasising the various levels, the Power Cube helps us to
understand the way in which the local is intimately embedded in national and global ‘places’.
Understanding the distinctions between visible and less visible forms of power enables one to explore the way in
which laws and institutions may be perpetuating repressive social norms and values
The Power Cube also distinguishes the degree of visibility of power:
1. Visible power: this is the conventional understanding of power that is negotiated through
formal rules and structures, institutions and procedures (see Box 3 on positive discrimination).
Strategies for empowerment focus on policies, the legislature and the courts, and tools such as
lobbying, media and litigation.
2. Hidden power: this focuses on the actual controls over decision making, and the way certain
powerful people and institutions maintain their influence over the process and often exclude
and devalue concerns and agendas of less powerful groups. Strategies for empowerment might
include leadership development, movement building and the development of organisational
strength and voice.
3. Invisible (internalised) power: this operates by influencing how individuals think of their place
in society and explains why some are prevented from questioning existing power relations.
Strategies for empowerment focus on strengthening confidence and increasing a sense of
rights.
5
Parpart et al. (2002), for example, claim that an overemphasis on the local ‘encourages a rather romantic equation between
empowerment, inclusion and voice that papers over the complexities’.
13
Box 3: Tackling discrimination the pros and cons of using ‘visible spaces’
The concept of discrimination is an example of where entrenched differences in power affect the access that
certain groups may have to economic or political resources. In many contexts, discrimination is historically
perpetuated and based on ethnic, cultural, economic or political features of the group. Usingvisible spaces’ to
put forward positive anti-discrimination policies might be temporarily empowering but this often does not tackle
the structural roots of the problem. In some cases, it can even help reproduce differences between groups. For
example, where development programmes are targeted at indigenous populations, this can result in ‘being
indigenous’ being associated with ‘being poor’ (Diaz-Couder, 1998). Positive discrimination policies can also
increase resistance from groups that are not targeted. For example, in reaction to the establishment of quotas for
scheduled castes in India, other low castes protested violently (Braunholtz-Speight, 2006). In other cases, anti-
discrimination policies have had positive results, but it can be argued that such policies are only an instrumental
tool for empowerment, not a transformative one.
An important feature of oppression is the way in which it can be internalised: power can operate through consent
as well as coercion
The main effect of oppression and disempowerment is that they prevent people from even considering
that there can be an alternative to the situation they are in. Power can operate through consent as well
as coercion. For example, many women who are abused for holding certain opinions will soon start to
suppress them. A practical implication of this is that, as women internalise cultural subordination,
their own perceptions cannot be trusted, and change can only occur with some external influence.
The role of outsiders in empowerment: the need to challenge internalise oppression while at the same time
avoiding external ‘manipulation’ of the agenda and the process
Related to the distinctions in the different definitions of empowerment and forms of power, there is
some debate over the extent to which outsiders can actually empower others, either at an individual or
at a group level. Many of those perceiving empowerment as a capacity or agency-led process believe
that it is problematic to attempt to empower from the outside. Therefore, devising any form of external
programme is problematic, owing to the danger of manipulation.
The power relations behind disempowerment make it unrealistic for the disempowered to tackle inequality and
disempowerment alone
On the other hand, by its very nature, disempowerment creates disadvantages through the way power
relations shape choices, opportunities and wellbeing. Owing to the internalisation of oppression, the
process of demanding increased rights or change cannot be expected to emerge spontaneously from
within and to easily challenge entrenched inequalities, discrimination and structural causes of
disempowerment.
Those who advocate external intervention suggest that it is the role of external institutions to facilitate
these necessary internal strategic and practical change processes. This puts the development agency
or facilitator in a difficult position: on the one hand, it must challenge the disempowered to change
their values and behaviour; on the other hand, it should not be perceived as imposing its own values
and the potential for disempowerment that this brings. This links into the discussion of cultural
imperialism and the right of outsiders to push for change of an existing cultural form,
6
a debate that is
particularly pertinent for the issue of female circumcision.
6
This is a common dilemma in the human rights field: do rights-based approaches ‘impose’ western values?
14
7. Empowerment and implications for partnership
So, what are the practical implications for the way we work of the wealth of ideas and definitions
surrounding the term ‘empowerment’? The wide scope of activities and outcomes encompassed by the
concept means that the sharing of common principles (not prescriptions) and generalised outcomes is
an important prerequisite for healthy partnerships. For organisations striving to promote empowering
relationships, the lack of a definition or clear principles can be considered disempowering, as it does
not allow important accountability dynamics among the donor, their partners and target groups. There
is much concern in the literature, particularly that from the South, about the ‘misuse’ of the concept of
empowerment; much of this can be blamed on the ‘fuzziness’ of the term. However, this does raise the
question of how the clarification of these common principles should take place with partners. This
question is also pertinent for relationships with government partners and partnerships with other
donors.
On the other hand, some organisations stress that an ambiguous definition is an active strategy related
to the desire not to impose centralised thinking onto operational partners and country offices.
7/8
There are a number of key issues concerning the criteria and profiles of partnerships for any agency
endeavouring to promote empowerment. These issues include the behavioural and operational
competencies of the partner, and how shared values on empowerment can be developed. A shared
approach towards poverty and power is vital, but an important concern is how the donor can avoid
manipulation of the approach.
