There are two questions we need to keep asking ourselves when we dedicate any time and effort to ‘empowering’ women. Who is doing the empowering and do women need that empowerment? These question lend themselves to the age old riddle of what an empowered woman looks like – because that informs empowerment efforts and helps direct them to the women who actually need it. But as I’m finding, empowerment isn’t as simple a concept.
In this article, I’m trying to make sense of everything I’ve heard and know about empowerment from our own community. I make no conclusions and I certainly tell no lies.
HAS ‘WOMEN EMPOWERMENT’ BECOME A BUZZWORD?
The essence and purpose of women empowerment has obviously suffered (especially socially) in recent years. But so has the economic empowerment of black people as a whole for instance. This is a sign that maybe we need to rethink how we implement ‘empowerment’ altogether. But that’s a politechnical discussion for another day. Today, I’m venting!
Ps: I’ve also struggled to get the word out of my mouth for a couple of weeks since I started actively thinking about what women empowerment really means to women and reading articles on that online.
Are articles titled 5 Ways to Get Over Your Crush or Lose Belly Fat empowerment? Is calling women female founders and boss babes empowerment or does it represent ‘empowered women? Does the word empowerment, and the work done in the name of empowerment hold value to those groups that are deemed to be in need of that empowerment?
Okay… BUT A BUZZWORD? Things become buzzwords when people no longer trust that their use is true to the cause. And you know what? It’s very normal. Fees Must Fall doesn’t make people as angry as it did in 2015/6. Because we’ve seen time and time again how students are still struggling with said fees, when we hear it or see it in a headline, we just don’t trust it anymore. Women Empowerment, when its ‘advertised’ by the government, big billion dollar companies or in big colourful letters on graphic tees, just seems to ring false these days. Hence, a buzzword.
DO WE EVEN KNOW WHAT IT REALLY IS + IS IT STILL RELEVANT?
Exactly. Maybe the reason we don’t know what women empowerment looks like or why there is a warped notion of what an ‘empowered woman’ looks like is because most of us might not know exactly what empowerment is all about. I don’t want to look at history and vomit it all over this article because I feel like that may be part of the problem.
Empowerment is/was a post-oppression remedy. Think BBBEE. Empowerment means giving to someone what or where they lack or are excluded. For instance, where women couldn’t vote before, empowerment advocated for them to be able to exercise that right or privilege. Empowerment historically implied that we were finally talking about how unfair certain practices were to women, etc. Now, think of empowerment today… Has that fundamental principle of empowerment changed? Do 2020 women need the same empowerment that 1980 women needed? When we’ve answered that question honestly and critically, we may nudge ever so closer to either defining empowerment today or redefining it completely for the women of today and help ourselves understand that though empowerment before differs from how we carry it out today, it can still be empowerment.
To truly understand the relevance of women empowerment, we have to first understand the who’s and how’s, and most importantly, we have to hear what the women are saying. What kind of empowerment do women need and who’s doing that empowerment? Do women still engage from a place of lack and how do we ensure that empowerment has practical value and isn’t just used as a marketing tool or click bait buzzword?
I know! Questions are many and anwers, well… Few and far apart. But, looking at the caliber of women we exist amongst today, women have definitely been empowered. Because they hold positions of power, they are in charge of their own lives, they sit in rooms where revolutionary conversations are held. But it’s not all women. And maybe that’s why empowerment will always be more about socio-economic background than it is about baby steps. Empowerment is continuous and dynamic. But is it practical if we can’t implement, monitor and measure it effectively?
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Article written by our Digital Content Lead Mmule Ramabushe and Edited by Masekane Nkwana