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Empowerment refers to increasing the economic, political, social, educational or spiritual strength of an entity or entities.[according to whom?]


Robert Adams points to the limitations of any single definition of 'empowerment', and the danger that academic or specialist definitions might take away the word and the connected practices from the very people they are supposed to belong to.[1] Still, he offers a minimal definition of the term: 'Empowerment: the capacity of individuals, groups and/or communities to take control of their circumstances, exercise power and achieve their own goals, and the process by which, individually and collectively, they are able to help themselves and others to maximize the quality of their lives.'[2]

Sociological empowerment often addresses members of groups that social discrimination processes have excluded from decision-making processes through - for example - discrimination based on disability, race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. Empowerment as a methodology is often associated with feminism: see consciousness-raising.

"Marginalized" refers to the overt or covert trends within societies whereby those perceived as lacking desirable traits or deviating from the group norms tend to be excluded by wider society and ostracized as undesirables.

Sometimes groups are marginalized by society at large, but governments are often unwitting or enthusiastic participants. This Act made it illegal to restrict access to schools and public places based on race. Equal opportunity laws which actively oppose such marginalization, allow increased empowerment to occur. They are also a symptom of minorities' and women's empowerment through lobbying.

Marginalized people who lack self-sufficiency become, at a minimum, dependent on charity, or welfare. They lose their self-confidence because they cannot be fully self-supporting. The opportunities denied them also deprive them of the pride of accomplishment which others, who have those opportunities, can develop for themselves. This in turn can lead to psychological, social and even mental health problems.


Empowerment is the process of obtaining basic opportunities for marginalized people, either directly by those people, or through the help of non-marginalized others who share their own access to these opportunities. It also includes actively thwarting attempts to deny those opportunities. Empowerment also includes encouraging, and developing the skills for, self-sufficiency, with a focus on eliminating the future need for charity or welfare in the individuals of the group. This process can be difficult to start and to implement effectively.


One empowerment strategy is to assist marginalized people to create their own nonprofit organization, using the rationale that only the marginalized people, themselves, can know what their own people need most, and that control of the organization by outsiders can actually help to further entrench marginalization. Charitable organizations lead from outside of the community, for example, can disempower the community by entrenching a dependence charity or welfare. A nonprofit organization can target strategies that cause structural changes, reducing the need for ongoing dependence. Red Cross, for example, can focus on improving the health of indigenous people, but does not have authority in its charter to install water-delivery and purification systems, even though the lack of such a system profoundly, directly and negatively impacts health. A nonprofit composed of the indigenous people, however, could ensure their own organization does have such authority and could set their own agendas, make their own plans, seek the needed resources, do as much of the work as they can, and take responsibility - and credit - for the success of their projects (or the consequences, should they fail).

The process of which enables individuals/groups to fully access personal or collective power, authority and influence, and to employ that strength when engaging with other people, institutions or society. In other words, “Empowerment is not giving people power, people already have plenty of power, in the wealth of their knowledge and motivation, to do their jobs magnificently. We define empowerment as letting this power out."[3] It encourages people to gain the skills and knowledge that will allow them to overcome obstacles in life or work environment and ultimately, help them develop within themselves or in the society.

To empower a female "...sounds as though we are dismissing or ignoring males, but the truth is, both genders desperately need to be equally empowered."[4] Empowerment occurs through improvement of conditions, standards, events, and a global perspective of life.

Legal empowerment[edit]

Legal empowerment happens when marginalised people or groups use the legal mobilisation i.e., law, legal systems and justice mechanisms to improve or transform their social, political or economic situations. Legal empowerment approaches are interested in understanding how they can use the law to advance interests and priorities of the marginalised.[5]

According to 'Open society foundations' (an NGO) "Legal empowerment is about strengthening the capacity of all people to exercise their rights, either as individuals or as members of a community. Legal empowerment is about grass root justice, about ensuring that law is not confined to books or courtrooms, but rather is available and meaningful to ordinary people.[6]

Lorenzo Cotula in his book ' Legal Empowerment for Local Resource Control ' outlines the fact that legal tools for securing local resource rights are enshrined in legal system, does not necessarily mean that local resource users are in position to use them and benefit from them. The state legal system is constrained by a range of different factors - from lack of resources to cultural issues. Among these factors economic, geographic, linguistic and other constraints on access to courts, lack of legal awareness as well as legal assistance tend to be recurrent problems.[7]

In many context, marginalised groups do not trust the legal system owing to the widespread manipulation that it has historically been subjected to by the more powerful. 'To what extent one knows the law, and make it work for themselves with 'para legal tools', is legal empowerment; assisted utilizing innovative approaches like legal literacy and awareness training, broadcasting legal information, conducting participatory legal discourses, supporting local resource user in negotiating with other agencies and stake holders and to strategies combining use of legal processes with advocacy along with media engagement, and socio legal mobilisation.[7]