An increased emphasis on advocacy may require different competencies from partners
If the approach to empowerment that is taken requires particular attention to be paid to power
structures and relationships within a system, an increased emphasis on aspects of advocacy may be
needed. Such aspects require capacity for dealing with conflict, facilitation, mediation, leadership and
analysis. A shift from a focus on partnerships with grassroots service delivery to advocacy can have
implications for the credibility and impact of an organisation. As a result, there is a tendency by most
organisations to stress the importance of maintaining some direct service delivery.
The context influences the feasibility of certain empowerment activities and partnerships
Lessons from the introduction of a rights-based approach in the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) suggest
the importance of programme strategies that suit specific contexts (Theis, 2004). This owes partly to
regional variations in civil society and the availability of types of partners. In Latin America, with
stronger government institutions and better developed civil society, UNICEF focuses at the national
level on working with legislative, policy and institutional reform, and on analysis of public spending. In
East and Southern Africa, it is felt to be more strategic to work at the community level, because there
are fewer institutions and resources to implement political decisions and the delivery of services is
weaker.
The way in which empowerment is approached needs to be adapted to the cultures and histories of the
context. Analysis of a partner’s own conceptualisation of empowerment can pre-empt possible cultural
and value-based tensions. There is also a question about the degree to which the partners themselves
should be involved in strategy development. A decentralised approach and definition can result in a
7
CARE International accepts that there are many different concepts and definitions of empowerment and specifically does not
provide an official definition.
8
Fiedrich et al. (2003) suggest that ‘“empowerment” is better understood as a set of metaphors that have normative value
and symbolic power for the would-be “empowerers"’, rather than as a factual description or theoretical explanation of changes
in the lives of the “empowered”.
15
stronger sense of ownership and more creativity, but also in a lack of coherence across the
organisation.
Contextual risk assessment is needed to ensure that partners are in a position to make an informed choice about
the nature of the risks that they are likely to face
All organisations recognise the risks of a political empowerment approach exposing both partners and
vulnerable members of the community. In extreme circumstances, there are examples of the killing or
arrest of human rights defenders and those who challenge traditional power bases; addressing the
political causes of poverty can lead to many forms of retaliation. Therefore, there is a need to operate
differently according to the political context in which one is working.
16
8. Empowerment: A multidimensional approach to poverty
reduction
Despite the multiple ideological roots to the concept, empowerment can be broadly defined as ‘a
progression that helps people gain control over their own lives and increases the capacity of people to
act on issues that they themselves define as important’.
A failure to clearly define what is meant by ‘empowerment’ can weaken its value, either as an agent for
change or as a tool for analysis. A lack of distinction between the types of power and clarity about the
appropriate strategies to address such imbalances can mean that many empowerment-focused
interventions fail to explicitly address power. Being aware of the different forms of power and their
dynamic nature helps in understanding the multiple ways in which voices can be marginalised from (or
included in) decision making. Understanding this helps to identify the kinds of strategies needed to
shift unequal power dynamics.
SDC conceptualises empowerment as an emancipation process in which the disadvantaged are
empowered to exercise their rights, obtain access to resources and participate actively in the process
of shaping society and making decisions. The activities of SDC are therefore designed to strengthen the
poor through bolstering self-confidence and ability to develop potential solutions of their own.
However, SDC’s commitment to empowerment also involves a political dimension, which aims to tackle
those development models, interests and power relations that are the causes of injustice and poverty
(SDC, 2004).
Taking a multidimensional approach requires defining empowerment in terms of both individual
capacities and collective action to address inequalities that are the causes of poverty. A focus on
empowerment emphasises that poverty not only is about low incomes, but also emanates from social
exclusion and the lack of access to power, voice and security.
17
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19
Annex 1: Linkages between rights-based approaches and
empowerment
Empowerment Note 1 for SDC, October 2007
Cecilia Luttrell and Sitna Quiroz
This note lays out the conceptual and practical linkages between human-rights based approaches
(HRBAs) and empowerment, focusing on key aspects such as the different types of power and the roles
of agency and structure. These aspects are discussed more fully in Luttrell and Quiroz (2007).
The UN Common Understanding of a HRBA is based on a number of principles, of which empowerment
is an important one. A rights perspective provides a framework for examining and addressing the key
aspects of power relations that influence people’s capacities, rights and responsibilities. Just as
empowerment of the rights holder is an integral part of a human-rights based approach, a HRBA adds
value by helping to transform imbalances in existing distributions of power.
However, despite these similarities, there are elements of the rights and empowerment approaches
that remain analytically distinct (Alsop and Norton, 2004). The most obvious of these is the emphasis
on the obligations of the duty bearer. A HRBA has its foundation in the normative framework of
international human rights standards and principles, and the protection and promotion of these.
States, as primary duty bearers, are obliged to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights entitlements
of individuals, or rights holders. This universally accepted set of standards presents operational
distinctions from empowerment.
