Empowerment – the centerpiece of development

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					                                                                                                 EMPOWERMENT – THE
                                                                                        CENTERPIECE OF DEVELOPMENT


              Empowerment – the
              centerpiece of development

Nepal has made progress in raising living           have been largely unsuccessful in integrat-      Development
standards over the last 50 years, particu-          ing the vulnerable and marginalized groups.
                                                                                                     outcomes have
larly since 1990. Yet the country’s level of        The governance system has remained non-
human development remains among the                 functional because deeply rooted processes
lowest in the world. Development outcomes           of exclusion have compounded failures at         inequitably,
have varied inequitably, manifesting them-          the institutional level and in implementa-       manifesting
selves in gender, caste, ethnic and geo-            tion processes. The country has yet to attain    themselves in
graphic disparities. Poverty has become             success in promoting equitable participation
                                                                                                     gender, caste,
intractable. Employment opportunities               and ownership, transparency and account-
have become increasingly scarce. People’s           ability, and the efficient use of public re-     ethnic and
needs have gone unfulfilled, institutions           sources.2                                        geographic
have weakened, and policies have not been                                                            disparities
sufficiently pro-poor, leaving vast segments        The Nepal Human Development Report
of the population outside mainstream de-            2001: Poverty Reduction and Governance3
velopment.1 The outbreak of armed violence          undertook a detailed assessment of the
has exacerbated all these problems, push-           country’s governance structures in relation
ing the country into deeper crisis.                 to the apparent intractability of poverty. The
                                                    Report identified weak governance as the
                                                    root of national disappointments, “notably
DEVELOPMENT CHALLENGES                              an absence of citizen participation in the
                                                    decision-making processes that shape their
Why do the poor still remain disempowered?          lives…” The Foreword of that Report con-
Why has development efforts fallen short of         tinued:
tackling critical social and economic issues?
How has this affected the process of deepen-        “…This may seem odd; we normally think
ing democracy? And why have these factors           of reducing poverty in terms of providing
led to heightening the conflict? These are cru-     jobs, infrastructure, healthcare and schools –
cial, intertwined issues that lie at the heart of   in short the social and economic aspects of
the multifaceted crisis facing the country today.   progress. We do not connect these benefits
                                                    directly with broadening the freedoms that
The decade following the restoration of multi-      enable people to make real choices towards
party democracy witnessed a number of eco-          leading full and productive lives. Even at
nomic reforms and development initiatives.          the dawn of a new millennium, we still tend
The adoption of a liberal, market-oriented de-      to consider people’s expressions of their
velopment strategy led by the private sector        preferences a concomitant – even an effect –
has helped to stimulate investment and              of economic growth and general modern-
growth. Nonetheless, development efforts            ization of living conditions…”
 N E PA L H U M A N D E V E L O P M E N T R E P O R T 2 0 0 4

                                 Given the strong association between               their needs and interests.… to be able to par-
                                 sound and effective democratic governance          ticipate in the life of the community.”5
                                 and empowerment, this Report examines
                                 how the concerns of the poor can be ad-            Nepal’s Tenth Plan/PRSP (2002-2007) at-
                                 dressed through empowerment that pro-              tempts to redress the crisis now facing the
                                 vides equal opportunities to all, regardless       country by placing peace-building and secu-
                                 of sex, caste, creed or religion – an empow-       rity centre-stage and by positing a four-
                                 erment that leads to fair, impartial access to     pronged approach that comprises:
                                 decision-making processes at different lev-        ! Sustained high and broad-based growth,
                                 els and, equally important, equity in access-          focused particularly on the rural
                                 ing and controlling resources.                         economy;
                                                                                    ! Accelerated human development through
                                 Building on the analysis and recommen-                 the effective delivery of basic social ser-
                                 dations of the Nepal Human Development                 vices and economic infrastructure;
                                 Report 2001, this Report argues that Nepal         ! Social and economic inclusion of the poor,
     Nepal can fight             can fight poverty successfully only if the             of marginalized groups and of backward
poverty successfully             government brings the empowerment                      regions; and
            only if the          agenda to the center of its poverty reduc-         ! Good governance for development out-
                                 tion strategy, addressing the concerns of the          comes that foster social and economic jus-
 government brings
                                 people and delivering on promises made                 tice.
   the empowerment               since 1990 with the restoration of democ-
agenda to the center             racy. And only under a strong and effective        The Tenth Plan also offers a variety of strat-
        of its poverty           democratic polity can the empowerment              egies for drawing the excluded into the main-
  reduction strategy             agenda be realized and become sustainable.         stream of Nepal’s development. These in-
                                 The two issues are inseparable.                    clude new alliances between major eco-
                                                                                    nomic stakeholders and local governments
                                                                                    to generate employment opportunities and
                                 CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK                               increase income at the grassroots level; spe-
                                                                                    cial monitoring of deprived areas,
                                 During the last two decades, the term “em-         marginalized groups and women; and spe-
                                 powerment” has become a keyword of de-             cial projects and programmes, based on na-
                                 velopment discussions worldwide, accru-            tion-wide needs assessments, to improve
                                 ing as many definitions and connotations           regional balance and make visible progress
                                 as the word development itself (see technical      towards the MDGs. However, the Plan can-
                                 notes, annex 1.3). This Report explores its        not reduce poverty significantly without sys-
                                 meaning in the context of life in Nepal to-        tematic efforts to augment and harmonize
                                 day, defining empowerment as the process           the three fundamental components of em-
                                 of transforming existing power relations           powerment: the economic, the political and
                                 and of gaining greater control over the            the socio-cultural.
                                 sources of power. Empowerment builds               ! Economic empowerment, the element
                                 people’s capacity to gain understanding                with which most of us are most familiar,
                                 and control over personal, social, economic            concerns the expansion of access to pro-
                                 and political forces to act individually as            ductive assets, including physical and fi-
                                 well as collectively to make choices about             nancial opportunities, to pursue eco-
                                 the way they want to be and do things in               nomic gains. Although this component
                                 their best interest to improve their life situa-       of empowerment necessarily involves
                                 tion.4 This definition captures the spirit of          the distribution of capital and of income-
                                 human development, which is defined as                 generating opportunities, economic em-
                                 “creating an environment in which people               powerment also entails ensuring that
                                 can develop their full potential and lead              the workings of the market and relative
                                 productive, creative lives in accord with              prices can enhance the economic agency

