E M P O W E R M E N T

The concept of empowerment has been studied since the 70’s. It advocates, in connection with sustainable development, the self-management of political, economical and social resources as a means to decrease poverty. Despite the fact that the word "empowerment" may be interpreted in different ways – due to the fact that it permeates several subjects, making use of "individual psychology, anthropology, political science and economy"- it does not refer to an individual emancipation process, but to the acquisition of a collective awareness concerning social dependency and political domination. In fact, this concept makes it possible to create a bridge between the local and the global, placing the individual beyond his/her family and community, and linking them to wider notions at the macro level and to possible courses of action.

"The concept goes beyond notions of democracy, of human rights and of participation to include enabling people to understand the reality of their environment (social, political, economical, ecological and cultural), to reflect on the factors that shape their environment and to take steps to effect changes to improve their situation." (1)

In this sense, it is important to understand that the empowerment concept goes beyond participation – assessed sometimes through the mere presence in meetings. It is a systemic concept, which recognizes that if there is now more power in the decision-making process of those who, before, had no power whatsoever, there is also an unavoidable transformation in the system. This transformation is usually taken for granted under the form of simple participation (which may be confused with assent), while empowerment implies in a critical and active participation that will not be confused with mere "attendance" at a decision-making process.

"An effective empowerment process must involve both individual and collective components" (2)


Thus, an effective empowerment process will have four levels (3) :

1. cognitive, where what matters is awareness of reality and of the reasons for male domination;
2. psychological, linked to self-esteem and self-confidence, essential elements for decision-making;
3. economical, related to the existence of earning activities capable of generating enough income to insure a certain degree of economical independence;
4. political, involving the ability to analyze and mobilize the social environment in order to produce changes in it.

Thus, an effective empowerment process must include both both individual and collective components. Only then it will be possible to develop the necessary abilities to achieve social transformations.


NOTES

1) "SINGH, Naresh, TITI, Vangile (Eds.). Empowerment: towards sustainable development. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 1995, p.13."
2)"LEÓN Magdalena. El empoderamiento en la teoria e práctica del feminismo. In: LEÓN, Magdalena. Poder y empoderamiento de las mujeres. Santafé de Bogotá: Tercer Mundo y UN Facultad de Ciencias Humanas, 1997."
3) "STROMQUIST, Nelly. La búsqueda del empoderamiento: em qué puede contribuir el campo de la educación. In: LEÓN, Magdalena (Comp.). Poder y empoderamento de las mujeres. Santafé de Bogotá, Colômbia: TM Editores, 1997, p.95."