Both empowerment and rights approaches clearly lay an emphasis on people as agents of change
rather than as beneficiaries (this is discussed more fully in Foresti and Ludi, 2007). A HRBA, however,
focuses more strongly on relationships between public institutions (at various levels) and civil society,
and how to make public institutions accountable to all citizens. This difference manifests itself most
clearly in a key debate surrounding empowerment over the relative roles of structure versus agency. A
HRBA has helped with a shift away from a needs approach based on ‘charity’, to a recognition of the
rights of poor people to entitlements and the obligations on the part of others that are enshrined in law.
In many development agencies, there has been a move away from a generic empowerment approach to
a human rights approach as the social and political constraints on the poor are increasingly
recognised.
Many writers, such as Alsop (2004) and Carney (2002), bring out the strong conceptual affinities
between rights and empowerment approaches in their emphasis on power and respect for individuals.
These writers stress that successful poverty reduction depends on providing opportunities for poor
people to contest their rights through normative changes, including through legal frameworks. Civil and
political rights empower poor people not only to claim their economic and social rights but also to
demand accountability for good public services, pro-poor public policies and a transparent
participatory process open to hearing their views. There is therefore a tendency for a HRBA to focus
more overtly on the transforming ‘structures’ for empowerment. Indeed, there are those writing on
empowerment from an agency perspective (such as Rowlands, 1997 and Kabeer, 2001) who do not
consider the political or legal aspects of empowerment, nor place much, if any, emphasis on rights-
based approaches.
Fox (2005) suggests that there is a difference between empowerment (as capacities) and rights (as
institutionally recognised opportunities): rights may be recognised institutionally, but power
imbalances often mean that actors are not able to actually claim them. A focus on the empowerment
aspects of a HRBA, however, helps to emphasise the importance of the ability to
exercise
rights rather
than merely their possession. Save the Children has faced concerns associated with the empowerment
20
of children in contexts where there is no acceptance of children expressing their views. Projects aimed
at taking children out of employment to go to school were halted following consultations with children
themselves. Instead, Save the Children decided to stop advocating for the full eradication of child
labour, and has tried instead to find ways of combining education opportunities with children’s
responsibilities towards their families, including through appropriate labour practices that do not
undermine their development.
This example also reflects the debate over different types of power. In this case, the process of
demanding increased rights or change cannot be expected to emerge spontaneously to easily
challenge entrenched inequalities. Save the Children’s initial focus on ‘power to’ and the structural
aspects of discrimination (which a HRBA encourages) was therefore less effective in this example. A
subsequent focus on building ‘power within’ attempts to change individuals’ own perceptions about
their rights, capacities and potential in order to tackle ‘invisible’ (or internalised) power.
The way in which development agencies relate ‘empowerment’ to a HRBA varies. In SDC, the Norwegian
Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and the UK Department for International Development
(DFID), a human rights approach to empowerment is dominant. Indeed, SDC (2004) explicitly
conceptualises empowerment as a process in which the disadvantaged are empowered to exercise
their rights. NGOs such as Save the Children, CARE lnternational and Concern also take a strong rights-
based approach to policy and programming of empowerment. There are organisations that take a less
‘political’ approach and do not include a HRBA in their empowerment strategies. The World Bank has
been active in the evolution of thinking around empowerment and has included principles such as
empowerment and accountability within its new Social Development Strategy 2005 (Foresti et al.,
2006). However, until recently, it has been constrained by its Articles of Agreement from working
directly on human rights owing to the perception that these are ‘political’ issues. The Canadian
International Development Agency (CIDA) also does not mention rights in its discussions of
empowerment, but its women’s empowerment programmes are often implemented alongside women’s
rights programmes.
There are dilemmas associated with a HRBA. One of the main areas of potential conflict between a
HRBA and empowerment is over the issue of collective rights and the way these might be in conflict
with cultural values. In Latin America, the recognition of indigenous autonomies regulated by their own
forms and notions of justice faces dilemmas in relation to the concept of the primacy of individual
human rights over collective rights (Assies, 2002; Gouws, 2005).
In terms of practical implications, many NGOs have experienced significant changes in their
relationships with partners accompanying the introduction of a HRBA. It can be a challenge to avoid
disempowering partners while introducing a HRBA to previously service delivery-orientated
organisations (see, for example, Luttrell and Piron, 2005). A HRBA also forces engagement in politics
and power relations and can increase tensions when partners are not themselves committed to a HRBA.
A HRBA helps move from ‘passive beneficiaries’ to ‘active citizens’ and therefore implies greater
attention to advocacy and capacity building. A HRBA therefore requires a different skills base, with
more emphasis on analytical than technical skills, skills that may not be present in the existing partner
organisation.
References
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(2004)
Power, Rights and Poverty: Concepts and Connections
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21
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. Berne, Switzerland:
SDC.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) (2002)
Human Rights, Poverty Reduction and
Sustainable Development: Health, Food and Water
. Geneva, Switzerland: OHCHR.
22
Provided/
C losed
Invited Cla imed/
Crea ted
SPACES
PLACES
Globa l
National
Loca l
POWER
Visible
Invisible
Hidden
Annex 2: The Power Cube explained
Empowerment Note 3 for SDC, November 2007
Cecilia Luttrell, Kate Bird, Sarah Byrne, Jane Carter and Devanshu Chakravarti
This note discusses the use of the Power Cube as a means of expanding further on the ideas of power
raised in the paper on ‘Understanding and Operationalising Empowerment’ (Luttrell and Quiroz, 2007).
