Volume 47 Number 1A
Published: March 14, 2016
This article argues that, despite the great diversity in the uses of the term ‘empowerment’, it is possible to distinguish two basic approaches in conceptualising women’s empowerment. The first, identified here as ‘liberal empowerment’, regards women’s empowerment as an instrument for development priorities, be they the eradication of poverty or the building of democracy. Consistent with liberal ideals, the focus in this approach is on individual growth, but in an atomistic perspective – on the notion of the rational action of social actors based on individual interests. Moreover, it de-politicises the process of empowerment by taking ‘power’ out of the equation. In contrast, in the approach here termed ‘liberating empowerment’, power relations are the central issue. Women’s empowerment is regarded both on ‘intrinsic grounds’, as the process by which women gain self-determination, as well as an instrument for the eradication of patriarchy. This is, simultaneously, both instrumental for social transformation as well as an end in and of itself, as it entails women’s liberation from the chains of patriarchal domination. Such an approach is consistent with a focus on women’s organising, on collective action, though not disregarding the importance of the empowerment of women at an individual level. As shall be seen, this is the approach sustained by Latin American feminists, as evident in different projects and programmes implemented by feminists in the region.