The era of empowerment

Mbabane, Swaziland | 29 Jan 2014
Bill Snaddon

It’s time to empower myself. I have been delaying long enough. Procrastination must cease. It’s time for action. But first, let me go for a walk around the block.

Then, after I’ve watched some TV and cooked some dinner, snacked on some soggy biltong and sipped on some cheap wine, then, with any luck, I’ll get down to the serious business of Empowerment.

But, even before the walk around the block or the soggy biltong, before the real empowerment can begin, I must work out what this word empowerment means.

How can one empower himself or herself if he or she cannot grasp the meaning of the word? It would be like heading off into the wild looking for a lion when you had no idea what a lion looked like. Or, worse still, it would be like heading off into an overgrown forrest searching for a mystical character that had never been seen. Shooting in the dark, you could say.

So, where to start? For some reason my mind drifts back to several NGO conferences and workshops. Along with the tea and coffee and muffins, the health-breaks and per-diems, the other constant feature of these events is Empowerment. (The capital E is important. Whatever you do, do not try to replace with a small E.)

Not dissimilar to an old favourite — sensitisation — it seems in the modern age everything and everyone needs a dose of Empowerment. Except, of course, those who already have wealth and power. This is understandable. What good is Empowerment to a rich and powerful man.

Could it be that just like sensitisation, Empowerment has come to mean “education”?

As my mind drifts back and forth from these NGO meetings, I am left with a vague sense of confusion. I recall leaving those meetings with a nagging feeling, usually in my right thigh. There I am limping away in the carpark, trying to un-jumble the jargon that has just been poured over me.

Yet the question remains: How does one find Empowerment? How does one become Empowered?

It may seem like a simple response from a simple fellow, but would it not be silly to suggest that Empowerment comes with a steady job and a reliable income? A content and harmonious family life? Perhaps some free time for pursuing hobbies? The freedom to be free from from hunger and harm? The freedom to choose who you marry? The freedom to buy land and the freedom to inherit property? Is this not Empowerment?

Well, according that repository of wisdom the United Nations it seems I have been misled. The UN website says they “focus on gender equity and women’s empowerment, not only as human rights, but also because they are pathways to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development”. Not quite a definition, admittedly, more a haze of well-meaning gobbledygook.

What I think this means is: If girls are given quality education and if women are assisted in the job and property market, then poverty will be reduced and countries will become richer and happier.

That other repository of wisdom, the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, tells us Empowerment covers a “vast landscape of meanings”.

The only way to proceed, then, was to define it myself.

This column was originally published in the Times of Swaziland

#7_The era of empowerment


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