Gaventa’s (2003; 2005) Power Cube presents a dynamic understanding of how power operates, how
different interests can be marginalised from decision making, and the strategies needed to increase
inclusion. It describes how power is used by the powerful across three continuums of:
spaces: how
arenas of power are created;
power: the degree of visibility of power; and places: the levels and places
of engagement.
The Power Cube
Source
:
Gaventa (2003).
By the term ‘space’, Gaventa refers to the different arenas in which decision making takes place, in
which power operates and how these spaces are created (see first table below). He distinguishes
between three types:
1. ‘Provided’ or ‘closed’ spaces: spaces which are controlled by an elite group.
2. ‘Invited’ spaces: with external pressure, or in an attempt to increase legitimacy, some
policymakers may create ‘invited’ spaces for outsiders to share their opinions.
3. ‘Claimed’ spaces: these can provide the less powerful with a chance to develop their agendas
and create solidarity without control from power holders.
‘Spaces’ are fora for discussion or areas where interactions take place. They can be virtual (e.g. a web-
based discussion) or an actual physical place (e.g. a parliamentary consultation meeting). The Power
Cube helps us to understand these different forms of space and therefore how to use provided spaces
better, how to create more invited space and how to facilitate the claiming of space through
negotiation.
The Power Cube also distinguishes the degree of visibility of power (see second table):
1. Visible power: this is the conventional understanding of power that is negotiated through
formal rules and structures, institutions and procedures.
2. Hidden power: this focuses on the actual controls over decision making, and the way certain
powerful people and institutions maintain their influence over the process and often exclude
and devalue concerns and agendas of less powerful groups.
23
3. Invisible (internalised) power: this operates by influencing how individuals think of their place
in society and explains why some are prevented from questioning existing power relations.
The Power Cube helps make the distinction between different dimensions of power and therefore move
beyond certain assumptions, such as ‘the enforcers of rules are oppressors’. This may enable us to
explore the way in which laws and institutions may be perpetuating repressive social norms and
values.
The Power Cube emphasises the importance of understanding interaction between levels of power and
the ‘places of engagement’ (see third table) and particularly distinguishes between the international,
national and local levels or ‘places’. In so doing, the Power Cube helps us to understand how global
forces can be both enhancing and marginalising of livelihoods, depending on the circumstances. By
emphasising the various levels, the Power Cube helps us to understand the way in which the local is
intimately embedded in national and global ‘places’.
The Power Cube explained: spaces where power is expressed
Type of
space
What does this mean?
Example 1: Commercial
sex workers (Jana et al.,
2006)
Example 2: Experience of the Indo-Swiss
Participative Watershed Development
Project (see ISPWDK, 2005)
Provided/
closed
spaces
Official or unofficial
arenas controlled by an
elite group
(bureaucrats, experts or
elected
representatives) to
which certain people or
interest groups are
invited, and from which
others are excluded.
This group identifies
which issues they wish
to discuss and controls
the decision-making
process without
broader consultation or
involvement.
The design of policies
relevant to the sex
trade that involve only
selected stakeholders
such as employers,
religious leaders,
NGOs and officials
and exclude sex
workers from the
process.
If a sex worker has a
grievance s/he will
seldom approach
official authorities but
restricts the
articulation of
grievances to those
voiced at ‘provided’
spaces permitted by
their employers.
Gram Panchayat (GP), a unit of local
government in rural India, is an elected
body but is perceived as a ‘closed’ or
‘provided’ space by the community. One
reason for this is that the fund allocation
by the GP is guided more by demographic
considerations and the influence of
powerful leaders in the GP rather than by
needs-based considerations a village
with a higher number of voters gets
proportionately higher funds allocation.
In ISPWDK, a team comprising members
from different stakeholders SDC,
Intercooperation (IC), local NGO partners
and select community members carried
out the initial project design. Other
community members and NGO staff were
informed later.
Invited
spaces
This arena is also
controlled by an elite
group but efforts are
made to invite others to
join them to discuss
issues of mutual
interest. However, they
frame the nature of the
engagement. They
chose
if
to call a
meeting,
whom
to
invite to the meeting
and the
agenda
for the
meeting. They also
ensure that the meeting
is reported in a way that
reflects their interests
(e.g. minutes, press
release etc.)
If a health
organisation wishes
to work with sex
workers and invites
them to share
opinions, this
engagement takes
places within an
‘invited’ space.
Sex workers are given
the opportunity to
visit a local hospital,
where they can meet
specialised health
staff. Discussions
focus on prevention
and use of
reproductive health
services.
The programme steering committee, the
highest decision-making body in ISPWDK,
comprised members from all stakeholders
SDC, IC, NGO partners and community
members. The programme coordinator
convened the meetings every six months
and took the lead in preparation of agenda
and in organising the minutes.
In the village development societies
(VDSs), there was insistence on due
representation of all sexes and sections of
community. In the beginning, the VDS was
clearly an ‘invited space’ for women and
dalits
. The elites were initially hesitant to
accept these groups as equals.
