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Intersectionality and empowerment: A case study of Arkansas women

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Author: Adele Natasha Norris
This study examines the perceptions of women's empowerment from a diverse group of microenterprise business owners in Arkansas. Employing a framework that synthesizes Moser's conception of practical and strategic gender needs, and an intersectionality perspective, this qualitative case study found that this study's participants define empowerment in terms of meeting strategic gender needs. Moreover, on the surface empowerment appeared to be defined within the commonality of womanhood. A deeper analysis of the narratives revealed divergent perceptions of strategic gender needs between African-American and Caucasian women. Microenterprise programs would benefit from devoting explicit attention to ascertaining firsthand knowledge from different groups of women. In the absence of the voices from diverse social groups, even the organizations designed to meet the needs of marginalized populations may not be as innovative and as effective when developing and administering programs that address issues contributing and perpetuating marginalization.

vi TABLE OF CONTENTS I. INTRODUCTION 1 Background 1 Statement of Problem 5 Purpose of Study 7 Study Contributions 10 II. REVIEW OF LITERATURE 12 Microfinance Programs and Women's Empowerment 12 Empowerment: Product vs. Process 16 Moser's Gender Planning Framework 20 Microenterprise Programs in the United States 22 Intersectionality: Theoretical Framework 26 Critiques of Race, Gender and Class Research 27 Intersectionality Assumptions 29 Synthesis of Intersectionality 33 Policy Making and Women's Voices 35 Policy Change 38 III.METHODOLOGY 41 Introduction 42 Qualitative Research 45 Epistemological Considerations 43 Case Study Research 46 Interviewing Women and Life Stories 48 Theoretical Model: Strategic versus Practical Gender Needs Stories 50 Key Empowerment Dimensions (Individual, Household, and Community) 51 Evaluation of the Descriptive Data 54 Data Collection Instrument and Analysis 58 Interviewing Women Small Business Owners: Time is Money 60 Credibility, Quality, and Trustworthiness 61 Trustworthiness 64 Researcher's Role 65 Dual Role: Researcher/Advocate 66 Internal Conflict 67 Social Institutions 68 Respondent Selection 73 Sample Size 78 Challenges Locating Participants 79 Emergent Research: Women Entrepreneurs not connected to Formal Micro-lending Institutions 80 IV.RESULTS 85 Introduction 85 I. Analysis of Vignettes 85

Vl l II. Analysis of Interview 89 1. Points of Divergence 91 Different Shades of Womanhood 91 Caucasian Women: Challenges and Discrimination 92 African-American Women: Challenges and Adversity 94 2. Points of Convergence 100 Overall Benefits of Microenterprise Programs 100 Social Capital and Microenterprise Programs 100 Family Social Capital 104 Having Someone to Believe in Them 105 Thwarted Family Social Capital 106 Social Capital and Confidence 109 3. Perceptions of Empowerment 110 Passions, Inspirations and Entrepreneurship 112 Family and Motherhood 113 Overcoming Adversity 115 Wanting to Make a Difference 118 4. The Word "Empowerment" Specific Statements 119 Business Profits/Increase Assets 119 Finding Identity/Purpose in Doing what they Love 120 Faith in God 121 Having Full Autonomy 122 Serving Others 123 5. Decision-Making: Childhood versus Current Household 125 Summary 126 V. DISCUSSIONS AND POLICY IMPLICATIONS 127 Introduction 127 Practical and Strategic Gender Needs 128 Male Dominance 132 Women, Microenterprises, and Challenges 136 Definition of Women's Empowerment 138 Social Location, Womanhood and Intersectionality 142 Complex Social Locations 143 Conclusion and Policy Recommendations 148 Recommendations for Future Research '. 151 REFERENCES 154 APPENDICES 165


1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION Background In the 1990s, the combination of continued anti-poverty policies and efforts and the expanding economy resulted in the decline of U.S. poverty rates. Importantly, even in times of economic expansion, rural communities still tend to have higher rates of poverty than urban areas. Specifically, the poverty rate of rural populations in 2005 stood at 15.1% compared to the 12.5% poverty rate among urban populations (Jensen, 2006). Moreover, rural poverty, relative to urban, is more persistent and severe (Rank, Yoon, & Hirschl, 2003; Cotter, 2002; Duncan, 1996; Tickamyer & Duncan, 1990). Researchers have attributed poverty in rural areas to a limited opportunity structure, which is primarily the outcome of the combined effects of past social and economic development policies and current economic transformation (Tickamyer & Duncan, 1990). Over the years, however, it has been noted that poverty is not a random occurrence but instead is more acute among population subgroups defined by race (minority groups), gender (women), and age (elderly and children) (Kerbo, 2003). Only recently have poverty scholars recognized that severe and persistent poverty is highly correlated with individuals possessing multiple subordinate social identities (Norris, Murphy-Erby, & Zajicek, 2007). Norris, Murphy, and Zajicek (2007) expand on this point as it relates to the U.S. elderly: While in general, 10% of the Unites States elderly population (65 years and older) are poor, 22% of elderly African-Americans are poor and 29% of elderly African- American women are poor. Adding the category of race produces results that more than double the percent of the elderly when considered as a single category. Including gender combined with race produces results that almost triple the initial 10 percent, (p. 3)