The Internet as a tool of empowerment[edit]

The growing access of the web in the late 20th century, has allowed women to empower themselves by using various tools on the Internet. With the introduction of the World Wide Web, women have begun to use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to start online activism.[8] Through online activism, women are able to empower themselves by organizing campaigns and voicing their opinions for equality rights without feeling oppressed by members of society.[9] For example, on May 29, 2013, an online campaign started by 100 female advocates forced the leading social networking website, Facebook, to take down various pages that spread hatred about women.[10]

In recent years, blogging has also become a powerful tool for the educational empowerment of women. According to a study done by the University of California, Los Angeles, medical patients who read and write about their disease are often in a much happier mood and more knowledgeable than those who do not.[11] By reading others' experiences, patients can better educate themselves and apply strategies that their fellow bloggers suggest.[11]

With the easy accessibility and affordability of e-learning (electronic learning), women can now study from the comfort of their home anywhere, anytime.[12] By empowering themselves educationally through new technologies like e-learning, women are also learning new skills that will come in handy in today's advancing globalized world.

Economic benefits of female empowerment[edit]

Most women across the globe rely on the informal work sector for an income.[13] If women were empowered to do more and be more, the possibility for economic growth becomes apparent. Empowering women in developing countries is essential to reduce global poverty since women represent most of the world’s poor population.[14] Eliminating a significant part of a nation’s work force on the sole basis of gender can have detrimental effects on the economy of that nation.[15] In addition, female participation in counsels, groups, and businesses is seen to increase efficiency.[16] For a general idea on how an empowered women can impact a situation monetarily, a study found that of Fortune 500 companies, “those with more women board directors had significantly higher financial returns, including 53 percent higher returns on equity, 24 percent higher returns on sales and 67 percent higher returns on invested capital (OECD, 2008).”[17] This study shows the impact women can have on the overall economic benefits of a company. If implemented on a global scale, the inclusion of women in the formal workforce (like a Fortune 500 company) can increase the economic output of a nation. Therefore, women can also help businesses grow and economies prosper if they have, and if they are able to use, the right knowledge and skills in their employment.

Barriers to the empowerment of women[edit]

Many of the barriers to women's empowerment and equity lie ingrained in cultural norms. Many women feel these pressures, while others have become accustomed to being treated inferior to men.[18] Even if men, legislators, NGOs, etc. are aware of the benefits women's empowerment and participation can have, many are scared of disrupting the status quo and continue to let societal norms get in the way of development.[19]

Research shows that the increasing access to the internet can also result in an increased exploitation of women.[8] Releasing personal information on websites has put some women's personal safety at risk. In 2010, Working to Halt Online Abuse stated that 73% of women were victimized through such sites.[20] Types of victimization include cyber stalking, harassment, online pornography, and flaming.[21]

Recent studies also show that women face more barriers in the workplace than do men. Gender-related barriers involve sexual harassment, unfair hiring practices, career progression, and unequal pay where women are paid less than men are for performing the same job.[22] Such barriers make it difficult for women to advance in their workplace or receive fair compensation for the work they provide.

Empowerment in international development[edit]

The UK's Department for International Development are working to address constraints to the empowerment of adolescent girls in developing countries. Researchers mapped organisations that competitively seek innovative ideas from both the private and non-profit sectors potentially to reach girls, youth and/or women in developing country contexts and provides support in the forms of finance and technical assistance to bring their ideas to market.[23]


According to Thomas A Potterfield,[24] many organizational theorists and practitioners regard employee empowerment as one of the most important and popular management concepts of our time.

Ciulla discusses an inverse case: that of bogus empowerment.[25]

In management[edit]

In the book Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute, the authors illustrate three keys that organizations can use to open the knowledge, experience, and motivation power that people already have.[3] The three keys that managers must use to empower their employees are:

  1. Share information with everyone
  2. Create autonomy through boundaries
  3. Replace the old hierarchy with self-managed teams

According to author Stewart, in her book Empowering People she describes that in order to guarantee a successful work environment, managers need to exercise the “right kind of authority” (p. 6). To summarize, “empowerment is simply the effective use of a manager’s authority”, and subsequently, it is a productive way to maximize all-around work efficiency.

