Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social, racial, educational, gender or economic strength of individuals and communities. It often involves the empowered developing confidence in their own capacities.



The term empowerment covers a vast landscape of meanings, interpretations, definitions and disciplines ranging from psychology and philosophy to the highly commercialized self-help industry and motivational sciences.

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. For example, the U.S. government marginalized cultural minorities, particularly blacks, prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 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 then the process of obtaining these 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, but there are many examples of empowerment projects which have succeeded. [1]

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 on 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).

Numerous critical perspectives exist that propose that an empowerment paradigm is present, Clark (2008) showed that whilst there was a degree of autonomy provided by empowerment, it also made way for extended surveillance and control, hence the contradiction perspective (Fardini, 2001).people

Women empowerment

Empowerment of women, also called gender empowerment, has become a significant topic of discussion in regards to development and economics. Entire nations, businesses, communities, and groups can benefit from the implementation of programs and policies that adopt the notion of women empowerment.[2] Empowerment is one of the main procedural concerns when addressing human rights and development. The Human Development and Capabilities Approach, The Millennium Development Goals, and other credible approaches/goals point to empowerment and participation as a necessary step if a country is to overcome the obstacles associated with poverty and development.[3]

Measuring gender empowerment

Gender empowerment can be measured through the Gender Empowerment Measure, or the GEM. The GEM shows women’s participation in a given nation, both politically and economically. Gem is calculated by tracking “the share of seats in parliament held by women; of female legislators, senior officials and managers; and of female profession and technical workers; and the gender disparity in earned income, reflecting economic independence.” [4] It then ranks countries given this information. Other measures that take into account the importance of female participation and equality include: the Gender Parity Index and the Gender-related Development Index (GDI),[5]

Ways to empower women

One way to deploy the empowerment of women is through land rights. Land rights offer a key way to economically empower women, giving them the confidence they need to tackle gender inequalities. Often, women in developing nations are legally restricted from their land on the sole basis of gender. Having a right to their land gives women a sort of bargaining power that they wouldn’t normally have, in turn; they gain the ability to assert themselves in various aspects of their life, both in and outside of the home.[6] Another way to provide women empowerment is to allocate responsibilities to them that normally belong to men. When women have economic empowerment, it is a way for others to see them as equal members of society. Through this, they achieve more self-respect and confidence by their contributions to their communities. Simply including women as a part of a community can have sweeping positive effects. In a study conducted by Bina Agarwal, women were given a place in a forest conservation group. Not only did this drive up the efficiency of the group, but the women gained incredible self-esteem while others, including men, viewed them with more respect.[7] Participation, which can be seen and gained in a variety of ways, has been argued to be the most beneficial form of gender empowerment. Political participation, be it the ability to vote and voice opinions, or the ability to run for office with a fair chance of being elected, plays a huge role in the empowerment of peoples.[8] However, participation is not limited to the realm of politics. It can include participation in the household, in schools, and the ability to make choices for oneself. It can be said that these latter participations need to be achieved before one can move onto broader political participation.[9] When women have the agency to do what she wants, a higher equality between men and women is established. It is argued that Microcredit also offers a way to provide empowerment for women.[10] Governments, organizations, and individuals have caught hold of the lure of microfinance. They hope that lending money and credit allows women to function in business and society, which in turn empowers them to do more in their communities. One of the primary goals in the foundation of microfinance was women empowerment. Loans with low interest rates are given to women in developing communities in hopes that they can start a small business and provide for her family.[11] It should be said, however, that the success and efficiency of microcredit and microloans is controversial and constantly debated.[12]

Economic benefits of women empowerment

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. 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.[14] In addition, female participation in counsels, groups, and businesses is seen to increase efficiency.[15] 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).” [16] 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.

Barriers of women empowerment

Many of the barriers to women empowerment and equity lie ingrained into the cultures of certain nations and societies. Many women feel these pressures, while others have become accustomed to being treated inferior to men.[17] Even if men, legislators, NGOs, etc. are aware of the benefits women 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.[18]

The process of empowerment

The process which enables individuals/groups to fully access personal/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 (Blanchard, K)." 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. Empowerment may also have a negative impact on individuals, corporations and productivity depending on an individuals views and goals. It can divide the genders or the races. Strong skills and critical capabilities are often held back to open doors for those who meet the empowerment criteria. Those who use empowerment as a selfish advantage tend to become difficult, demeaning and even hostile colleagues. The end result is a weak business model.

Empowerment includes the following, or similar, capabilities:-

  • The ability to make decisions about personal/collective circumstances
  • The ability to access information and resources for decision-making
  • Ability to consider a range of options from which to choose (not just yes/no, either/or.)
  • Ability to exercise assertiveness in collective decision making
  • Having positive-thinking about the ability to make change
  • Ability to learn and access skills for improving personal/collective circumstance.
  • Ability to inform others’ perceptions though exchange, education and engagement.
  • Involving in the growth process and changes that is never ending and self-initiated
  • Increasing one's positive self-image and overcoming stigma
  • Increasing one's ability in discreet thinking to sort out right and wrong

Workplace empowerment

Empowerment of employees in the work place provides them with opportunities to make their own decisions with regards to their tasks. Now-a-days more and more bosses and managers are practicing the concept of empowerment among their subordinates to provide them with better opportunities. According to Thomas A Potterfield[19], employee empowerment is considered by many organizational theorists and practitioners to be one of the most important and popular management concepts of our time. Companies ranging from small to large and from low-technology manufacturing concerns to high-tech software firms have been initiating empowerment programs in attempts to enhance employee motivation, increase efficiency, and gain competitive advantages in the turbulent contemporary business environment.