2 Given this, there have been some discussions among intersectionality scholars regarding the academy's role in perpetuating oppression and social exclusion (Height, 2003; Collins, 2000). Although race, class, and gender studies have carved out an established niche within sociology (Collins, 2007), Norris, Murphy-Erby, and Zajicek (2007) purport that a key limitation found in extant poverty literature is the propensity of poverty researchers to focus on the issues of race, gender, and age separately and as demographic characteristics rather than as power relations. The limited understanding of how intersecting social inequalities of race, class and gender operate in tandem as power relations impedes social science research, policy outcomes and anti-poverty initiatives. In an effort to not only enhance our understanding of poverty but also tackle it as a social problem, we must examine its root causes and consequences and the intersectional complexity of race, gender, and class. For over two decades, scholars (see Mallick, 2002; Deutsch, Duryea, and Piras, 2001; Goetz, & Sen Gupa, 1996; Schuler & Hashemi, 1994) have debated alternative approaches to address poor rural women's needs to alleviate poverty. The question is whether strategies designed to tackle poverty alone have the capacity to address the complexities defining women's economic situation, including the issue of gender inequality. Given the growing diversity of the U.S. rural population, if an alternative anti- poverty approach is to embark upon gender inequality in a comprehensive and holistic manner, it must also recognize that the needs of the poor are shaped by the interactions of gender with racial/ethnic and class relations (see Patel, 2001). Furthermore, not only are people's identities multifaceted, but they are also context specific, wherein the meaning of people's social locations and identities as well as the salience of a particular identity

3 are the product of history, culture, and society (Strier, 2010; Norris, Murphy and Zajicek, 2007). Emphasizing this point, Norris, Zajicek, and Murphy-Erby (2010) discuss how for Caucasian Appalachian women the gender aspect maybe a more salient aspect of their identity, whereas race may be more salient among African-American women living in the Mississippi region. Poor rural women, particularly those of color, are faced with a different set of obstacles than their urban counterparts. Examples include job availability, sex and race segregation of occupations, lack of political voice, greater family care taking responsibility, less education, lower salaries and other common barriers to employment such as transportation and child care (Gordon & Chase-Lansdel, 2001). It is not well understood which of these factors or combinations of factors contribute to the persistent poverty among rural women. However, it has become increasingly evident that the issues of gender, race, poverty, and powerlessness are related. Practices designed to assist poor women in developing countries began to gain momentum with the designation of the United Nations' Decade for women (1975-1985) (Buvinic, 1998). Buvinic (1998) posits that while research stressed the importance of economic programs for improving women's conditions, welfare-oriented projects, which refers to projects designed to deliver information, education and sometimes free handouts (money, food, technology) to poor women in their roles as homemakers, reproducers, and child caretakers, took precedence. Although poor U.S. populations may not suffer poverty in the same way as populations in poorer countries, scholars have noted commonalities among these groups thereby recognizing how the U.S. rural development policies may benefit from strategies

4 employed in these countries, particularly with regard to raising women's status (Seitz, 1995). In this context, Moser (1993) alerts both researchers and policymakers to the fact that the majority of planning interventions intended for poor women in developing countries do not address social factors reproducing women's subordination to men. Moser (1993), for example, posits that even correctly formulated policy too often fails to get translated into practice because of incorrect assumptions, and often, it inadvertently discriminates against or even neglects the women altogether. In making this argument, Moser distinguishes between practical and strategic gender needs. Practical gender needs are needs women identify in their socially accepted roles in society as mothers and wives (Moser, 1993). As a result, addressing the practical needs only does not challenge the gender division of labor underlying women's subordinate position in society. Strategic gender needs are those needs formulated from the analysis of women's subordination to men. These needs are associated with gender division of labor and power and may include issues such as legal rights, domestic violence, equal wages, and women's control over their bodies (Moser, 1993). Given this important realization and distinction, in recent years, scholars have begun to advocate for an alternative gender planning framework that focuses on strategic in addition to practical gender needs (see Moser, 1993; Molyneux, 1986). Importantly, when anti-poverty programs begin addressing the strategic needs of historically marginalized women, policy scholars and researchers begin entering the

