Women’s empowerment has become a popular term used by diverse and often contradictorily positioned ideologies and actors. Evolved from grassroots social movements in the 1970s; to its adoption by feminists concerned with development in the 1980a; to being firmly embedded in mainstream development “ industry” as a Poverty alleviation approach in the 1990s; the discourse of women ‘s empowerment has witnessed several dramatic and paradoxical shifts in terms of is language and scope over the past two decades.
The concept of women’s empowerment appears to be an outcome of several debates generated particularly by the third the third world feminist movement which , with primary influence from freire‘s popular education movement, evolved a distinct approach to grassroots empowerment that mainly focused on deepening critical consciousness and mobilizing collective action to challenge generated power elations (Batliwala 1994; Freire 1996). In the 1980s , (Women ‘s) empowerment entered development discourse when gender and development approach rooted in Third world women’s experiences and problems (Batliwala 1994; Parpart, Rai and Satudt 2002). Much of the GAD analysis of empowerment focused on unpacking different dimension of power: power over, power to, power with, and power within . In the mid - 199s, empowerment got in corporate in mainstream development thinking and practice with the popularization of the discourse through GAD platforms on ne hand and rise of neoliberalism on the other with the adoption of empowerment by mainstream development world,, its meaning and practice began to shift form collective and structural changes to expert - induced technical interventions focused on individual entrepreneurial growth, largely driven by neoliberal ideas of economics development (Leve : Sharma 2008).
While there have been several critiques of the appropriation of women’s empowerment by mainstream development practice (Batiwala 2007; critical of the feminist empowerment discourse. Marchand and Parpart (1995) , in particular, argue that while the discourses shifted the attention to homogenous lived experiences and problems assumption of their homogenous lived experiences and problems essentialized third world women while overshadowing very real differences between them. This paper is set within the premise of this post - structuralist feminist critique and aims to explore intersectional axes and identities that shape women ‘s lives and experiences and complicate the notion of empowerment.
The Paper builds its foundation in ethnographic and theoretical works that have questioned the simplistic understanding and practices of women’s lives and experiences and complicate notion empowerment. empowerment , especially in the context of Nepal . Tamang (200) argues that the development initiatives of state and non-state actors in Nepal in the name of women ‘s lived experiences . In a country like Nepal , various forms of gender norms an patriarchal arrangement exist in different communities that create different realities for women . therefore, efforts at developing Nepali women “need to g beyond one size fits all” policies and program and work towards developing an understanding and knowledge With and of women who have definite ideas about their own wants and needs based on their experience of oppression and struggle (Tamang 2002: 161).
Rankin (2001), in the context of her ethnographic work on micro-finance unifying solidarity amongst women, and she shows how such programs of unifying solidarity amongst women., and she shows how such programs overlook interactions among multiple social locations an hierarchies such as caste , class , ethnicity , and age . she opines that the programs aim to generate the subjectivity of the “rational economic woman “ who is easily capital in income - generating enterprises that will contribute to the economics security and social well- being of their household . Instead , the programs’ faulty assumptions and oversight result in their unacknowledged role in reinforcing existing gender , caste , and class hierarchies.
Leve (2007), in her seminal paper based on an evaluation of USAID’s empowerment program in the 1990s , argued that – although poles apart in their ideologies – both feminists that although poles apart in their ideologies- both feminists and development discourse s of empowerment share a common assumption in that they view empowerment share a common assumption in that they view empowerment as an evolutionary process and transformation is subjectivity that will lead to concrete positive actions. While feminist discourses and project seek to create political citizen for just and equitable change through resistance and mobilization, development projects attempt to produce self- regulating entrepreneurial individuals who know how to function properly in a free-market society . Leve concludes that, contrary to the assumption of empowerment programs , women ‘s subjectivity is not defined in terms of autonomy but shaped through social relations and obligation.
This Homogenization of the category “women” and the assumption of linear changes by mainstream feminist and development discourse and practices of empowerment overlook complex realities of Nepali Women who are differently situated by intersections of gender and social relations and whose agency is shaped by such structural and discursive contexts. This Paper examines how women’s intersectional gender identities and multiple manifestations of agency shape their experiences and perceptions of empowerment in the context of their participation in a poverty reduction empowerment project.
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