I attended a meeting of women in a deprived urban area, running their own project to cater for their under-five children. At the meeting, several women voiced their frustration that experience in the project did not provide them with an empowering ladder to qualify themselves as play workers alongside the women project workers. A local professional declared his view that experiencing the process of working in an empowering way could be as valid for them as achieving an empowering outcome. He said it was probably sufficient for them to feel better, rather than to achieve material advancement to a professional role. The responses of the women after he had left the meeting left no doubt that this professional had fallen into the trap of treating empowerment as though it can be put into a compartment so that one aspect does not affect any others. This started me thinking about empowerment as a contested concept. It reminds me of two crucial realities: the meaning of empowerment can be taken from the people by the professionals who are meant to be working with them in an empowering way, and returned to them in a diluted way, so that they actually feel disempowereda book about the development of empowerment and participation in practice must be holistic and cover all dimensions, from personal, interpersonal, group, through to organizational, community and political aspects. To attempt to work at one level and separate it from others is to risk tokenism at best and, at worst, failure.
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