24
Claimed/
created
spaces
A group, normally
excluded by elites,
opens up a new space
for exercising power
(e.g. by lobbying to
influence national
policy) and pursuing
their own agenda of
concern. These spaces
often emerge out of
sets of common
concerns.
A network of sex
workers intervenes on
behalf of a worker to
claim their right to
unionise, seeking to
improve their legal
rights.
In the VDS, the women slowly started
commanding respect for their punctuality,
discipline and sincerity. Later, all VDS
formalised 50% women’s representation
(although the VDS bylaw stipulated 33%).
Women, unaccustomed to public life,
initially organised themselves into self-
help groups (SHGs), primarily for savings
and credit activities. Later, they led
successful movements against illicit arrack
production. SHGs led to women claiming a
greater say in the ‘invited spaces’ such as
VDSs and in ‘provided spaces’ such as the
GP.
Table 2: The Power Cube explained: dimensions of power
Type of
power
What does this mean?
Example 1: Commercial sex
workers
Example 2: Experience of the ISPWDK
Invisible
power
We internalise the norms
and values of our
society. This may lead to
individuals
unconsciously
controlling their own
behaviour to meet social
expectations. This might
involve not being able to
act or not feeling that it
is legitimate for them to
act.
The social norms and values
that are attached to sex,
sexuality and the sex trade
may result in sex workers
feeling shame, preventing
them from being able to raise
their voices against
exploitative practices.
In rural India, caste and gender play an
important role in shaping people’s
understandings of their needs, roles and
possibilities for action. A sense of
powerlessness is internalised through
socialisation. For example, during the
project self-reflection exercises, while
recounting experiences of the pre-project
scenario, the women in one watershed
said: ‘Women were scared of everything,
even to say that we were sick. Even when
we were sick, we never went to hospital,
but suffered if men did not take us. We
did not send our daughters to school. If a
girl spoke to any man, we would suspect
that her character was not good.’
Hidden
power
Powerful people may
exert their power even
when they are not
physically present. This
may influence the
behaviour of others. This
acts as a means of
excluding the others or
maintaining privileged
entry by certain people
to decision making and
public spaces.
The manager of a brothel may
not be present but may have
an important role in decision
making. Therefore, her/his
power is present even when
s/he is absent.
The sex workers may not be
legal immigrants and may
therefore simultaneously be
dependent on the brothel
owner for protection as well as
vulnerable to his/her ability to
denounce them.
Powerful people, both within and outside
the project area, have an important
influence. For example, many poor
people depend on seasonal migration.
Each season they tend to work in the
same place and develop patronclient
relationships with the same employer.
Poor people may not risk losing this long-
term relationship by participating in
short-term project activities that are
available in their village and may be
better paid.
Visible
power
Formal laws, rules,
structures, institutions
and procedures of
decision making and the
people who ensure that
the rules are kept (e.g.
police, bureaucrats).
These
definable
aspects of
power include the legislation
which controls the sex trade,
the police and administration
who control ‘entry’ into the
trade and the power of local
‘pimps’ who dictate the terms
of the trade.
In rural India, visible power remains
mostly with government officials/elected
representatives at different levels the
GP secretary, the junior engineer, the GP
president or the policeman.
25
Table 3: The Power Cube explained: places where power is expressed
Type of place
Example
Examples related to the
ISPWDK
Global
Global fora might include the UN, the WTO, the
worldwide web, satellite TV channels with global
reach (e.g. CNN, BBC World, Sky), the Roman Catholic
Church and international criminal courts.
In some respects, power is shifting to more
globalised ‘places’ and local actors (such as the
Narmada Dam and Chiapas campaigns) and may use
global forums as arenas for action more effectively
than they can appeal to institutions of local ‘places’.
Bilateral and multilateral agencies
working on natural resource
management and water like SDC,
DFID, World Bank, European
Commission (EC) and UN
Development Program (UNDP).
Foundations promoted or endowed
by rich businessmen for social
purposes like the Ford Foundation,
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sir
Ratan Tata Trust and Sir Dorabji
Tata Trust.
Global Fora like the World Water
Forum.
The ideas and influence of
international consultants.
National
National fora might include parliament, national
media, networked organisations (e.g. local branches
of civil society organisations, churches, national
trade unions, chambers of commerce) and national
criminal courts.
The interrelation between local and national ‘places’
is seen clearly in the debates over decentralisation
and the extent to which power is officially shared
with the locality.
The Planning Commission in India
and the different ministries from
which funding for watershed
programmes is sourced, such as the
Department of Land Resources
under the Ministry of Rural
Development and the Ministry of
Agriculture.
Committees set up for the review of
the guidelines for watersheds
funded by different government
programmes, like the recent
Parthasarthy Committee.
At the state level, government
agencies funding watershed
programmes including the Drought
Prone Area Programme, the
Integrated Watershed Development
Programme, the Agriculture
Department and the State
Watershed Department.
Local
Local fora might include local government, local civil
society organisations, community-based
organisations, clubs, local media, local courts. In
addition private arenas such as the household,
which play an important role but outside of the
‘public sphere’.
The GP and village-level agencies
such as the VDSs and the local
governance units at district and
sub-district levels (the Zila and
Taluka Panchayat).