5 terrain of planning described as "emancipatory practice1 "(Seitz, 1995; Friedmann,1987). In this regard, the literature recognizes that the achievement of positive policy outcomes is the result of complex interaction of different factors (Waylen, 2007), including the extent to which various stakeholders support the proposed policies and programs (Brinckerhoff & Crosby, 2002). Brinkerhoff and Crosby (2002), for example, suggest that policy reform should be viewed as a collaborative process that emerges from the bottom up emphasizing the importance of the empowerment of local actors or policy entrepreneurs to take on leadership roles at the community level. Statement of the Problem While a substantial body of scholarship examines women's empowerment initiatives, including microfinance programs, most of the literature on this subject has emerged out of third world feminist scholarship and grassroots efforts (Afonja, 1990; Sen & Grown, 1987). Seitz's (1995) study of the poor Appalachia women constitutes an important exception. Specifically, emphasizing that poor U.S. women share some important commonalities with their third world counterparts, Seitz (1995) examines the needs of marginalized U.S. Appalachia women employing Moser's 1989 "gender planning" conceptual framework. In doing so, she also advances the historically silenced voices of poor (white) women from a marginalized region. Emancipatory practices according to Friedmann (1987) is directly linked to what Molyneux (1986) describes as strategic gender interest which involves: (1) formulating an analysis from women's subordinate position as opposed to being formulated from concrete conditions women experience in their socially accepted roles in society; (2) challenging rather than accepting women's subordinate position thereby changing their existing roles; and (3) recognizing gender divisions of labor, power, and control instead of responding only to an immediate perceived necessity (e.g., childcare, food, etc.).

6 It is important to note the difficulty in ascertaining the effectiveness of the 1996 welfare reform due to congress' refusal to require the tracking of individuals who leave welfare rolls (Piven, 2002). While both media and politicians tend to portray the reform as a huge success, preliminary evaluations suggest otherwise. Jurik et al. (2006), for instance, posit that former welfare recipients do not fare much better considering that those who find jobs generally do so in low-wage and highly unstable employment sectors. Thus, it is argued, that people who leave welfare are not likely to experience real improvements in their economic status and rarely transition out of poverty. Also within the context of the 1996 welfare reform, high poverty rates among older rural women are receiving increased recognition (Jurik et al., 2006; Rogers, 2005). For example, the situation of poor rural women in the U.S. has received some scholarly attention specifically as it relates to grandmother caregivers and the new social and policy challenges this growing population poses (Murphy, 2008). Increasingly, policymakers have focused on the market particularly in the form of self-employment and small business initiatives for emancipating women from poverty and gender constraints (Strier, 2010). The U.S. government development policy, in fact, states that a key component of its poverty reduction strategy lies in support for very small businesses called microenterprise (Strier, 2010; Simmons, 2004; Schreiner, 1999). Attention to U.S. rural women's participation in microfinance programs is important given that women are located at "the nexus of the household and the economy" (Wells, 2002, p. 235). Yet, although a plethora of literature has examined the evolution of microfinance in the developing world, studies of the U.S. microenterprise programs have

7 been lacking. Sanders (2002) attributes this to the fact that research in this area is in its early stages. Importantly, the emerging U.S. microenterprise research primarily focuses on program effectiveness as an anti-poverty strategy, its capabilities to create jobs and businesses specifically from the perspective of barriers to entrepreneurship in the U.S. versus the developing world; its ability to revitalize low-income communities (Sanders, 2002); and more recently its function as an alternative to welfare (Jurik et al., 2006; Schreiner, 1999). Absent from the literature is a careful examination of whether the U.S. microenterprise programs work for different stakeholders/beneficiaries, and do they, in fact, function as a means to increase women's decision-making power. These deficiencies are of particular importance given that a central goal of microenterprise programs is to target small loans toward individuals facing higher levels of adversity (Jurik et al., 2006; Jurik, 2005; Cook, Belliveau & Sandberg, 2004), such as the poor minority women. Community-based participatory research suggests that the individuals for whom programs and/or policies target are the most valuable resources for social change (Themba & Minkler, 2003). The lack of input from microenterprise program participants creates an impediment to evaluating the program and developing better solutions. Hence, it is essential that microenterprise literature capture the voices and standpoints of different groups participating in such programs. Purpose of Study Over the years, women and development initiatives have undergone significant changes with regard to the emergence of the strategic gender needs framework. This new framework, however, has not been widely applied to the U.S. microfinance programs

