in: Tanja Kleibl / Ronald Lutz / Ndangwa Noyoo / Benjamin Bunk / Annika Dittmann / Boitumelo Seepamore (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Postcolonial Social Work, London: Routledge
The wider concept of development continues to be tied to ideas of generation of wealth and establishment of a global social order premised on Western thought. Within this framework, women’s empowerment, informed by modernisation theory, depicts mostly traditional cultures in the Global South as incompatible with development. As such, many women’s empowerment initiatives assume that women living in the Global South are inherently powerless. Notwithstanding criticism, this narrative and the transformative agenda of modernisation theory persist. Current empowerment initiatives still take a Eurocentric approach in which power needs to be brought from outside the context of the people targeted for empowerment. Drawing from the paradoxes of women’s empowerment initiatives in Zimbabwe, this chapter argues that extracting women from their cultural context and community often produces outcomes that are contrary to those intended by empowerment initiatives. The chapter also discusses the resistance that emanates from targeting women and excluding men from empowerment programmes in a context where women’s and men’s lives are intertwined, and men are as disempowered as their female counterparts. It concludes that Northern non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social development approaches need to rethink their mission and women’s empowerment frameworks, making space for cultural and political negotiations based on local social organisation.