Empowerment is essentially a bottom-up process rather than something that can be formulated as a top-down strategy. Understanding empowerment in this way means that development agencies cannot claim to empower women.. Women must empower themselves. Devising coherent policies and programmes for women’s empowerment requires careful attention, because external agencies/bodies tend to be positioned with .power-over. target populations. The training of development professionals, in government, NGOs or donor agencies does not always equip them to consult and involve others, which supporting empowerment requires.
Appropriate external support and intervention, however, can be important to foster and support the process of empowerment. Development organisations can, under some circumstances, play an enabling or facilitating role. They can ensure that their programmes work to support women’s individual empowerment by encouraging women’s participation, acquisition of skills, decision-making capacity, and control over resources. Agencies can support women’s collective empowerment by funding women’s organisations which work to address the causes of gender subordination, by promoting women’s participation in political systems, and by fostering dialogue between those in positions of power and organisations with women.s empowerment goals.
However, caution should be exercised against assuming that promoting a certain types of activity will necessary lead to .empowerment. Empowerment cannot be defined in terms of specific activities or end results because it involves a process whereby women can freely analyse, develop and voice their needs and interests, without them being pre-defined, or imposed from above, by planners or other social actors.
The assumption that planners can identify women’s needs runs against empowerment objectives which imply that women themselves formulate and decide what these interests are. Planning suggests a top-down approach, and yet women may define their interests differently from planners (Wierenga, 1994).
Planners working towards an empowerment approach must therefore develop ways of enabling women themselves to critically assess their own situation and create and shape a transformation in society. To some extent this may run against the logic of planning., because the content of such a transformation cannot be determined by planners in advance, if it is to be truly empowering to women. Wierenga (ibid.) argues that this transformation should be seen as part of an ongoing process rather than as a fixed goal in the distant future.