Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Community-Perceived State of Women Empowerment in Some Rural Areas of Limpopo Province, South Africa

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Community-Perceived State of Women Empowerment in Some Rural Areas of Limpopo Province, South Africa

Article excerpt

Abstract

Active involvement of grassroots community members in finding sustainable solutions to women empowerment is crucial. However, it is necessary to build a common understanding, among local interest groups, of the current state of women empowerment first. This study investigated the perceived state of women empowerment in some rural areas of Makhado Municipality in South Africa. A total of 5 924 people comprising children, youth, women, men and local leaders voluntarily participated in the study. Data were collected from 41 villages in three Wards through reflection circles in which questionnaires requiring responses on a Likert-type scale were administered. Although the state of women empowerment in terms of access to resources, awareness creation, participation and control was appreciable, considerable challenges still existed. The results of this study underscored the need for mounting capacity enhancement interventions to address the challenges confronting women empowerment in rural areas.

Key words: community participation, interest groups, women empowerment

Introduction

The debate on women empowerment has permeated the discourse of development for many decades. A bone of contention in this debate has largely been how best to implement the empowerment strategy in order to ensure that female members of society benefit meaningfully from the initiatives at their disposal. Various scholars (Kabeer, 1999; Fonjong, 2001; Bartlett, 2008) have strongly argued in support of active participation of community members in women empowerment programmes. It is believed that through their participation, community members are able to paint a true picture of the reality on the ground. Oakley (1991) adds weight to the argument and asserts that participation for empowerment can assist in giving voice to the disadvantaged people and help them to decide on the actions to take in order to enhance their development. In the same vein, Fonjong (2001: 230) believes that "participation for genuine empowerment requires that the general population as well as women themselves, know the extent of their problems, so that proper strategies can be adopted to reverse the situation." In light of these views, the current study sought to investigate the perceptions of a broad range of cohorts of rural communities regarding the state of women empowerment in Wards 1, 29 and 37 of Makhado Municipality in Limpopo Province of South Africa.

What is Women Empowerment?

Various authors (Kabeer, 1999; Malhotra, Schuler and Boender, 2002; Mosedale, 2005) point out that empowerment is a multidimensional and complex process which can be interpreted differently by different people. Kabeer (1999: 437) views empowerment as "the expansion in people's ability to make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied to them." Mosedale (2005: 252) posits that women empowerment is "the process by which women redefine and extend what is possible for them to be and do in situations where they have been restricted, compared to men, from being and doing."

The definitions presented above reveal that empowerment is a process that involves changes in power relations, allowing those that have been deprived by the systems in place at that particular time, to make decisions and act on them for the betterment of their livelihoods. The affected people reflect on their situations and are made aware of their capabilities, after which they take corrective measures to improve their existing situations (Mosedale, 2005). Given this reality, it is therefore crucial that the disadvantaged members of the society, women in particular, get the opportunity to determine the course of their destiny through making decisions on issues pertaining to their livelihoods. The multi-dimensional nature of empowerment and socio-cultural intricacies that come into play as the process unfolds make this even more compelling. To a large extent, the socio-cultural complexities determine the level of women's empowerment. …

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