8 (Moser, 1993). Given the complexity of women's location at the intersection of gender, race, and class relations, the alternative development framework must acknowledge diversity of women's experiences and integrate voices marginalized by the existence of multiple inequalities, including the voices of poor African-American rural women. The proposed study addresses the question of whether, according to women participating in the microfinance programs, such programs empower their primary stakeholders/beneficiaries. Towards this end, I combine Moser's framework of strategic needs with an intersectional perspective. Although in my study I use women's own definitions of empowerment, Moser's definition of women's empowerment provides a starting point for my inquiry. Specifically, Moser defines empowerment according to the capacity that policies and programs have to meet strategic gender needs, including the increase of self-reliance and decision-making power, that contribute to gender equality, directly and/or indirectly through bottom-up mobilization around practical gender needs. Focusing on greater self-reliance among women, this research also considers the fact that women's subordination is seen not only as the problem of men but also of a broader institutionalized oppression. More importantly, this research recognizes the significance of an intersectionality perspective emphasizing how women experience gender differently according to their race and class. This study explores how a group Arkansas women, especially African American and White women, participating in microfinance programs view these programs and the programs' potential for promoting their empowerment. Using semi-structured interviews, particular attention is given to understanding how women from varying social locations perceive empowerment. The key issues to be addressed are:

9 1. How do women perceive these programs in terms of their overall benefits, including their effects on empowerment? (Women's definitions) 2. How do the perceptions of the programs, including their relationship to empowerment, vary across different groups of women? This research project will utilize a qualitative approach, whereby data are gathered through in-depth interviews, to evaluate the extent to which a microenterprise program targeting rural women results in their empowerment. To address these questions, this study builds on two important components from the intellectual legacy of historically marginalized U.S. women, especially African-American women: (1) the intersectionality perspective, and (2) the elevation of marginalized voices. Specifically, I first synthesize Collins' (2000) intersectional concept of "the matrix of domination," and Moser's (1993) concept of the "strategic gender needs." Second, I use the standpoint approach to define "women's empowerment" and to situate my study in the context of "emancipatory practice" oriented community-based research. First, I consider the strategic gender needs in relation to what Collin's (2000) calls "the matrix of domination," that is the notion that the oppressions of gender, race and class are all interconnected. Moreover, Collins (2000) purports that issues of oppression originate, develop and are reproduced via social institutions such as schools, housing, employment, and government. Given that oppression is experienced differently among women, the challenges faced by women-centered anti-poverty initiatives are not only limited to meeting women's practical and strategic needs but also require that we understand how these needs are shaped by women's specific locations within the matrix of race, gender, and class domination.

10 Second, according to the standpoint and emancipatory practice approaches, it is imperative to elucidate the agency of women, especially African-American women, and the voices of local of local women and stakeholders to bring their issues to the forefront of various social movements. Moreover, it is imperative to conceive of policy-making as a collaborative process which emerges from bottom up and to emphasize the importance of having local actors to take on leadership roles at the community level (Abdullah, 2007; Waylen, 2007; Brinkerhoff & Crosby, 2002). Such bottom-up approaches have proven to be the most advantageous for women living in some most oppressive areas in the world (e.g., South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya). Study Contributions Although poverty rates in the rural U.S. have been persistently high, poverty is experienced differently among individuals living in the same communities due to varying social locations. For example, when a multiclass sample of white women from an economically depressed rural community in the Appalachia region were asked about their families' economic circumstances, Wells (2002) found distinct differences in their responses. She found that the lower the social class the greater the understanding of the social processes that precipitate and perpetuate poverty. Consequently, the development of more appropriate policies benefiting poor rural women located at the intersection of multiple discriminations necessitate: (1) the development of initiatives beyond the practical approaches to incorporate strategic approaches; (2) that academic research captures how the simultaneity of race/ethnicity, gender, caste, and/or class hinders effective policy approaches; and (3) that the standpoints of diverse social groups are

