2: Theoretical Frameworks

Empowerment Concepts


Community voices

Overview analysis of review of community level processes

‘Official’ definitions

‘The process through which those who are currently disadvantaged achieve equal rights, resources and power’

“Empowerment is like obscenity; you have trouble defining it but you know it when you see it” (Rappaport 1986)

“I like the term empowerment because no one has defined it clearly as yet; so it gives as a breathing space to work it out in action terms before we have to pin ourselves down to what it means. I will continue using it until I am sure it does not describe what we’re doing.” (NGO worker quoted in Batliwala 1993)

Key principles


  • is concerned with increasing realisable and informed choices within a framework ofhuman rights and equality
  • inevitably involves challenging existing inequalities in power and resources
  • involves a combination of individual initiative and collective action
  • is complex processwhich consists of interlinked and mutually reinforcingdimensions;(economic, cultural, legal, political, psychological) and;levels;(e.g. individual, family, community, macro-level)
  • requires not only ‘self-help’ by those who are currently disadvantaged butchanges in those who are currently advantaged and addressing macro-level inequalities

Elements of a framework:

  • process of transformation in power relations
  • dimensions of inequalities where change is needed eg economic, social,political, legal
  • levels at which change is needed eg