These keys are hard to put into place and it is a journey to achieve empowerment in a workplace. It is important to train employees and make sure they have trust in what empowerment will bring to a company.[3]


In economic development, the empowerment approach focuses on mobilizing the self-help efforts of the poor, rather than providing them with social welfare. Economic empowerment is also the empowering of previously disadvantaged sections of the population, for example, in many previously colonized African countries.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Adams, Robert. Empowerment, participation and social work. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p.6.
  2. ^ Adams, Robert. Empowerment, participation and social work. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p.xvi
  3. ^ a b c "Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute" by Ken Blanchard, John P. Carlos, and Alan Randolph
  4. ^ (Dr. Asa Don Brown)
  5. ^ odi.org. "The politics of legal empowerment: legal mobilisation strategies and implications for development". odi.org. publications/8485-legal-empowerment-mobilisation. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  6. ^ "What Is Legal Empowerment?". Retrieved 29 December 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Cotula, Lorenzo (1 Jan 2007). Legal Empowerment for Local Resource Control: Securing Local Resource Rights Within Foreign Investment Projects in Africa. IIED, 2007. p. 48. ISBN 9781843696674. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Sutton, J., & Pollock, S. (2000). Online Activism for Women's Rights. Cyber Psychology & Behavior, 3(5),699-706.
  9. ^ Churchyard , N.(2009). The Question of Empowerment: Women’s Perspective on Their Internet Use. Gender, Technology and Development, 13(3), 341-363
  10. ^ McVeigh.T (2013, June 6). Online Feminist activists of the digital age. Taipei Times. Retrieved from http//www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2013/06/06/2003564076
  11. ^ a b Stephan,P. (2013, August 13). Breast cancer patients blog their blues away. Retrieved from http://breastcancer.about.com/b/2013/08/13/blog-the-blues-away.htm
  12. ^ Radovic-Markovic, M., Nelson-Porter, B., & Omolaja, M.(2012). The new alternative women's entrepreneurship education: E-learning and virtual universities. International Women Online Journal of Distance Education, 1(2), 46-54. Retrieved from http://wojde.org/FileUpload/bs295854/File/06a.markovic.pdf
  13. ^ United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. 2010. Combating Poverty and Inequality: Structural Change, Social Policy and Politics. Geneva: UNRISD “Gender Inequalities at Home and in the Market.” Chapter 4, pp. 5–33
  14. ^ (2012, ). Intel . Women and the Web. Retrieved fromhttp://www.intel.com/content/dam/www/public/us/en/documents/pdf/women-and-theweb.pdf
  15. ^ UNICEF. 2007. “Equality in Employment,” in The State of the World’s Children. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund.
  16. ^ Argawal,uijh Bina. 2010. “Gender and Green Governance: The Political Economy of Women’s Presence Within and Beyond Community Forestry.” New York, NY: Oxford University Press
  17. ^ World Survey on the Role of Women In Development. 2009. Women’s Control over Economic Resources and Access to Financial Resources, including Microfinance. New York: United Nations.
  18. ^ Nussbaum, Martha C. 1995. “Introduction,” in Martha C. Nussbaum and Jonathan Glover, eds. Women, Culture, and Development: A Study of Human Capabilities, pp. 1–15. Oxford: Clarendon Press
  19. ^ World Survey on the Role of Women In Development. 2009. Women’s Control over Economic Resources and Access to Financial Resources, including Microfinance. New York: United Nations
  20. ^ Debarati, H., & Jaishankar, K. (2012). Cyber Crime and the Victimization of Women: Laws,Rights and Regulations. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference
  21. ^ Morahan-Martin,J. (2000). Women and the Internet: Promise and Perils. Cyber Psychology & Behavior, 3 (5), 683-691.
  22. ^ Stein, A.I. (2009). Women Lawyers Blog for Workplace Equality: Blogging as a Feminist Legal Method. Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, 20 (2), 357-408
  23. ^ Mapping potential implementing organisations for girls' economic empowerment programme, Economics and Private Sector Professional Evidence and Applied Knowledge Services (EPS PEAKS) https://partnerplatform.org/?5smw2p44
  24. ^ Potterfield, Thomas. "The Business of Employee Empowerment: Democracy and Ideaology in the Workplace." Quorum Books, 1999, p. 6
  25. ^ Ciulla, Joanne B. (2004), "Leadership and the Problem of Bogus Empowerment", in Ciulla, Joanne B., Ethics, the heart of leadership (2 ed.), Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 978-0-275-98248-5, [...] in many organizations, promises of empowerment are bogus. 
  26. ^ "Welcome to MicroEmpowering!". Microempowering.org. Retrieved 2012-08-24. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Adams, Robert. Empowerment, participation and social work. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
  • Blanchard, Kenneth H., John P. Carlos, and Alan Randolph. Empowerment Takes More than a Minute. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1996.
  • Humphries, Beth. Critical Perspectives on Empowerment. Birmingham: Venture, 1996.
  • Thomas, K. W. and Velthouse, B. A. (1990) "Cognitive Elements of Empowerment: An 'Interpretive' Model of Intrinsic Task Motivation". Academy of Management Review, Vol 15, No. 4, 666-681.
  • Stewart, Aileen Mitchell. Empowering People (Institute of Management). Pitman. London: Financial Times Management, 1994.
  • Wilkinson, A. 1998. Empowerment: theory and practice. Personnel Review. [online]. Vol. 27, No. 1, 40-56. Accessed February 16, 2004.
  • EyeAmEmpowered social empowerment network . Empowerment through the help of others.