References
Gaventa, J. (2003) ‘Towards Participatory Local Governance: Assessing the Transformative
Possibilities’. Paper presented at Conference on Participation: From Tyranny to Transformation,
Manchester, 27-28 February.
Gaventa, J. (2005) ‘Reflections of the Uses of the ‘Power Cube’ Approach for Analyzing the Spaces,
Places and Dynamics of Civil Society Participation and Engagement’. CFP Evaluation Series 4. The
Hague, Netherlands: MBN Secretariat.
26
Indo-Swiss Participative Watershed Development Project (ISPWDK) (2005) ‘Empowering the People:
Experience with Village Development Societies in Promoting Local Governance’,
http://www.intercooperation.ch/offers/download/ic-india/ispwdk-1.pdf/view.
Jana, S., P.V. Sharma, S. Vinita and Dr Amrender (2006) ‘Understanding Power and Creating Spaces:
Sex Workers’ Voices in HIV Prevention’. Saksham Approach Paper 2.
Luttrell, C. and S. Quiroz (2007) ‘Understanding and Operationalising Empowerment’. ODI
paper for the
SDC Poverty-Wellbeing Platform.
27
Annex 3: The definition and operationalisation of empowerment in
different development agencies
Empowerment Note 4 for SDC, August 2007
Claire Scrutton and Cecilia Luttrell
Introduction
This note provides details on the differing approaches to empowerment in a variety of donor agencies
and NGOs, according to a selection made from official documentation associated with these agencies.
The debates and concepts surrounding empowerment are discussed more fully in the paper on
‘Understanding and Operationalising Empowerment’ (Luttrell and Quiroz, 2007). ‘Empowerment’ is a
term that has been embraced by a diverse range of institutions, from the World Bank to Oxfam to many
more radical NGOs, but few of these share common definitions. Some organisations leave the term
undefined (for example, UNDP, Oxfam and Save the Children). In others, different departments have
their own interpretations, and there is no clear centralised definition.
The table below presents information from various policy documents from a wide spectrum of
organisations, to present their attitudes to a number of different issues. These include:
Process versus outcome: Many organisations, such as SDC, CIDA, DFID and Oxfam, view
empowerment as both an outcome and a process. Others (such as the US Agency for International
Development USAID and UNDP) take an instrumentalist view of empowerment and focus more
narrowly on the importance of process and the assumption that participation alone will lead to
empowerment. CARE International not only focuses on the importance of participating in the decision-
making process, but also prioritises those processes that lead people to perceive themselves as both
able and entitled to make decisions. This leads to an emphasis on the gaining of power and control
over decisions and resources that determine the quality of one's life. This focus has also been adopted
by many of the agencies to encourage an emphasis on participation in decision making (Save the
Children, the International Fund for Agricultural Development IFAD and the World Bank), ability to
organise (Oxfam) and political participation (UNDP).
The scope of empowerment also varies. Empowerment is often associated with gender perspectives,
and many organisations (such as the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency Sida,
CIDA and USAID) use the term ‘empowerment’ only within the remit of gender issues. For example,
according to CIDA’s (1999) gender policy, empowerment is central to achieving gender equality and
helping women to become aware of unequal power relations, to gain control over their lives and to
acquire a greater voice to overcome inequality in their home, workplace and community. Others, such
as DFID and SDC, are clear that empowerment is not only a gender issue but that it concerns a whole
host of marginalised groups.
Agency versus structure: Many agencies, such as SDC, CIDA and CARE International, have adopted a
focus on agency, whereas DFID (in particular) emphasises the importance of ‘reforming political
institutions’ and structures.
The role of outsiders in empowerment: Oxfam GB (2005) and Concern promote self-help approaches
to empowerment, with the belief that doing things for people where they could do them themselves
could be harmful. Others (UNDP and USAID) have a different attitude; only outsiders can bring about
empowerment. Changes must be made at government level and via civil society organisations; it is the
role of external institutions to facilitate internal change processes.
28
Agency
(and sources)
Definition/concept of empowerment
Empowerment
programmes
SDC
SDC, 1999 SDC,
2002 SDC,
2004 SDC,
2005a SDC,
2005b SDC,
2006
Empowerment represents both a goal and a method for SDC. It is stated to be a
process of emancipation in which the disadvantaged are empowered to exercise
their rights, to obtain access to resources and to participate actively in the
process of shaping society and making decisions. The activities of SDC are
designed to strengthen the poor in bolstering their self-esteem, identity, self-
confidence and ability to analyse problems and develop potential solutions of
their own (SDC, 2004). Older SDC documents have slightly different descriptions,
but this illustrates the way that SDC regularly questions its definitions and
updates them accordingly. SDC acknowledges that its recipients use their own
definitions of empowerment.
