Empowerment of Women

Empowerment refers to creating capacities in individuals or groups to participate actively in their own welfare. Theoretically, empowerment should be a process that helps people to gain control over their lives through raising awareness, taking action and working in order to exercise greater control. Thus empowerment refers to building capabilities among individuals and groups through which they become self-reliant and organized.

Since the 1990’s women have been identified as key agents of sustainable development and women’s equality and empowerment are seen as central to a more holistic approach towards establishing new patterns and processes of socioeconomic development that are sustainable.

The World Bank has suggested that empowerment of women should be a key aspect of all social development programs. Although a considerable debate on what constitutes empowerment exists,

Since the 1980’s the Government of India has shown increasing concern for women's issues through a variety of legislation promoting the education and political participation of women. International organizations like the World Bank and United Nations have focused on women’s issues especially the empowerment of poor women in rural areas.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also taken on an increased role in the area of women’s empowerment. NGO’s, previously catering to women’s health and educational needs, have moved beyond this traditional focus to addressing the underlying causes of deprivations through promoting the economic and social empowerment of women. There are many challenges that face NGOs who make it their goal to empower women.

In 2004 Femida Handy and Meenaz Kassam presented a paper at the ISTR conference, Toronto Canada in which they explored how a relatively small and isolated rural NGO (CRTC) in the foothills of the Himalayas was successful in the empowerment of rural women living in highly patriarchal and traditional societies. This NGo was unusual in that it was organised as a collective.

in their paper they found it useful to rely on Kabeer’s (2001) definition of empowerment:

"The expansion in people's ability to make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied to them."

For women in India, this suggests empowerment in several realms: personal, familial, economic and political.

CRTC was the founded by Swami Chinmayananda, a revered Hindu spiritual leader, who chose one of the most depressed areas of the Himachal Pradesh to start a religious center to practice his beliefs as well as an NGO that would empower local women. Sustainable development of the region, he believed, was only possible if the women were uplifted and could contribute to the success of their family and community. Dr. Kshama Metre, a follower in his religious center and a practicing pediatrician in New Delhi, took on the leadership of this NGO in 1985. Starting in relatively small way with a donation of a few sewing machines, Dr. Metre, single-mindedly pursued the vision of empowering the women of the dismal rural area. From this humble beginning she infused energy and vision to make this organization into a large well funded NGO, which in 2005 was serving over 27,000 clients spanning 900 villages offering a variety of programs that included literacy and health services to sanitation, micro-finance and legal aid. Though women are regarded as the primary focus, by extending their services to include the families of these women where relevant, CRTC ends up serving the entire village community. Kshama Metre is now national director of CORD Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development in Dharamsala, located just next to the Himachal Vidhansabha Bhavan in Sidhbari Village.

Handy and Kassam concluded that a major factor limiting the impact of Indian NGOs is that they have little or no access to skilled social workers!

They must often depend on the local population for their employees, employees who may be vulnerable to the similar social pressures and are often equally marginalized as their clients. For rural NGOs to be successful they must attract employees who must at some level be relatively more empowered than the clients. They must have certain credibility to be able to effectively persuade their marginalized clients to alter their ways of thinking on many long-standing traditional issues, such as dowries, child labor, and patriarchal subjugation.


Donors, NGOs, and local authorities have long recognized that investing in women in low-income countries is key to development goals. However, the development community does not always consider the private sector as a partner in advancing women’s empowerment. Yet, economic empowerment is the only way to create these outworkers of NGOs.

Two key dimensions of empowerment are:

-legal empowerment (empowering people to demand and exercise their rights while at the same time strengthening institutions so that they can better respond to the needs of people);

- and political empowerment (the ability of marginalized groups to influence processes and decisions that affect their well-being).

The two other dimensions of empowerment are social and economic.

Social empowerment refers to the capacity of individuals and groups—through developing a sense of autonomy and self-confidence—to foster the relationships and institutional interactions necessary for their well-being and productivity. It is closely related to social integration and poverty eradication, and is strongly influenced by individual assets (e.g. housing, livestock, savings) and human (good health and education), social, (e.g. social belonging, sense of identity, leadership relations), and psychological (e.g. self-esteem, selfconfidence, aspirations for a better future) capabilities.

Economic empowerment, on the other hand, enables marginalized people to think beyond immediate daily survival and assert greater control over their resources and life choices, especially decisions on investments in health, housing and education. Through improving participation in economic activity and promoting productive employment and decent work it, economic empowerment facilitates poverty reduction and social integration.

This Google site presents empowerment models which combine the voluntary sector with the private sector to address the issue of socioeconomic empowerment of marginalised Indian women, where the creation of village home working is the key to economic sustainably: integrating culture, nature and nurture.