Development Cooperation Handbook/Definitions/Empowerment

In a general sense to empower is "to give authority or power" but in the development field to empower is "to enable", "to promote the self-actualization".

The World Bank defines empowerment as

"the process of enhancing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes." [1]

In the UN Guidelines on Women's Empowerment empowerment is defined in terms of the faculties achieved once empowered.

" Women's empowerment has five components: women's sense of self-worth; their right to have and to determine choices; their right to have access to opportunities and resources; their right to have the power to control their own lives, both within and outside the home; and their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally." [2]

Empowerment cannot be "given" in the same way that education cannot be delivered and participation cannot be bought. It is a process that requires communication and cooperation and that it is possible only as far as the counterparts are acting in a reciprocally empowering manner, because they recognize that, in order to fully realize themselves, they need the self realization of the others.

It is possible to act in a reciprocally empowering modality only if there is reciprocal trust and all counterparts believe that they would benefit much more acting in a positive sum game modality rather then in conflictual manner. Persons, communities and institutions act in reciprocally empowering manner when they believe that their authority is reinforced by the authority of the others. A typical form of institutional empowerment is the practice of subsidiarity.

Like communication produces new knowledge that none of the communicators had beforehand, so "empowerment" is a process that establishes a new authority in the partners of the process of empowerment. Through successful communication and cooperation the partners actualize a new potentiality of their being, a dimension of themselves that they could not realize in mutual isolation. Their respective potentialities are in fact actualized by understanding where there is equality and where there is difference amongst them. By valuing these differences in a spirit of equal dignity, they act , reciprocally and simultaneously, as the "empowerer" and the "empowered".


  1. What is Empowerment?, World Bank.
  2. UN Guidelines on Women's Empowerment, United Nations.

See also


In other sections of this handbook
  The employee empowering organization
  Manage the Project Team
  Decision Making in Groups
On Wikipedia
On other Wikibooks
  Placing Women's Empowerment Back Into the Gender Equality Framework