Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

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Volume 16 Issue 4 (July/August 2006), Pages 247-336

Empowerment to participate: a case study of participation by indian sex workers in HIV prevention (pages 301-315)


The popularity of ‘participation’ and ‘empowerment’ in international development discourse is not matched by sophisticated conceptualisation of these terms. Critics have argued that their vagueness allows ‘participation’ and ‘empowerment’ to be used indiscriminately to describe interventions which vary from tokenism to genuine devolving of power to the community. This paper suggests that conceptualising empowerment and participation simply in terms of a scale of ‘more or less’ participation or ‘more or less’ empowerment does not capture the qualitatively different forms of empowerment that are necessary for different activities. Instead, the paper conceptualises participation in terms of concrete domains of action in which people may be empowered to take part. An ethnographic case study of a participatory HIV prevention project run by sex workers in Kolkata illustrates the argument. Four domains of activity in which sex workers may participate are distinguished: (1) participating in accessing project services; (2) participating in providing project services; (3) participating in shaping project workers' activity; (4) participating in defining project goals. To be empowered to participate in each domain depends upon a different set of resources. Asking the question ‘empowerment to do what?’ of health promotion projects is proposed as a way of facilitating appropriate project design. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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