A Word of the Times, but What Does it Mean? Empowerment in the Discourse and Practice of Development

  • Jo Rowlands
Part of the Women’s Studies at York book series (WSYS)


Empowerment has become rather a buzz word for the 1990s. As well as now being used by Western politicians, it was a word frequently heard at the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and at the World Population Conference in Cairo in 1994. Current use of the word remains ill-defined, however, in the development context: its users tend to assume that the appropriate meaning will be understood without being explained. It is used by people representing a wide range of political and philosophical perspectives, from the World Bank to feminists. In a book considering empowerment, then, it is crucial to start by paying attention to the meaning(s) of empowerment as an idea. This chapter explores the way that the term has come to be used in the development discourse,2 and proposes a ‘meaning’ for the term that will help in the consideration of the chapters that follow, as well as assisting in the development of appropriate policy and practice aimed at women’s empowerment.


Supporting Organisation Change Agent Gender Relation Gender Analysis Development Discourse 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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  • Jo Rowlands

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