11 captured, particularly from African-American women given that their voices have been historically locked out of mainstream discourse. Conceptualized as a case study, this current research contributes critically to the current debates regarding the relationship between interventions that aim to alleviate poverty among women and changes in women's status relative to men. This study is also important because it can provide insight for future studies investigating the complexities of assessing empowerment among diverse marginalized populations. Considering that a primary objective of this study is to determine whether the effects of microenterprise programs vary by social location, a potential outcome and possibly a contribution is the encouragement of a dialogue between an intersectionality perspective and women empowerment agendas specifically. In doing so, this study highlights how capturing the voices and standpoints of different social groups defined by race, gender, and class, especially African-American women, can inform empowerment discourse. This study can also help assess the implications of the underlying assumptions concerning the initiatives designed to empower women. From a policy perspective, it is imperative that policymakers are aware of the complex constraints hindering the policy implementation process. Hence, policymakers should consider how policy outcomes may vary contingent upon the social context, which is significantly influenced by women's social locations at the intersection of race/ethnicity, and/or class. This study is significant because as researchers begin to understand the complexities in addressing strategic and practical needs of women, policy makers will have access to more constructive information necessary to design and implement more effective policies and programs that also translate into practice.

12 CHAPTER II LITERATURE REVIEW The literature regarding women's empowerment initiatives is expansive; crossing many disciplinary boundaries. In tracing the trajectory of empowerment discourse with regard to elevating women's conditions in rural communities, I focus on exploring the empowerment of rural women via microenterprise programs (as the tool) using an intersectionality lens (as the theoretical framework). While it is imperative to explore several strands of literature (empowerment, rural woman, microenterpirse prgrams, intersectionality), such review poses some degree of complexity. To address this complexity and enhance our understanding of both the characerteristics of empowerment and pathways to empowerment, two overarching concerns guide this assessment of the extant literature: first, how have past and current interpretations of empowerment framed our understanding of empowerment; second, under what conditions are microenterprise programs effective in rural U.S. communities. In doing so, this examination seeks to elucidate the links and gaps in empowerment discussions across disciplines regarding rural U.S. women. The focus then shifts to explore the intersectionality perspective as an interpretive framework pertinent to this study. Highlighting how intersectional thinking emerged from the works of African-American women, I explain how the agency of voice is a vital component in producing knowledge in microfinance research. Microfinance Programs and Women's Empowerment Microfinance programs have emerged as an important tool in serving poor households, specifically poor women living in diverse socioeconomic environments around the world (Sharma, 2000). Thus, in order to understand why one of the goals of microfinance programs is focused on women's empowerment, it is imperative to begin

13 with a brief discussion of these programs within the context of less developed and developing countries before discussing microenterprise programs in the U.S. Despite the increasing interest in microfinance and the breath of literature on the subject, there is hardly a universally accepted definition of microfinance (Khawari, 2004). Sriram and Upadhyayula (2004) state in regard to their assessment of microfinance in India that "microfinance is generally understood but not clearly defined" (p. 90). Variations in microfinance definitions tend to coincide with a desired objective, hence microfinance is often defined in relation to its beneficiaries (as a tool to fight poverty) or in relation to other forms of finance (as a supply of savings, credit, insurance and payment services to relatively poor people) (Copestake, 2007). In briefly discussing the varied meanings the term microfinance entails, it is imperative to begin with its initial program objectives. Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Bangladesh's Grameen Bank, embarked upon microcredit lending in 1976 with the sole purpose of turning the rules of traditional banking upside down by first focusing on women. Yunus' belief was based on the premise that women are most likely to think of the family's needs (Gangemi, 2005). This was a radical step given that Yunus grassroots efforts transpired out of a traditional Muslim society (Gangemi, 2005). Second, Yunus idea was predicated on his conviction that poor people, particularly women, can be both reliable borrowers and avid entrepreneurs. Gangemi (2005), in emphasizing the atypical approach of Muhammad Yunus's innovation relative to traditional banks, quotes Sam Daley'Harris, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, "If banks required paperwork, his loans were for the illiterate. Whatever banks did, he did the opposite" (p. 20).

