British library trivia for this week; people here seem to be comfortably eccentric… rubbing on moisturising lotion as if they were magicians. Clumpy shoed passers-by. I think BL cultivates a feeling of silent isolation where we yearn for acknowledgement, any form of attention that will break us out from our silence.
I’ve been reading about female empowerment – a hot topic – through microcredit – another hot topic. The report says that microcredit is failing to advance social empowerment through economic microcredit schemes. If microcredit is going to address social empowerment and sustained, accumulated economic empowerment, you have to train the recipients in business skills, facilitate peer groups and generally tailor loans to individual needs. This seems obvious and good. I am all about the social empowerment and building capacity of people not just throwing money at a problem. But it also seems to be functioning in a slightly different reality where kinder interest repayment deals are to be encouraged – I’m no expert but it seems you are then subsidising businesses that will then not be very competitive… Or have I been brainwashed by US-capitalism? And surely there are already protectionism and subsidies going on all over the world?
The report defines empowerment as: ‘Empowerment happens when individuals and organised groups are able to imagine their world differently and to realise that vision by changing the relations and structures that have been keeping them in poverty. Empowerment is a non-linear, multi- dimensional process, which evolves along different pathways – material, perceptual, cognitive and relational.’
I love this definition. I think it overcomes the often condescending attitude and thinking donors often take, and we take as people thinking about assistance. It’s about enabling transformation. Edward Said speaks to this underlying misconception in Orientalism:
“What are striking in these discourses are the rhetorical figures one keeps encountering in their descriptions of ‘the mysterious East’, as well as the stereotypes about ‘the African (or Indian or Irish or Jamaican or Chinese) mind’, the notions of bringing civilisation to primitive or barbaric peoples.”
I realise I am touching on a big can of worms. Looking at assistance, at the ‘Wests’ relationship with ‘developing’ countries. About our attitude and whether assistance helps… I think this is a key issue, or assumption, that needs to be addressed.
And so back to book stacks and magicians applying moisturiser…