Women's Socio-economic Empowerment Through Participatory Approach A Critical Assessment


Abstract. This study assesses the effects of a Government run participatory development project on the social and economic empowerment of women and its implications for poverty alleviation in Nasirabad area of Balochistan (a province of Pakistan). The need to evaluate the project’s effects in terms of empowerment arises due to the perception that interventions in the form of programs and projects have little effects on women’s development in the Province due to institutional and cultural factors. To test the validity of this proposition, a case study of Pat Feeder Command Area Development project which is the largest community based development project of government has been taken for analysis. The project is evaluated in terms of participation, access, and sustainability. The project provides useful insights into the issue of women’s empowerment.

The findings show quantitative improvements in the indicators such as capacity building, access to micro credit, involvement in economic activities and reduction in the workload. The results confirm the paradoxical situation facing beneficiaries with respect to involvement in economic activity and spending income. The paper finally concludes that the positive effects of

Author Note: This paper is mainly based on the M. Phil. theses of the first author completed at the Department of Economics in 2007. The study was based on the Pat Feeder Command Area Development Project (PFCADP), started in 1995-96 with the assistance of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The Project was launched in the Command area of Nasirabad Division of Balochistan. Its main components are watercourse development, agriculture, livestock, community organization support and Project Coordination. project are not sustainable due to poor functionality of Women Development Groups and therefore, suggest considering the viability of these groups in future follow up/new development projects.


This is well documented that participatory approach, i.e. a way of develop- ment through participation of the stakeholders such as government, benefi- ciaries, donor agencies and NGOs can improve women’s empowerment more efficiently than any top down approach. It is further argued that a sense of ownership is developed under this strategy which is necessary for reduction in poverty on sustainable bases (Korten, 1980; Holt, 1990; Sullivan, 1993). The simple mechanism of this approach is that; Women are organized at the grass root level around their needs in such a way as to enhance their capabilities by improving their participation in and access to the development schemes.

Recognizing the importance of participatory approach, Government of Balochistan and donor agencies have adopted it as an essential element of rural development strategy. Most of the on going and completed foreign funded development projects in the province such as National commission for human development, Minor community irrigation project, Balochistan area development program have strategized women empowerment as their complementary goal. However, the impact assessment of these projects reveals that the desired change has not been seen on the grounds despite positive policy response of government and allocation of huge resources (Planning and Development Department, 2003). The irony of the situation is that the component of women development of these projects or programs give more discouraging results which is a matter of great concern to the management of development projects and policy makers.

So far no serious efforts have been made on the part of donor agencies or researchers to investigate the causes of poor performance of participatory development projects especially in terms of women empowerment.

To understand the situation, a case study of Pat Feeder command Area Development Project is taken for analysis. The project was launched in Nasirabad Area of Balochistan in 1997 for development of agriculture sector through an integrated approach (combined efforts of Farmers association, Water management, Agriculture loan, Livestock and Crop sector). The project involved Women Development Groups (WDGs) in the designing, implementing and evaluating of packages of social and economic services considered necessary for their development. Need assessment criteria was followed in the selection of packages. According to this criterion ‘the needs of the beneficiaries are identified by themselves’ government or donor agencies just evaluate and design the projects as per their problems and wishes.

The initiatives of project in case include; social mobilization for group formation; training in management of livestock use of micro credit; and washing pad. While the physical services include portable water supply and credit facilities.

The project assumes that the greater interaction of women with the project services and their involvement in the development process will increase their capabilities thus will be having positive impact on their poverty reduction. As the project was completed in 2003, and left some impacts on the socio-economic status of women therefore, the need arises to assess the validity of assumption from the perspective of empowerment which was also one of the important objectives of the project.

The study basically aims at investigating the following important research questions.

(a) Whether the project has socially and economically empowered women?

(b) What are its implications for poverty alleviation? (c) What policy change is needed?

These questions are broadly relevant to women’s social and economic empowerment and have greater implications for poverty alleviation strategy in the study area as well as in the province.


The primary data used in the study is mostly based on the sample survey conducted for evaluation of impact survey in 2003. The sample size of women was one hundred and sixty five representing all 165 minors and covering all ten water distributaries of project area. The respondents selected were the members of (WDGS). Triangulation method was used to crosscheck the validity of data. According to which, information gleaned from various sources were used. Questionnaire, observation, interview and discussions with key informants/office barriers were the important instruments of data collection whereas secondary data were collected from project documents, related literature, and other Government reports.

As regards methods of analysis, pre and post project scenario about women empowerment conditions were compared on the bases of selected indicators,1 which were developed from the definitions available in the development literature wherein ‘empowerment is defined in terms of both material and non material well being. It also refers to the relationship between power and development implying increased Capacity of women to enhance their internal strength and to influence the direction of change by gaining access to control over material and non material resources (Boden and Zoe, 1997). As empowerment is a multi dimensional process it enables women to realize their...

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