Monday, March 27, 2006

Empowerment: Soft vs Hard

I met a young woman over the weekend who is very passionate about "soft empowerment" for young women. The more we talked the more we realized we had visions in common. When she asked me what I was interested in, I responded, "broadly development of women." I could see the confusion on her face. What does "development of women" mean?

I have met people who focus on "hard empowerment", in terms of providing economic opportunities and I also have talked with people who concentrate on social issues like HIV/AIDS, sex, and power relations between men and women, like this young lady I met. Which one am I? Soft or Hard? I think I am more inclined to focus on the social aspects of life but I also believe that the hard economic empowerment is vital. If women are relying on men to "provide" for them this is indisputably related to her ability to have soft empowerment. This makes me think of the ability to negotiate safe sex between men and women--the power relations between the two. All the same, you can have economic empowerment for women and still be way behind in providing gender equality in social structures (in the home for instance). So I believe that these soft and hard aspects of empowerment are intertwined. I want to understand more about both hard and soft issues of women's empowerment. Experience is a must.

As we conversed more she encouragingly stated that right now in South Africa, it is a good time to be a young woman. There are opportunities out there, it's just about finding which space will be the best fit for me.


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