What Is Empowerment To You?

by | Jun 10, 2022

This question came as a jolt to me. I had never even thought about it. Asked by Sushma Iyengar, in our masterclass on Empowerment at India Fellow. My co-fellows and I started presenting our views. A dynamic version of definitions started to emerge with each of our additions. One thing became clear, that ‘Empowerment is contextual‘. It is different for different people. We cannot have one box to fit all the definitions and descriptions of empowerment.

Connecting theoretical understanding with practical experience

I started working with Udyogini, an NGO working on women empowerment in Wadrafnagar, Chhattisgarh in the end of October 2021. Completing my induction training, I was having childlike curiosity and excitement to work with communities. I reached Ravipur’s* Panchayat Bhavan along with my colleague to conduct a meeting about our project and our action plan.

On entering the shadows of the hall of the bhavan, I was greeted by men sitting on the chairs and women sitting on a floor mat. I was confused. Now, should I sit on the floor with the women or sit on the chairs provided to us and follow the convention? A lot of thoughts were gushing in my mind.

There was this urge in me that I have to make the men provide a level playing field for women, physically. In retrospective, this was my first idea of empowerment. After six months with communities, there is a lot of difference in my way of thinking. Now, I have a better understanding about the community than what I had then.

My idea of empowerment now mutates a lot. It is like a slime that slips through hands. It is always changing and evolving into some shape or form only to turn into something again. Every time I conform to an idea, I see something new. There are a lot of factors affecting each other forming complex interlinkages, for this single output of men sitting on chairs. I am slowly working on each one of those “known” influencing factors.

Sushma, our mentor in the session, had her own idea of empowerment. From what she was telling, I felt that for her sharing is a key step in empowerment. She said, “If you are hungry with no money to buy food, someone gives you a Biryani. This single act is not empowerment. It is liberation. Empowerment is when you make biryani by yourself and serve someone who is hungry, the same way you got it in the first place.” That made me think.

According to her, when something acts upon an issue, the work is only half done. The empowered is/are equally responsible to complete this act and this chain reaction goes on. I am fascinated with this thought. When I started searching for a word which defines something/someone who empowers, I came across a term ‘Empowerer’. But empowerer feels like an external being. So I will use ‘Enabler’ in this flow chart to explain this concept. Enabler can be anything or anyone that enables empowerment.

Liberated-Enabler Conundrum

Udyogini’s idea of women empowerment

In the second half of the twentieth century, civil societies across the world had a buzz word each decade. In 1980s, the importance of women empowerment, gender equality and micro-finance were identified to play a crucial role in the narrative role in development sector.

The brainchild of this movement in India led to the origin of an NGO named as Udyogini, which refers to a woman entrepreneur in Hindi. Udyogini started as an organization, which provides service to other NGOs, and as a resource agency, mainly building capacity in women enterprise and entrepreneurship for other NGOs. It slowly turned its track as an implementing agency – an organization which works with communities by implementing programs and projects in the 21st century.

Udyogini identified the root causes to the gender differences between men and women. One such cause is economic empowerment. Income in the hands of women in rural India has proven to be a key solution to fill the gender gap between men and women.

It decided to improve the economic conditions of rural women in India which leads to improvement of social and political conditions for women. Increase in the income of rural women leads to increase in their self-confidence which in turn leads to increase in agency of women.

To increase the income of rural women, Udyogini decided to develop enterprises and business service providers with strong village level institutions for self-sustenance of progress in women empowerment. As per a report on Understanding and Measuring Women’s Economic Empowerment by ICRW (International Center for Research on Women), there are strong reasons to emphasise women’s economic empowerment in development programs:

  • Economic empowerment is one of the most powerful routes for women to achieve their potential and advance their rights.
  • Since women make up the majority of the world’s poor, meeting poverty-reduction goals requires addressing women and their economic empowerment.
  • Discrimination against women is economically inefficient. National economies lose out when a substantial part of the population cannot compete equitably or realize its full potential.
  • Working with women makes good business sense. When women have the right skills and opportunities, they can help businesses and markets grow.
  • Women who are economically empowered contribute more to their families, societies and national economies. It has been shown that women invest extra income in their children, providing a route to sustainable development.

The views presented here are my personal understanding and views of Udyogini’s work.

*Names changed to maintain confidentiality.

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4 Comments

  1. Suryabhagavanulu Bitra

    So nice…

    Reply
  2. Suryabhagavanulu Bitra

    So nice…

    Reply
  3. Nagarjuna Gunti

    Nice

    Reply
  4. Nagarjuna Gunti

    Nice

    Reply

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