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Women Empowerment: An Epistemic Quest

Pillai N., Vijayamohanan and B. P., Asalatha (2012): Women Empowerment: An Epistemic Quest.

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Abstract

The concept of women empowerment was the outcome of several important critiques and debates generated by the women’s movement throughout the world, and particularly in the developing countries. In essence, the 1980s saw the rise of stringent feminist critiques of development strategies and grassroots interventions: mainly for these strategies having generally failed to make any significant dent in the status of women. The failure was ascribed to the adaptation and the application of such approaches as welfare, anti¬poverty, and to some extent the efficiency approach. Presently, the users of the term ‘empowerment’ tend to assume an understanding of the meaning within some particular context. Often no clear explanation of empowerment is given. We believe that some of the confusion arises because the root concept – power –itself is disputed, and so is understood and experienced in different ways by different people. In fact, the underlying assumption of many interest groups or institutions (such as the World Bank and the UN) unfortunately is that economic empowerment automatically converts to women’s empowerment.

As the following epistemic quest of empowerment unfolds in six sections, the major issue reflected upon is the concept of empowerment in its importance to women’s development. We begin in the next section by exploring the definitions of empowerment and then dissects the concept of power in section 3: the concept is discussed in the subsequent sections from different perspectives of power, feminism and personal autonomy and agency in the family framework. We consider three approaches here: theory of human needs, self-determination theory and capability approach. The last section concludes the paper.

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