Women and empowerment: illustrations from the third world

Haleh Afshar, 1998).

It is fascinating to follow different feminist scholars’ arguments why repeatedly they stress the importance to define “what is empowerment” to portray women’s attempt to excercise the same power/control as men do.

perempuan I prefer to quote Laurie J. Sears (1999), how she prefered to use the words “the feminine in Indonesia” than “the women in Indonesia”. I suggest you to read her book, Fantasizing Feminine Indonesia . She began her reading with arguments of Indonesia as an archipelagic country, which “are scores of major ethnic group and hundreds of language among Indonesia’s 13.000 islands” (p.3), that has complex historical background. Any effort to define Indonesian women is useless or will fail because of that: “to speak of ‘Indonesian women” is an impossibility” (p. 4).

halehAccording to Afshar, affirmation action for women doesn’t mean facilitator’s intervention will always give good impact for women. Women’s configurations are not permanent, however they are very dynamic. Women’s stuffs, such as needs, structures, problems, issues – can be specified based on contextual ideologies and histories: “There certainly is a different emphasis on different priorities when it comes to understanding what empowerment means to the women…” (p. 2). By giving to much intervension facilitator will silence women’s story, preventing them to speak out women’s issues. The role of facilitator should be to encourage women all over the world to speak out, to reveal hidden stories among women.

Afshar encourages feminist scholars to re-define the meaning of “women empowerment”. She argues women must be included in empowerment proses. Empowerment should not be only “to” or “for” women, but it is a matter of development agencies. From several contributors in her book, I can understand why she stresses the importance to envolve women themselves based on two reasons. The first reason links to something I mentioned before that women’s issues are contextualized, therefore feminist scholars need to encourage women to define issues based on their own experiences: “Although some aspects of their histories and domestic violence were known to others, many women said that the interview was the first time they had spoken about some aspects of sexual violence” (p. 6). To develop agencies help women to overcome silence. In many culture in the world, society don’t allow women to speak out their things.

fryeThe second reason links to empowerment itself. To encourage women to speak out is the immediate empowerment. Many women will not see their experience as specific and importance. According to Marilyn Frye (1983) to understand this situation women’s voice feminist scholars also needs to understand the (patriarchy) oppression to women, that have been muted women’s voice for centuries. However, to let women or to encourage women to leave their alienation by speaking up will make their position known and will relieve their live: “Many women also commented that they felt much “lighter” for having spoken out

I will refer to Rowlands who advises feminist scholars to give attention to “internalised oppression” among (mostly) women, that is caused by a lack of balance of power distribution between two sexes. Women have been taken for granted to live and to practice this imbalance power distribution, and come to believe that she has no voice/opinion of her own (p. 12) or being not aware to distribute/to share the power to men. The case of Chilean Agribusiness shows how does the empowerment program turn into disempowerment effect to some women fruit workers: “On the one hand, it has released women from their traditional, invisible role as rural workers, making their work more visible and bringing them together during the season, and it that sense the market itself has acted as a facilitator of empowerment. On the other hand, it has reinforced a gendred division of labour in which women endure the double burden of domestic responsibility and waged work” (p. 53)

The same case can be found in Indonesia, that people tend to value the Indonesian motherhood ideology (Utomo and Hatmadji) therefore most women believe they are doing honorable duty by staying at home, doing domestic duties and being caregiver of the family. This feminine mistique has been constructed by society, education, tradition, culture, religion, media, and policies that is applied in Indonesia. It has gradual naturalized the false believe system of Indonesian women to find their identity inside the family. However, for those who choose to share part of their time outside for working, have to carry double burden for doing motherhood duties as well as engaging in work outside the home. In Indonesia, the government proudly name this doble burden after “peran ganda perempuan“, and mostly women are very proud to perform it.

From this point, it is clearly that sometimes the empowerment programme can bring consequences of disempowerment, under the impact of internalised oppression. That is why feminist scholars avoid using the term of power over in term of empowerment. They prefer to draw on the definition from Foucault’s model of power, where power has been believed as relational: “Power is constituted in a network of social relationship among subjects who are free to act to at least a minimal extent; without power those relationships cannot exist” (p. 14). In this context, power is seen as a productive activity.

Feminist scholars then incorporate Foucault’s definition of power into their own model of power, which stressed on internalised oppression that becomes internal barriers for women’s empowerment programs. Therefore, for most of them the form of power over suits women well. The use of definition of power over opens up possibilities for women to have more power to control, that can embrace their movement into “power to”, “power with”, and “power from within”.

According to these feminist scholars, then we can diferentiate power into several form: power over, power to, power with, and power from within. I refer to Yamuna Ghale who explains the difference between those.

Power from within, facilitate the process of self-acceptance and self-respect. It helps a person to understand the structural and historical context of inclusion-exclusion. It then, imparts the ability to recognize how one’s interests are related to those of the others. Power from within is strongly connected to the perception of oneself as being entitled to make changes. Power to refers to the capacity of one to act, being equipped with appropriate skills and abilities including access to resources required to make changes. Power with then refers to a form of power which is closely linked to the power within and is based on the realization that individuals with similar interests and experiences can work together towards change. Power over relates to power relations that need to be transformed or challenged as an individual or by an interest group or a society at large.

Rowlands constructs three different kinds of model of women’s empowerments: personal empowerment, collective empowerment, and close relationship empowerment.

Personal Empowerment

Collective Empowerment

Empowerment in close relationship

Self-confidence Group identity Ability to negotiate
Self-esteem Collective sense of agency Ability to communicate
Sense of agency Group dignity Ability to get support
Sense of “self” in a wider context Self-organisation and management Ability to defend self/rights
Dignity   Sense of ‘self’ in the relationship


it’s enough for now. I need to pick up Gita

random thoughts
you are there somewhere. i’ve never seen you, yet i feel you know excatly what i am feeling now. who are you?
i am having stomach pain plus today, but still trying to finish several pending jobs.
i am thinking this saying: “it came to pass”, yes it did.


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