Empowerment beyond patronizing notions of ´saving´ Muslim women?

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This thesis addresses the conceptualization of empowerment, possible approaches that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) use to work towards empowerment of Muslim women and the extent to which empowerment programmes, that serve to empower Muslim women, are related to the so-called ‘Do Women Need Saving’ paradigm, in which the portrayal of Muslim women as victims is criticized. I have investigated this by undertaking three fieldwork periods at two NGOs in Cameroon, Germany and Greece that work with empowerment methods. In order to answer my research question, I designed a framework in which I identified empowerment on an individual, social, organisational and political level. The concepts that comprise this analysis are: 1) agency; 2) education; 3) participation; 4) inclusion; 5) capacity for self-empowerment; 6) financial sustainability; 7) power inequalities and; 8) political interests. I also identified four approaches that NGOs use to work towards empowerment, namely: the capacity-building approach; the gender equality approach; the reciprocal benefits approach and the human-rights based approach. The case studies show that the ability for self-empowerment and self-reflection, of both NGOs and individuals, are paramount for empowerment. Moreover, combining different approaches to working towards empowerment creates better results. Crucial in this sense is the extent to which the target group is consulted on a decision-making level. My findings show that the ´Do Women Need Saving´ paradigm, in terms of empowerment programmes, is disempowering to women because women are often denied a voice in projects. However, the case studies illustrate that the “saving” rhetoric does not have to be disempowering to women, as long as NGOs actively involve their target group on a decision-making level, by listening to their needs.
Faculteit der Filosofie, Theologie en Religiewetenschappen