Gender, health,
education,
governance,
human rights,
information and
communication
technology (ICT)
and sport for
development
DFID
DFID, 1997 DFID,
2000a DFID,
2000b DFID,
2001 DFID, 2005
Similarities with SDC
States that empowerment is an aim of DFID programmes
Discusses different levels of empowerment (individual and collective) but not
national or global
States that empowerment is both a process and an objective
Does not define power
Underlines psychological, social, economic and political empowerment types
as important aspects of empowerment; there is no specific focus on legal,
youth or women’s empowerment
Focuses on individual and collective decision making
Differences to SDC
Discusses economic empowerment in terms of incomes and assets
Not clear if reference to ‘collective’ empowerment incorporates the national
and global scale
Focuses on increasing power
Gender,
education,
political
empowerment,
through rights-
based
programmes
GTZ (German
Development
Cooperation)
GTZ, 2006
Similarities with SDC
States that empowerment is an aim of GTZ activities
Specifies ‘disadvantaged sections of the population’; does not discuss youth
empowerment
Incorporates economic, social, political and psychological empowerment
Views rights as important to women’s empowerment
Focuses on access to resources, ability to take control of life and decision
making
Differences to SDC
Includes legal empowerment
Discusses power relations as being a core issue of empowerment
Sees empowerment as an ongoing process.
Believes that individual empowerment is required to enable collective
empowerment
Only mentions individual and collective empowerment, not local, national or
global
Women’s
empowerment
through gender,
HIV/AIDS and
human rights
programmes,
youth
empowerment
through
education,
HIV/AIDS and
drugs programmes
Danida (Danish
International
Development
Agency)
Danida, 2000a
Danida, 2000b
Danida, 2000c
Danida, 2000d
Danida, 2003
Danida, 2005
Similarities with SDC
Shows a shift in the way it defines and approaches empowerment over the
past few years
Differences to SDC
In 2000, Danida produced an extensive document on its approach to
empowerment. At this stage, the term 'empowerment' was primarily
associated with individuals, mostly women. The document states that it was
not Danida's practice to specifically use the term 'empowerment' in its
policies, strategies and operational guidelines. However, the paper reviewed
other approaches to empowerment, examples of how they were being
implemented through donor recipients, and the way forward. The document
implies that empowerment would become an important aspect of Danida’s
work
Policy and strategy since 2000 appear to have shied away from using the term
‘empowerment’
Gender and
economic
empowerment
29
Empowerment is rarely mentioned in more recent literature and there is no
definition
Norad
Norad, 2000
Norad, 2006
Similarities with SDC
Includes individual, collective and social empowerment
Includes control and ability to participate in public decision making
Does not define power
Differences to SDC
Empowerment is not central to Norad policy and programmes, it is often an
unintended outcome
Only refers to empowerment within gender and human rights policies
Reference to empowerment always relates to power and control
Focuses only on the individual and collective level
Does not spell out how empowerment may occur
Gender, health,
education,
informal sector,
agriculture,
democracy and
human rights
Sida
Sida 2002
Sida 2005
Differences to SDC
Focuses on gender and empowerment
Mentioned briefly in Sida’s policy on peace and security
Political and economic empowerment is referred to in Sida’s gender equality
policy but these are not defined
Sida has produced some key research papers but these are not reflected in
their policy and programmes
Women’s
empowerment
through ICT,
education, health,
HIV/AIDS, land
management and
conservation
USAID
USAID, 2003
USAID, 2005
USAID, 2006
Similarities with SDC
Recognises importance of rights but the focus is on property rights
Differences to SDC
No clear definition of empowerment
States that people are empowered through participation alone
Focuses on gender, political and economic empowerment
Does not mention empowerment in new major policy papers, only in country
programme web pages
Women’s
empowerment
through health,
HIV/AIDS, natural
resource
management,
good governance,
education,
business training
and microcredit;
youth economic
empowerment
through training,
apprenticeships
and
entrepreneurship
CIDA
CIDA, 1996
CIDA, 1999
CIDA, 2004
CIDA, 2005
Mentions empowerment in current policy documents only in relation to gender
and youth in war-affected areas. Human rights paper does not mention
empowerment. However, the 1999 gender equality policy provides a good
definition.
Similarities with SDC
Empowerment is both a process and an outcome
Psychological, social, political empowerment are referred to
Focuses on how to support people to empower themselves
Focuses on decision making and taking control
Focuses on confidence and self-reliance
Refers to both collective and individual empowerment
Does not define power
Differences to SDC
Occurs only in gender equality policy and programmes (men and women);
poverty reduction policy includes empowerment of women, children,
minorities, the landless, the unemployed and the displaced
Economic empowerment is not included but an economic empowerment
approach is used in programmes.
