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Women's Empowerment Framework

Page history last edited by Alexandra Pittman 12 years, 9 months ago


Sara Longwe. "Women’s Empowerment Framework." 


The Women’s Empowerment Framework [1] was developed by Sara Hlupekile Longwe as a way to conceptualize the process of empowerment through a sequence of measurable actions. The tool highlights the ascending levels of gender equality, although the levels are not linear in nature, but rather are conceptualized as reinforcing in nature. The path can be used as a frame of reference for progressive steps towards increasing equality, starting from meeting basic welfare needs to equality in the control over the means of production.


The five “levels of equality” in the Women’s Empowerment Framework include:[2] 


  1. Welfare, meaning improvement in socioeconomic status, such as income, better nutrition, etc. This level produces nothing to empower women.
  2. Access, meaning increased access to resources. This is the first step in empowerment as women increase their access relative to men.
  3. Conscientisation, involving the recognition of structural forces that disadvantage and discriminate against women coupled with the collective aim to address these discriminations.
  4. Mobilization, implementing actions related to the conscientisation of women.
  5. Control, involving the level of access reached and control of resources that have shifted as a result of collective claim making and action.  

The model is explicitly political, linking women’s inequality and poverty to structural oppression. As such, in order to secure women’s equality and empowerment, both materially and financially, women must be empowered. The tool examines a program, such as a health or education intervention, to assess how it influences the five levels of empowerment, i.e., negatively, positively, or neutrally. It postulates an ascending level of equality impacts that can be tracked and assessed over time to see if progression or regression is taking place. 


Strengths of the Women’s Empowerment Framework:



  • The Women’s Empowerment Framework may assist organizations in developing more explicit programmatic strategies that aim to fundamentally shift the bases of gender inequality.
  • Gendered assumptions of equality are made explicit. This provides an excellent opportunity for a feminist context analysis, highlighting the political dimensions of gender inequality. 
  • The three levels of a program effect, e.g., positive, neutral, or negative impact, can be easily compared across programs. This also helps clarify areas of program strength and weakness, which can be used for program learning purposes.
  • It is unique in explicitly allowing negative impacts to be located and analyzed.


Weaknesses (or not designed for):



  • The Women’s Empowerment Framework is not designed to explain how or why a program works, exploring the contributing or causal factors that led to the progression from one level of impact to the next.  
  • Focus is only placed on three levels of equality, e.g., positive, neutral, or negative impact, which limits important qualitative assessments of “success” that provide valuable information critical for program improvement.
  • The assumption that there is a hierarchy of gender equality levels suggests a somewhat more linear change trajectory than is often found in practice.


[1] Sara Longwe. 1995. “Gender Awareness: The Missing Element in the Third World Development Program” in Candida March and Tina Wallace (Eds) Changing Perception: New Writings on Gender and Development. Oxfam: Oxford.

[2] From Sara Longwe. 2002. “Spectacles for Seeing Gender in Project Evaluation.”

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