                                                                                                  EMPOWERMENT – THE
                                                                                         CENTERPIECE OF DEVELOPMENT

    of citizens. While poverty and economic            social status, cultural expression and
    vulnerability cannot be reduced without            the sense of belonging to social entities
    strong private sector activity, economic           that range from households through
    growth cannot become sustainable un-               youth clubs and religious congregations
    less it is broad-based and roughly egali-          to ethnic groups and a national polity.
    tarian. In short, it is self-defeating to ex-      This sense of belonging engenders the
    clude such groups as women and Dalits              trust that allows societies to function and
    from equitable engagement in produc-               enables individuals to act together to se-
    tive employment and other income-gen-              cure, safeguard and further what they
    erating activities.                                value.
!   Political empowerment involves en-
    larging the capabilities associated with        Improvement in one dimension of empow-
    democratic self-governance. It ensures          erment can play a catalytic role in bringing
    not only respect for the fundamental dig-       change in the other two. Expanding human
    nity of the human person and the basic          knowledge and capabilities certainly has an
    rights set out by international norms, but      indirect influence on economic and political      The [Tenth] Plan
    equitable representation in decision-           empowerment.8 Nonetheless, as this Report         cannot reduce
    making processes and institutions – es-         will demonstrate, direct linkages are hardly      poverty
    pecially those that can demand account-         automatic, let alone rapid and self-perpetu-
    ability from public servants and the pri-       ating in virtuous synergies, i.e., sustainable.
    vate sector bodies entrusted with public        Sustainable empowerment requires an inte-
    resources. It includes freedom to partici-      grated approach and tools to make this inte-      systematic efforts
    pate in political dialogue, to dissent from     gration operational. Thus, an integrated ap-      to augment and
    majority or accepted views, and to mo-          proach is required to address sustainable em-     harmonize the
    bilize for change6 – a crucial agency func-     powerment, which occurs when people are
    tion of this sphere. Political empower-         empowered socially, economically and politi-
    ment also encompasses legal empower-            cally. To make this approach operational, the     fundamental
    ment, generally understood as the pro-          HEI has been constructed for the first time       components of
    cess of acquiring the knowledge essen-          by bringing together social, economic and po-     empowerment
    tial to protect one’s rights and to assert      litical dimensions of empowerment in a ho-
    them under the law.                             listic perspective.
!   Socio-cultural empowerment entails
    strengthening the social fabric by aug-         The Venn diagram, presented in figure 1.1
    menting a complex network of human              illustrates the relationships among social,
    qualities – both individual and collec-         economic and political empowerment and
    tive – whose sum and synergies we call          their place in the larger canvas of human
    “social capital”. It is the process through     development.
    which people and groups become aware
    of the interplay of societal and cultural       Sustainable empowerment is defined as a
    forces at work in their lives and learn         situation where people are empowered so-
    how they can act individually and               cially, economically and politically. The Venn
    jointly to influence and eventually con-        diagram shows that interactions between so-
    trol the dynamics of these factors. Socio-      cial and political empowerment without eco-
    cultural empowerment therefore spans            nomic empowerment make people’s empow-
    a broad spectrum of human develop-              erment unsustainable (area B). Likewise, area
    ment parameters, from access to safe            D represents a situation where a lack of po-
    water, primary health care and basic            litical empowerment will make social and
    education through skill acquisition, in-        economic empowerment unsustainable.
    cluding the ability to use communica-           Hence, promoting sustainable empowerment
    tion media.7 In addition, it encompasses        (area A) requires an integrated empower-

