There is now wide recognition that poverty is much more than a simple lack of income and productive resources. And addressing poverty requires much more than good economic policy and positive economic growth. In this context, social development can be defined as a transformative process which aims to reduce poverty and vulnerability by: increasing inclusion and equity in access to resources services and opportunities; building the asset base of different individuals and groups (including non-material assets); empowering people in their relationships with political, economic and social institutions (both formal and informal).
“Empowerment” has become a commonly used term within international development discourses and is often seen within donor and government project, programme and policy documents. A decade ago the 2000/01 World Development Report recognised that empowering poor people – by making state and social institutions more responsive to them – is key to reducing poverty. More recently, empowerment has been increasingly recognised as a development objective in its own right and not just as a means to an end. But as with many other terms, it is often understood in multiple ways and this complicates its usage, with the danger that its use in development policy becomes more rhetorical than meaningful.
Particular groups of people and individuals remain excluded from the resources, services and opportunities which could help them move out of poverty. Even within contexts of strong overall developmental progress, inequity in development outcomes remains. The basis of this exclusion and inequity can include a complex range of political, social and economic factors, but at its core it is about power dynamics within households, communities and society. Understanding and addressing these dynamics and the institutionalised barriers that result from them is crucial to reducing poverty and vulnerability.
Gender is not another word for women. Gender is about both women and men and the context-specific roles, activities and responsibilities associated with being male or female in a specific society. It is concerned with relationships between men and women and the relative voice and bargaining power of individuals in households, communities and organisations. Like religion, ethnicity or class being male or female shapes individuals’ opportunities to participate in the economy and society. Gender analysis is therefore an important part of social analysis, exploring and highlighting the relationships between men and women at different organisational levels: within the household, in communities or society.
Policies aimed at addressing poverty have progressed significantly over recent decades. For instance former residual welfare strategies have been replaced by social protection poverty reduction policies, which incorporate wider aims and concepts around risk reduction and mitigation. At the same time the limitations of poverty analysis and measurement based solely on income or consumption have also been increasingly recognised. This has led to widening understandings of poverty which incorporate a range of other concepts, such as livelihoods, vulnerability and risk. These help widen the focus to a multi-dimensional understanding of poverty and emphasise the role that assets and capabilities have in improving social and economic well-being.
We are part of a consortium who implements the Vietnam Empowerment and Accountability Programme, set up to support coalitions working on issues of public concerns by encouraging dialogue between NGOs, academia, think tanks, mass organisations and media, and relevant government agencies and the National Assembly. Read more
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