Emphasises giving people a voice
Does not mention national or global level empowerment
Makes mention of rights but women’s empowerment programmes are often
implemented alongside women’s rights programmes
Does not refer to access to resources
Women’s rights
and
empowerment,
education, health,
good governance,
private sector
development,
HIV/AIDS,
women’s
enterprise
projects,
microcredit, youth
in war-affected
areas
30
JICA (Japan
Intl. Coop
Agency)
Differences to SDC
No clear definition
World Bank
Narayan, 2002
Similarities with SDC
Does not define power
Differences to SDC
The Empowerment and Poverty Reduction Sourcebook (Narayan, 2002)
outlines a detailed approach to empowerment
This incorporates the individual, collective, local, national and global levels
It incorporates economic, social, political and women’s empowerment, but
focuses on institutions, governance, the state and markets
The short definition focuses on people taking control and participating in the
decision-making process in relation to institutions that affect their lives
It fails to recognise different levels and types of empowerment
It has clearly defined and conceptualised empowerment
States that there is no single institutional model for empowerment
Provides an empowerment framework
ICT, economic
empowerment,
decentralisation,
community
empowerment,
education,
governance
UNDP
UNDP, 1995
UNDP, 2000
UNDP, 2004
UNDP, 2005
Similarities with SDC
Rights can empower people, but this must be done by outsiders
Focuses on political, social, economic empowerment but from a
macroeconomic perspective
Differences to SDC
Does not provide a concise definition
Focuses on gender, MDGs and the gender empowerment measurement,
economic participation and decision making, political participation and
decision making, and power over economic resources
States that participation brings empowerment
Changes must be made at government level and through civil society
organisations to bring about empowerment
Outsiders must facilitate the process of empowerment
Does not acknowledge the individual, psychological and radical nature of
empowerment
Gender,
education,
economic activity,
health, HIV/AIDS,
microcredit,
private sector
development, ICT,
political
empowerment
through
parliamentary
development,
electoral
assistance and
human rights
UNHCHR (UN
High
Commission for
Human Rights)
UNHCHR, 2002
Similarities with SDC
Acknowledges the importance of rights
Focuses on men and women taking control of their lives
Differences to SDC
Has a strong rights-based approach
Follows World Bank definitions
Emphasises accountability
Takes a national/global perspective
Does not focus on social and economic aspect
s, only on people’s rights in the
eyes of the law
IMF
(International
Monetary Fund)
IMF, 2005
Differences to SDC
Empowerment through attention to macroeconomic frameworks
Defines empowerment as political power, confidence and dignity
Scant discussion of what empowerment means
States that it uses a rights-based approach
Focuses on government policies
Specifies empowerment for women, children, youth, elderly and disabled
Private sector
development and
education
ActionAid UK
and ActionAid
International
ActionAid,
2004;
ActionAid, 2006
Does not define empowerment in policies
Overall strategy mentions empowerment of women and girls but this is not
defined
Focuses on social, economic, political and rights-based empowerment of
women and girls and their participation in decision making
Women and girl’s
empowerment
through
education,
literacy, ICT,
HIV/AIDS, rights-
based and
land tenure
programmes;
31
women’s
economic
empowerment
through
microcredit
CARE
International
CARE
lnternational,
2002
CARE
lnternational,
2005
Similarities with SDC
Rights-based approach is important
Empowerment is core to programmes
Emphasises people taking control of their lives
Recognition of empowerment at individual and collective levels
Accepts there are many different concepts and definitions of empowerment
Focuses on confidence and self-identity
Focuses on participating in the decision-making process
Differences to SDC
Emphasises that empowered people can hold others accountable
Defines power and views these definitions as central
No emphasis on types of empowerment
No emphasis on national or global empowerment
No central definition different departments have different or no definition
Empowerment is a process
Rights-based
programmes,
gender focused
programmes,
health, education
Concern
Worldwide
Concern
Worldwide,
2001
Concern
Worldwide,
2003
Similarities with SDC
Rights-based approach is important
Individual, collective, men and women
Focus on people making changes for themselves, not facilitated by outsiders
Includes knowledge
Differences to SDC
Does not provide an overall definition
Empowerment and women’s empowerment is central to all the work
Regularly uses the term ‘genuine empowerment’
Does not recognise different types of empowerment (social, political,
economic etc.) in its definition
Does not include national or global aspects
Health, HIV/AIDS,
education,
capacity building,
livelihoods and
microfinance;
gender and youth
are integral to
programmes
Oxfam
International
and Oxfam GB
Oxfam GB, 2003
Oxfam GB, 2005
Similarities with SDC
Views empowerment as both a process and an outcome
Focuses on people’s self-awareness, rights, ability to organise and control
resources for themselves
Differences to SDC
Not clearly defined in policy documents or on the website other than in Oxfam
(2005)
Provides a definition and diagram of power
Provides a comprehensive but complex framework for empowerment, but
does not provide a concise definition; the framework incorporates
psychological, economic, cultural, political and social dimensions
Recognises that the meaning of empowerment varies depending on the
people, level, place and time
Provides in-depth discussion on women’s empowerment and elements for
capacity building for empowerment
Women’s
empowerment,
education, health
and livelihoods
Save the
Children
Save the
Children UK,
2003
Save the
Children UK,
2005
Similarities with SDC
Deals with individual and collective empowerment
Focuses on participation in decision making for NGO programmes and public
policy
Mentions self-confidence and dignity
Includes social, political, young people and women’s empowerment
Differences to SDC
Does not provide a concise definition of empowerment
Has a strong rights-based approach to policy and programming
Focuses on power relations and provides definitions
Young people’s
and children’s
empowerment and
community (adults
that affect the
young people’s
lives)
empowerment
through
education, health,
HIV/AIDS, equality
32
Bases approach on women’s and political empowerment frameworks and
adapts these to work with young people
Mentions access to entitlements
Uses the term ‘citizen empowerment’
Mentions the process from individual to collective empowerment
and rights, poverty
and economics,
exploitation and
protection
programmes
References
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.
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Worldwide.
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Empowerment
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Danish International Development A