Women are increasingly seen as an important part of the international development agenda. Empowering women and promoting gender equality are enshrined as global development objectives with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed in 2015.

The question is WHY?

Imagine you are a girl born in the remote village in developing world.

From childhood, you will face hurdles that will hinder your education, development and advancement. Because your family has limited resources, when it’s time for you to start school, your parents decide to educate your brothers instead of you—a reality in the 30% of countries still fighting for gender parity in primary school. Because you don’t go to school, you don’t learn to read and write, making you one of the 781 million illiterate women around the world.


On the one hand, for some, poverty and disempowerment go hand-in-hand. As income poverty goes down, so do women become more empowered. Development interventions which focus on ‘practical gender needs’, including women’s income and material assets, will therefore lead both to reduced poverty and to increased female empowerment. Microcredit and women’s savings groups are examples of interventions which, through a focus on practical gender needs, aim both to reduce income poverty and contribute to women’s empowerment.

Critics of this view, on the other hand, argue that such an approach fails to address the root causes of disempowerment, notably women’s unequal position in society relative to men. It burdens women with additional responsibilities; they are already responsible for running the household, and this increasingly has to be combined with income generating activities. Rather than development working for women, women are working for development.


Meaning of Women Empowerment

The meaning of the concept of empowerment has long been a subject of controversy and debate in the social sciences, and there has been no agreement on the meaning of the term. “The phrase ‘the empowerment of women’ means many things to many people”. One explanation given to empowerment is that it relates to improvement in the livelihoods of impoverished people and is often related to good change. 

On the other hand, while Holvoet (2005) links empowerment to the process of decision-making, for Kaminski, Kaufman, Graubarth, and Robine (2000), it is a developmental process that promotes an active approach to problem solving, increased political understanding, and an increased ability to exercise control of the environment. Townsend, Gabriel, Emma, Joanna, and Mecado (1999) argue that no one “can empower another person.” The key for transforming power relations is self-empowerment. Empowerment is not something that can be given. If it is conceived as something given, paradoxically, it becomes something that can be taken away. However, if individuals achieve power themselves, no one can take it away from them. 


Why women's empowerment is essential for sustainable development

Gender equality is rightly seen as crucial to sustainable development

Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai famously quoted “we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”, and that sentiment precisely outlines the basis of new age women empowerment. Discrimination against women is rampant all over the world even in this 21st century. Patriarchal societies in most countries are adept at exploitation as well as victimization of women. Even though about 50% of the world’s population consists of women, but unfortunately most of them are denied basic rights education, freedom of speech, voting power and even independent identity. There still remain questions about acceptance of women empowerment in the most advanced of countries, while developing nations and nations under political duress are far from achieving the desired status.

Women empowerment in its actuality is synonymous with complete development of the society. An educated woman, with knowledge about health, hygiene, cleanliness is capable of creating a better disease-free environment for her family. A self-employed woman is capable of contributing not only to her family’s finances, but also contributes towards increment of the country’s overall GDP. A shared source of income is much more likely to uplift the quality of life than a single income household and more often than not helps the family come out of poverty trap. Women aware of their legal rights are less likely to be victims of domestic violence or other forms of exploitations. Their inherent aptitude towards organization and well-rounded maintenance of home makes them uniquely suited for political and civil leadership roles. The 73rd & 74th Amendments (1993) to the constitution of India have provided some special powers to women – reservation of seats(33%) and the ‘New Panchayati Raj’ – to empower women at least at the village level, is a prime example of the point in discussion. Participation of women in political and social positions of power has seen marked reduction in corruption in those specific areas which adds another advantageous point in favour of women empowerment.