14 Yunus's innovation of microcredit now serves as the prototype for an assortment of micro lending programs that has permeated throughout Southern Asia to the rest of the developing world and more recently to developed nations. Micro lending has evolved to reflect social, political and cultural demands and constraints that are environment specific. For example, BancoSol in Bolivia, and Bank Rayat in Indonesia have demonstrated how the innovative use of group lending with joint liability can be used to promote small-scale entrepreneurship. In such cases, emphasis is placed on borrowers' utilizing social capital that serves as an impetus to overcome the following key problems associated with asymmetric information (or when one party, in this case the lender, have access to more or better information than the borrower) in credit markets: (1) adverse selection refers to the process of targeting high-risk customers for credit often causing higher than average costs; and (2) moral hazard refers to the possibility that the party protected from risk behaving differently from the way it would generally behave if it were fully exposed to the risk (Gomez & Santor, 2001). Micro-lending organizations in the U.S., such as the Southern Good Faith Fund in Arkansas, have sought or re established financial intermediaries in communities abandoned by traditional banking intuitions (Gomez & Santor, 2001). Women invariably remain the primary targets and recipients of microenterprise programs. The premises behind women being the principal beneficiaries of microfinance programs are threefold: (1) microfinance is an effective tool in improving women's status, (2) the overall household welfare is likely to improve considerably given women's likelihood to invest more than men would in children's human capital (Deutsch, Duryea, & Piras, 2001; Sharma, 2000), and (3) the women constitute the best clients with a

15 repayment rate of over 95 percent compared to men's 60 to 70 percent (Boko & Najmi, 2005). However, while women are the main beneficiaries, Johnson (1998) posits that the microenterprise programs have no innate ability to facilitate gender equality. Additionally, the assertions that microfinance programs promote empowerment have come under tremendous scrutiny. Issues related to gender inequality have been identified as the "gap" impeding not only the development of women, but also the national development process (Wakoko, 2003). In recent years, the interest in programs that foster women's empowerment has been augmented by the various women's conferences and workshops hosted by an array of organizations advocating gender and women's empowerment initiatives. The increasing concern to achieve the goal of gender equality has become a global effort which is evidenced by Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals endorsed by world leaders at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000 (Grown et al., 2005). Thus, the overarching objective that transpired is the need to invest in interventions that function both to improve the well-being of women's households and families, and to also raise women's status from second class citizens as women still remain at a considerable disadvantage compared to the their male counterparts (Grown et al., 2005). Microfinance programs have been hailed as an integral tool in promoting empowerment among women, even though the fundamental objectives of microfinance programs are to serve as a tool for poverty alleviation and economic and social transformation in poor communities (Morduch, 1999). Such considerations have been fueled by the assumption that microfinance programs' economic and social effects are positively associated with empowering poor women in developing countries (Schuler &

16 Hashemi, 1994). Women's involvement in the programs as a target population has led not only to discussions concerning the extent to which these programs can promote women's empowerment, but also how to measure empowerment. Empowerment: Product vs. Process Before delving into the nature of the debates regarding the connection between empowering women and microfinance programs, it is essential to understand the tenets of empowerment as it relates to women's subordination. The question of women's empowerment as a result of women's participation in microfinance programs must be addressed in a two-fold manner. First, empowerment is traditionally viewed as a product. When empowerment is understood as a product, the emphasis tends to be on the immediate necessities emerging from women's socially accepted roles in society. An alternative approach is to view empowerment as a process. The roots in viewing empowerment as a process lie in both the critique and challenge of women's subordinate positions in an effort to emancipate them. Such interests are parallel to strategic gender needs. Grown et al. (2005) provides the following comprehensive description of empowerment with regard to the elevation of women subordinate status: The concept of empowerment is related to gender equality but distinct from it. The core of empowerment lies in the ability of a woman to control her own destiny (Malhotra, Schuler, & Boender, 2002; Kabeer, 1999). This implies that to be empowered women must not only have equal capabilities such as education and health and equal access to resources and opportunities such as land and employment, but they must also have the agency to use those rights, capabilities, resources, and opportunities to make strategic choices and decisions (such as is provided through leadership opportunities and participation in political institutions). And for them to exercise agency, they must live without the fear of coercion and violence, (p. 33) The complexities surrounding women's empowerment are evidenced in the multiple understandings of empowerment particularly as it pertains to poor rural women

Full document contains 186 pages
Abstract: This study examines the perceptions of women's empowerment from a diverse group of microenterprise business owners in Arkansas. Employing a framework that synthesizes Moser's conception of practical and strategic gender needs, and an intersectionality perspective, this qualitative case study found that this study's participants define empowerment in terms of meeting strategic gender needs. Moreover, on the surface empowerment appeared to be defined within the commonality of womanhood. A deeper analysis of the narratives revealed divergent perceptions of strategic gender needs between African-American and Caucasian women. Microenterprise programs would benefit from devoting explicit attention to ascertaining firsthand knowledge from different groups of women. In the absence of the voices from diverse social groups, even the organizations designed to meet the needs of marginalized populations may not be as innovative and as effective when developing and administering programs that address issues contributing and perpetuating marginalization.