Empowerment in management

In the book Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute, the authors, Ken Blanchard, John P. Carlos, and Alan Randolph, illustrate three simple keys that organizations can use to effectively open the knowledge, experience, and motivation power that people already have. The three keys that managers must use to empower their employees are: share information with everyone, create autonomy through boundaries and 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.

Share information with everyone – this is the first key to empowering people within an organization. By sharing information with everyone, you are giving them a clear picture of the company and its current situation. Another strong point that this brings is trust; by allowing all of the employees to view the company information, it helps to build that trust between employer and employee.

Create autonomy through boundaries – this is the second key to empowerment which also builds upon the previous one. By opening communication through sharing information, it opens up the feedback about what is holding them back from being empowered.

Replace the old hierarchy with self-managed teams – this is the third and final key to empowerment which ties them all together. By replacing the old hierarchy with self-managed teams, more responsibility is placed upon unique and self-managed teams which create better communication and productivity.

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. [20]


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.[21]


  • Blanchard, Kenneth H., John P. Carlos, and Alan Randolph. Empowerment Takes More than a Minute. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1996. Print.
  • 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. Print.


  1. ^ Sughosh India Foundation “Sughosh's meaning of empowerment” . 8 Nov 2010. (Online) Available: http://sughosh.in/Empowerment.html (accessed October 4, 2011)
  2. ^ Deneulin, Séverine, with Lila Shahani. 2009. An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach: Freedom and Agency. Sterling, VA: Earthscan.
  3. ^ U.N. General Assembly, 55th Session. “United Nations Millennium Declaration.” (A/55/L.2). 8 September 2000. (Online) Available: www.un.org/millennium/declaration/ares552e.pdf (accessed January 2, 2008)
  4. ^ Deneulin, Séverine, with Lila Shahani. 2009. An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach: Freedom and Agency. Sterling, VA: Earthscan.
  5. ^ Deneulin, Séverine, with Lila Shahani. 2009. An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach: Freedom and Agency. Sterling, VA: Earthscan.
  6. ^ Agarwal, Bina. 1994. “Land Rights for Women: Making the Case,” in A Field of One’s Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia, pp. 1-50. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  7. ^ Argawal, Bina. 2010. “Gender and Green Governance: The Political Economy of Women’s Presence Within and Beyond Community Forestry.” New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ Deneulin, Séverine, with Lila Shahani. 2009. An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach: Freedom and Agency. Sterling, VA: Earthscan.
  9. ^ Nussbaum, Martha C. 2000. “Introduction,” in Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach, pp. 1–33. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ Bateman, Milford. 2010. Why Doesn’t Microfinance Work?: The Destructive Rise of Local Neoliberalism, New York: Zed Books.
  12. ^ Parmar, A. 2003. “Microcredit, Empowerment, and Agency: Re-evaluating the Discourse.” Canadian Journal of Development Studies 24 (3): 461-76.
  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. ^ UNICEF. 2007. “Equality in Employment,” in The State of the World’s Children. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund.
  15. ^ Argawal, Bina. 2010. “Gender and Green Governance: The Political Economy of Women’s Presence Within and Beyond Community Forestry.” New York, NY: Oxford University Press
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ 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
  19. ^ Potterfield, Thomas. "The Business of Employee Empowerment: Democracy and Ideaology in the Workplace." Quorum Books, 1999, p. 6
  20. ^ "Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute" by Ken Blanchard, John P. Carlos, and Alan Randolph
  21. ^ www.microempowering.org

See also

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  • empowerment — index charter (sanction), droit, force (strength), freedom, license, sanction (permission) …   Law dictionary

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  • Empowerment — L’empowerment, terme anglais traduit par autonomisation ou capacitation, est la prise en charge de l individu par lui même, de sa destinée économique, professionnelle, familiale et sociale. L empowerment, comme son nom l indique, est le processus …   Wikipédia en Français

  • empowerment — In human resource management, the giving of increased responsibility and a measure of control to employees in their working lives. The concept is based on the view that people need personal satisfaction and fulfilment in their work and that… …   Big dictionary of business and management

  • empowerment — empower, empowerment Empower is a 17c verb meaning ‘to give power or authority to’. In the 1970s it acquired a new meaning, ‘to make (someone) able to do something’, implying the freedom to adopt moral values and principles of one s choice as… …   Modern English usage

  • empowerment — [[t]ɪmpa͟ʊə(r)mənt[/t]] N UNCOUNT: oft the N of n The empowerment of a person or group of people is the process of giving them power and status in a particular situation. This government believes very strongly in the empowerment of women …   English dictionary

  • empowerment — empower, empowerment → empoderar(se) …   Diccionario panhispánico de dudas

  • empowerment — The delegation of decision making authority to individuals at lower levels of an organization. Management theory frequently advocates empowerment of employees as a way of mitigating some of the dysfunctional effects of traditional *chain of… …   Auditor's dictionary

  • empowerment —  To allow greater employee decision making.  ► “Management’s definition [of empowerment]: Work harder with fewer people, don’t rock the boat and don’t complain.” (Supervision, Jan. 1994, p. 3) …   American business jargon

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