The Empowerment Myth :: Tips from Tatua

Development Tips from Natalie Finstad, Tatua Co-Founder and Executive Director

I have this hang up on the term  empowerment programs, it seems that somewhere along the way we started believing that we can empowered others to do certain things.

If Sally, a five year old growing up in the Kibera Slum attends a class on sanitary habits lead by Americans and then decides to go wash her hands to whom is the credit given? Has she been empowered by the American teachers? Is it to their credit she made the choice? Are they responsible for her behavior?

I hardly think so.

I can attend hundreds of seminars on hand washing but it is still my responsibility to choose to wash my hands. Choice is a reflection of my values and my priorities, through choice I assert my values and get to experience an outcome. If I take choice away from others I have robbed them not only of their responsibility for the choice but also for the consequence of that action.

Don’t we want Sally to know that it was her, not us that washed her hands? That she didn’t need us to empower her to make another choice. That she could have made that choice all along, it’s only that through the class, the choice became clear?

We must move away from the belief that we are empowering people to make choices. They have always had the power, it’s just that often, the choice wasn’t made available or clear.

If I had my way we’d stop empowering and start creating opportunity for choice. Choice is where change happens.

What do you think? Is focusing on choice different than focusing on empowering others? Or is it all the same?

4 thoughts on “The Empowerment Myth :: Tips from Tatua

  1. The term empowerment is not a problem. However development practitioners need to know that the people empower themselves through the choices they make after the enablers have been presented in their lives. True that empowerment is a matter of choice for the recipients of the trainings or whatever programs. You are right. ED

  2. I like what you’re saying. Though it has it’s correct uses, “empower”, though meant to describe the transfer of power, implicitly gives credit to the empower-er.

    1. Pete, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in terms of who should we emphasize in change/development work. The more we continue to emphasize the provide (even if what they are providing is ’empowerment’ programs) as opposed to the doer we’ll be stuck in the same old power dynamics.

      Best, Natalie

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