"Empowerment" is a difficult term to define and is becoming more elusive the more widely that it is used. Rappaport (1986) comments that "Empowerment is like obscenity; you have trouble defining it but you know it when you see it". In essence it is something to do with giving people control over their own lives - whether in the social sphere, the political sphere or the economic sphere. Shetty (1991) identifies a number of features that can be ascribed to an empowerment approach. It is "a dynamic and ongoing process", requiring an "holistic approach", but which is "context specific... defined only within the local social, cultural, economic, political and historical context". Moreover it is focussed on "marginalised groups", "implies redistribution of power", is "democratising" but is also "very much dependent on the perception that marginalised people have of themselves". Lastly, an empowerment approach should "build self-reliance" and be "sustainable".
In the three areas where the REFLECT pilots were developed, the nature of existing power structures and people's relations to them are certainly different. The process of empowerment cannot be conceived similarly by (predominantly male) campesinos in the politicised communities of post-civil war El Salvador as by the women in Bhola Island who rarely, if ever, leave their homestead. The objectives of the REFLECT programmes were different according to these contexts and the means of defining and evaluating empowerment were thus different. Nevertheless we have attempted to integrate the analysis of empowerment across the three pilot programmes under the following headings:
It is not possible here to present the full results from each of the pilot programmes though the full evaluations of each are available on request (from ACTIONAID, Hamlyn House, Archway, London N19 5PG).
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