Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social or economic strength of individuals and communities. It often involves the empowered developing confidence in their own capacities.
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.
"Marginalised" 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 ostracised as undesirables.
Sometimes groups are marginalized by society at large, but governments are often unwitting or enthusiastic participants. For example, the US government marginalised 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 marginalisation allow increased empowerment to occur. It should be noted that they are also a symptom of minorities' and women's empowerment through lobbying.
Marginalised people who have no opportunities for 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 marginalised people, either directly by those people, or through the help of non-marginalised 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.
One empowerment strategy is to assist marginalised people to create their own non-profit organisation, using the rationale that only the marginalised people themselves can know what they need most, and that control of the organisation by outsiders can further entrench marginalisation. Charitable organisations lead from outside the community can disempower it by entrenching a dependence on charity or welfare. A non-profit organisation can adopt strategies that cause structural changes, reducing dependence. The 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 their absence is bad for their health. A non-profit composed of the indigenous people, however, could insure that it does have such authority and could set its own agenda, make its own plans, seek the needed resources, do as much of the work as it can, and take responsibility - and credit - for the success of its projects (or the consequences, should they fail).
The process through which enables others to gain power, authority and influence over others,institutions or society. Empowerment is probably the totality of the following or similar capabilities:
- decision-making power of one's own
- access to information and resources for taking good decisions
- a range of options from which you can make choices (not just yes/no, either/or)
- ability to exercise assertiveness in collective decision-making
- positive thinking on the ability to make change
- ability to learn skills for improving one's personal or group power
- ability to change others’ perceptions by democratic means.
- involvement in the growth process and changes that is never ending and self-initiated
- increasing one's positive self-image and overcoming stigma
In economic development, the empowerment approach focuses on mobilising 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 colonialised African countries.
In the arena of personal development, empowerment forms an apogee of many a system of self-realisation or of identity (re-)formation. Realising the solipsistic impracticality of everyone anarchistically attempting to exercise power over everyone else, empowerment advocates have adopted the word "empowerment" to offer the attractions of such power, but they generally constrain its individual exercise to potentiality and to feel-good uses within the individual psyche. The concept of personal development is seen as important by many employers, with emphasis placed on continuous learning, increased self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Empowerment is ultimately driven by the individual's belief in their capability to influence events.
Empowerment can be attained through one or many ways. An important factor in the discovery and application of the human "self empowerment" lies within the tools used to unveil the truth. It has been suggested that yoga is one such tool that can be used for more than the obvious physical benefits. When Yoga is practiced consistently the mind / body connection is apparent. Through this connection, the individual finds him or herself with a stronger sense of self and the ability to change areas where bad habits rule, negative emotions run rampant, even controlling addictions through understanding them for what they are. What can be more empowering than gaining control over self.
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.
Wilkinson, A. 1998. Empowerment: theory and practice. Personnel Review. [online]. Vol. 27, No. 1, 40-56. Available from: Emerald on the World Wide Web: http://hermia.emeraldinsight.com/vl=2601464/cl=84/nw=1/fm=docpdf/rpsv/cw/mcb/00483486/v27n1/s3/p40. Accessed February 16, 2004.
- Empowerment applied in a social work context with homeless people.