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Personal view: Empowering rural women’s health - what’s going wrong with the strategies?

Sambala, E   Ngoasong, M

Malawi Medical Journal   26 (3) 93-96

September 2014

http://oro.open.ac.uk/41384/

Empowerment has increasingly become a popular strategy in public health since the publication of the Ottawa charter for health promotion. The Ottawa charter defines empowerment as a process of capacity building which enables people to gain power that influences social and political change in favour of individuals, groups and communities seeking control. This discourse of empowerment in public health is intended to help individuals and communities gain capacity and manage decisions to improve their own health and well-being. Recently, this type of empowerment has been used to tackle poverty in developing countries. The World Bank, through its strategic framework, “Empowerment and Poverty Reduction”, has utilized this approach as a yardstick for reducing poverty and enhancing equity among rural women. Similarly, the World Health Organization has optimized community empowerment as a concept that enhances social, economic and political stability to address health inequalities existing among rural women at the micro-level. More organizations have become involved with legitimate interests in promoting health through various empowerment approaches. Nevertheless, it is increasingly interesting to observe that empowerment approaches to address the underlying causes of gender inequalities, or balance equal opportunities, rights and obligations in alignment with men is at the moment done in a controversial way, raising debates over the techniques used to enable women to gain power to act. Fawcett and colleagues note that empowerment concepts often directed at women living in conditions of poverty fail to achieve the intended goals because these models lack theoretical clarity in overcoming reciprocal constraints in the empowerment process. In this paper we draw on theoretical literature on empowerment to critically explore the composite discourse of empowerment, particularly in relation to women’s health in Africa. The purpose is to raise a debate on how empowerment is conceptualized and suggest practical ways to help women rediscover their voices and channel their activism to gain the power necessary to manoeuvre health inequities.