N E PA L H U M A N D E V E L O P M E N T R E P O R T 2 0 0 4

                                ment-led strategy for poverty reduction and         forming public administrations, reform-
                                human development. The framework also               ing the legal system, decentralizing
                                offers a potential roadmap for making em-           power and promoting democratic poli-
                                powerment strategies operational and for            tics and practices.
                                measuring their impacts.                        !   Removing social barriers and discrimi-
                                                                                    nations on the basis of region, ethnicity,
                                Building on the four critical elements of em-       race, gender, religion and socio-economic
                                powerment described in box 1.1, three es-           status enable people to take advantage of
                                sential pillars of empowerment are neces-           opportunities for economic and social ad-
                                sary: making state institutions responsive          vancement to lift them out of poverty. So-
                                to people; removing social barriers and dis-        cial institutions can reinforce existing in-
                                criminations; and strengthening local or-           equalities or serve as vehicles to over-
                                ganizational capacity and social capital.9          come them. Barriers need to be removed
                                ! Making state institutions more respon-            wherever they limit access to productive
                                   sive to people requires changes in three         resources/assets (the extent of this in-
                                   branches of government – executive, leg-         equality) and access to education, health,
                                   islative and judiciary. These include re-        and other public services.

Figure 1.1       Conceptual framework of empowerment and human development

                                                                                                    EMPOWERMENT – THE
                                                                                           CENTERPIECE OF DEVELOPMENT

!   Strengthening local organizational ca-
                                                    BOX 1.1 Critical elements of empowerment
    pacity-building and social capital, espe-
    cially through social mobilization, plays
                                                             Certain elements are almost always present in successful empow-
    a vital role in enhancing the productiv-
                                                             erment efforts. The four key elements of empowerment that must
    ity of assets available to the poor; in pro-             underlie institutional reforms are:11
    tecting the fulfillment of their basic
                                                             !   Inclusion/participation. Opportunities for poor people and
    needs; and in managing risks and con-
                                                                 other excluded groups to participate in decision-making are
    flict. Increasing both vertical and hori-                    critical to ensure that the use of limited public resources
    zontal social capital, both their density                    builds on local knowledge and priorities and brings about
                                                                 commitment to change. However, sustaining inclusion and
    and their linkages, is vital not only to
                                                                 informed participation usually requires changing the rules
    improving access to resources – win-                         so as to create space for people to debate issues and par-
    ning benefits for local communities – but                    ticipate in local and national priority-setting and the deliv-
    to resolving local disputes at their source                  ery of basic services.

    and thereby curbing the spread of con-                   !   Access to information. Informed citizens are better equipped
    flict beyond a scattering of isolated in-                    to take advantage of opportunities, access services, exer-
    stances.                                                     cise rights, and hold both state and non-state actors ac-
                                                                 countable. Disclosure of information about the performance
                                                                 of institutions promotes transparency in government, pub-
As a number of leading social scientists have                    lic services, and the private sector, while the laws about
pointed out during the last few years, this                      rights to information and freedom of the press provide the
                                                                 enabling environment for informed citizen action.
last type of action is particularly important
in poor countries that have rich traditions                  !   Accountability encompasses the obligations of political au-
embedded in “processes of cooperative and                        thorities, parties and representatives to explain their inten-
                                                                 tions and conduct to their constituencies and to voters at
cumulative learning, typically passed on
                                                                 large and the responsibility of government agencies to ful-
orally, [through which] they have worked                         fill their administrative and social commitments to citizens
out how to survive in often difficult and                        by presenting transparent periodic reports of their work for
harsh conditions... As countries transform                       public scrutiny and discussion. Citizen action can reinforce
                                                                 political and administrative accountability mechanisms and
themselves, they have to develop different                       build pressure for improved governance and transparency.
capacities. But it is important to recognize
that they do so not merely as an aggregate of                !   Local organizational capacity. Organized communities are
                                                                 more likely to have their voices heard and their demands
individuals. National capacity is not just the                   met than unorganized communities. It is only when groups
sum total of individual capacities. It is a                      connect with each other across communities and form net-
much richer and more complex concept that                        works or associations (federations) that they begin to influ-
                                                                 ence government decision-making and gain collective bar-
weaves individual strengths into a stronger                      gaining power.
and more resilient fabric. If countries and
societies want to develop capacities, they                   These four elements are closely interlinked and can be success-
                                                             fully applied to four critical development objectives: ensuring
must do more than expand individual skills.                  the provision of basic services, enhancing local and national gov-
They also have to create the opportunities                   ernance, broadening access to markets and guaranteeing access
and the incentives for people to use and ex-                 to justice.
pand these skills. Capacity development                      Source: World Bank 2002a.
therefore takes place not just in individuals,
but also between them, in the institutions
and networks they create…”10                       clearly shows a two-way relationship be-
                                                   tween good governance and empower-
Results within this framework can be               ment.12 Empowerment – through inclusion,
achieved only through genuine democracy            voice, and accountability – also promotes
that guarantees human rights and free-             social cohesion and inclusiveness. Evi-
doms. Deepening democracy is thus essen-           dence further demonstrates that the break-
tial to promoting transparent, responsive,         down of social cohesion and trust leads to
participatory, inclusive and accountable           war and civil conflict. 13 Consequently,
governance. Development experience                 mainstreaming the empowerment agenda

