Structural & psychological empowerment in rural India.

AuthorPandey, Jatin
PositionStatistical data

Rural women can be effectively utilized if empowerment can be used as a strategy for working women in rural settings. The author deciphers the transformation of structural empowerment to psychological empowerment through the mediating mechanisms of self-efficacy and perceived resource adequacy. Through a questionnaire administered to 80 women gram pradhans from rural India, it was found that self-efficacy and perceived resource adequacy mediate this relationship. The author then interviews ten of these eighty women to refine the understanding of the results.

Empowerment of Rural Women

The rural populace in India represents a significant segment of human capital that is not employed full-time. A section of this segment consists of women who are confined only to their domestic sphere of activity. Advancement in Indian economy warrants inclusion of these untapped resources and bring them par with their male counterparts. The potential inherent in this unused human capital can be realized through empowerment (Spreitzer, 1992).


Panchayatraj is a system of local self-governance in the Indian subcontinent. This system of governance is institutionalized in India and is aided by a separate ministry of Panchayati Raj whose mission is "Empowerment, enablement & accountability of panchayati raj institutions to ensure inclusive development with social justice, and efficient delivery of services" ("Ministry of Panchayat Raj," n.d.). Women were rarely part of the panchayat system in pre-Independence days. However, the 73rd Amendment Act, 1992, to Indian constitution mandated reservation of at least 1 /3rd of the seats in all panchayat councils and 1 /3rd of the gram-pradhan (head of the panchayat) positions for women. It was a landmark in women's political empowerment ("Women's Empowerment through Panchayati Raj," 2015). A gram-pradhan or sarpanch is the leader of the panchayat for the village.

Background to the Study

We chose women from rural areas for this study as scholars are of the view that studies relating to empowerment should focus on those areas where fewer choices exist for individuals in lives (Kabeer, 2005). Further, we chose the jobs of gram-pradhan (village head) for the study as they constitute the structurally powerful leadership position and at the same time practically and psychologically they remain powerless (Maeroff, 1988). It has also been found that empowerment level among women is lower as compared to the males (Hechanova, Regina, Alampay & Franco, 2006), thus, providing more reasons for such a study. From a sociological frame of reference, empowerment is warranted for changing the imbalance of power and structure in society (Leonardsen, 2007). In the pre-Independence era of India, women empowerment was assessed through access to education, the extent of child marriage, widow remarriage,etc (Subramaniam, 2004). Though the previously mentioned problems still plague the country, the present discourse centers on equality in the workplace and psychological aspects of empowerment. The economic angle to women empowerment relates to their share of the earned income and employment (Jayaweera, 1997). From apolitical frame of reference, empowerment refers to the presence of women in decision-making posts and elected offices (Beteta, 2006) with access to political and economic networks (Lindberg, 2004).

The first step involves inclusion through granting them positions which are further strengthened by grant of empowerment. Women are now gaining structural empowerment through government actions and policies. Reservation in positions for women among panchayat members is one such constitutional provision in India (234D [2] of Indian Constitution).Democratic participation of women in female sarpanch villages have seen a rise. However, the improvements in service delivery is still an issue of concern (Sathe, Klasen, Priebe& Biniwale, 2013).The other side of the story is that this structural empowerment through reservation in posts of sarpanch had led to the emergence of the husbands of these women as power centers. An informal salutation has surfaced to denote the center of actual power. There have been efforts by the government to curb this ("PM Modi seeks an end to proxy rule, says no more 'sarpanch pati,'" 2015).The National Mission for Empowerment of Women (NMEW) was launched by Government of India on International Women's Day in 2010 with the aim to strengthen overall processes that promote all-round Development of Women("National Mission for Empowerment of Women," n.d.).Gender equality and women's empowerment are central to UNDP's strategy for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and bringing about transformational change("Women's Empowerment and Inclusion," n.d.). Taking these coordinates in mind, we study the dynamics of the conversion of structural to psychological empowerment for structurally empowered women (through reservation as

gram-pradhan) in rural India.

What & Why?

Empowerment have been referred to as "interesting fodder for academic debates" (Potterfield, 1999: 30), as "socialism, democracy gone wild, or worse yet, a form of communism" (Lawler, 1986: 9) and as "emperor's new clothes" that are talked about but are not actually present (Argyris, 1998).However,many researchers acknowledge the effects of empowerment at the workplace. In a bunch of critical HR activities empowerment was found to be of great importance (Agarwal & Ferratt, 1999). In the particular context of women, empowerment is the process through which they know and then correct gender issues that impede their development (Longwe, 1998). In the context of jobs and organization employee empowerment aims at transforming employees who have absence of control over work processes to employees that have personal control over their work and work lives (Wilkinson, 1998) and granting autonomy to employees to make choices that have an effect on how and in what ways completion of their work takes place (Ford & Fottler, 1995).The importance of empowerment lies in its association with many benefits desired by the organization. It has been found to be positively associated with job satisfaction (Spreitzer, Kizilos & Nason, 1997), motivation and organizational loyalty (Nykodym, Simonetti, Nielsen & Welling, 1994), organizational citizenship behavior (Cushman, 2000) work engagement (Bhatnagar, 2012), to name a few.

Different scholars have conceptualized as well as operationalized empowerment in different ways. Employment literature can be divided into three areas of structural, motivational and leadership empowerment (Menon, 2001). However in the context of organizations, empowerment has been conceptualized in two ways, psychological empowerment (Conger & Kanungo, 1988) that is the belief that one has control over decision making (Parker & Price, 1994:911) and structural empowerment "which encompasses elements such as opportunities to grow and develop, resources that include supplies and equipment, flexibility, and access to data"(Andrews & Kacmar, 2014 :46).We see that structural empowerment depends on workplace conditions whereas psychological empowerment characterizes a response of employees to conditions of structural empowerment.

Researchers have dissected empowerment in terms of its complexity and elasticity that is exhibited conceptually. It takes many forms and is implemented through many initiatives (Cunningham, Hyman & Baldry, 1996). Spreitzer(1995: 1444) suggests empowerment not to be seen as a dichotomous construct, instead it should be regarded as a continuous variable i.e. employees to be seen as less or more empowered instead of empowered and not empowered. Two main dimensions carry forward the operationalization of empowerment concept first involving the content of the decisions on which influence is authorized to employees and second with the extent of influence granted to them with to carry out these decisions (Cotton et al, 1988). The content may range from operational to strategic (Bacharach, 1990).


Structural empowerment and psychological empowerment are two...

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