Empowerment, Autonomy and State

16 Nov
Several United Nations studies and development questions point to a newapoverty paradigm of” good practices “or” good management “of the state.
Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona (2013) clearly points out the relationship between empowerment and poverty “lack of power is a universal and basic characteristic of poverty. Poverty is not solely a lack of income, but rather is characterized by a vicious cycle of powerlessness, stigmatization, discrimination, exclusion and material deprivation, which all mutually reinforce each other.”
Empowerment is something of a development “fuzzword” (Cornwall, 2007), a broad concept that allows multiple interpretations and definitions, often reflecting the theoretical or ideological predisposition of their exponents. Ibrahim and Alkire (2007) have listed 32 different, but overlapping definitions of the word.2 This paper will use a definition based on Eyben (2011):
“Empowerment happens when individuals and organized groups are able to imagine their world differently and to realize that vision by changing the relations of power that have kept them in poverty, restricted their voice and deprived them of their autonomy.”
An empowering approach is both an end in itself, and a means to eradicating poverty and exclusion in their broader (multidimensional) sense.
Effective experiences of empowerment tend to involve a “magic triangle”: active civil society environment, committed public officials or political leaders, and enforcement mechanisms that guarantee that initiatives “have teeth”. That means that civil society organization is an asset, and its weakness or absence a problem. Governments need to nurture independent, active civil society organizations and protect the space in which they can operate.
The good news is that history appears to be firmly on the side of empowerment, as the global broadening and deepening of human rights since the creation of the United Nations system unambiguously demonstrates.
CARMONA, M. S. 2013. Report to the UN Human Rights Council of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. United Nations General Assembly.
CORNWALL, A. 2007. Buzzwords and Fuzzwords: Deconstructing Development Discourse. Development in Practice, 17, 471-484.
EYBEN, R. 2011. Supporting Pathways of Women’s Empowerment: A Brief Guide for International Development Organisations. Pathways Policy Paper. Brighton: Pathways of Women’s Empowerment RPC.
IBRAHIM, S. & ALKIRE, S. 2007. Agency and Empowerment: A proposal for internationally comparable indicators. OPHI Working Paper Series.

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