N E PA L H U M A N D E V E L O P M E N T R E P O R T 2 0 0 4

                                lies not only at the heart of deepening de-        Policies, institutions and governance have
                                mocracy, but also addressing the ongoing           to be geared towards eliminating all kinds
                                conflict in Nepal.                                 of discrimination, including injustice and
                                                                                   lack of equal opportunities in the socio-eco-
                                Conventional anti-poverty approaches,              nomic and political processes, so as to pro-
                                which focus almost exclusively on income           mote legitimate empowerment. In a tradi-
                                and basic needs, have generally failed to          tional, feudalistic/caste-based society, such
                                reduce powerlessness and the negative at-          political, social and economic transforma-
                                tributes usually associated with it, notably       tions have to be more broad based and pro-
                                isolation, vulnerability and physical weak-        gressive than in other societies that have
                                ness. By contrast, the empowerment ap-             managed to shed most of these shackles. In
                                proach – with its stress on enhancing indi-        the absence of such transformations, con-
                                vidual entitlements, capabilities, rights and      flict and even armed violence are prone to
                                freedoms – is one of the four pillars of hu-       erupt as desperate efforts to acquire power.
                                man development and effectively reinforces         This is what Nepal faces today. To address
    Empowerment                 the other three: equity, productivity and          this situation, empowerment must come to
    makes growth                sustainability.14 It creates the conditions nec-   the forefront of the societal transformation
      pro-poor by               essary to enable the poor to take advantage        agenda.
                                of poverty-reduction opportunities by
                                strengthening their socio-cultural, eco-
            human               nomic and political capabilities. However,         ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT
   capabilities and             empowerment becomes sustainable only in
    improving the               an environment where policies and insti-           The chapters that follow illustrate the in-
    distribution of             tutional reforms complement grassroots ini-        terplay of empowerment factors from both
                                tiatives to address political, social and eco-     the “supply side”, that of national policy
 productive assets
                                nomic empowerment simultaneously – in              and planning, and the “demand side” of
                                short, the policy environment generally            community action. Chapter 2 surveys
                                termed “pro-poor”.                                 Nepalese development and empowerment
                                                                                   by geographical region, district and rural-
                                Growth has to be pro-poor to make a dent           urban locations. Chapter 3 takes a critical
                                on poverty. Empowerment makes growth               look at the socio-cultural, economic and po-
                                pro-poor by broadening human capabili-             litical empowerment in the context of na-
                                ties and improving the distribution of pro-        tional policy and institutions so as to iden-
                                ductive assets. For a given rate of growth,        tify existing policy and institutional barri-
                                poverty will fall faster in countries with more    ers to empowerment, while chapter 4 ex-
                                equitable distribution of income than in           amines these barriers from the points of view
                                those where income inequalities are                of poor and disadvantaged groups. Chap-
                                higher.15 Evidence from Nepal clearly illus-       ter 5 highlights social mobilization prac-
                                trates how economic growth has had lim-            tices in Nepal and the ways in which they
                                ited impact on poverty reduction due to the        can catalyze poverty reduction and
                                inequitable and unequal distribution of in-        heighten empowerment. On the basis of all
                                come and assets.16 Therefore, empowerment          these analyses, the final chapter sets out a
                                must drive the policy framework for attain-        series of holistic policy recommendations
                                ing pro-poor growth.                               whose time for implementation has come.


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