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Women's empowerment programs hurt women

By Carey Roberts
web posted February 14, 2011

"The Office of the Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State for Women's Empowerment."

No, that's not the clandestine front group from a Tom Clancy spy novel, nor is it a libertarian's bad dream. Rather, it's is a real-life program underwritten by the U.S. taxpayer. A brainchild of Hillary Clinton, the unit's declared mission is to advise the secretary of state on "strategies the Department of State should implement to help empower women worldwide."

Female empowerment has become fashionable at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, as well. There, inspired bureaucrats worked overtime to gin up the EMPOWER acronym — "Enhancing and Making Programs Work to End Rape" — a multimillion-dollar initiative that promotes sexual violence prevention programs.

So where did the idea of female empowerment come from, and is it helping or hurting women?

The term "empowerment" was inspired by the writings of Karl Marx, who viewed peasant women as dual victims of capitalism and patriarchy. The solution, of course, was to embolden the ladies to cast off their conjugal oppressors. In practice, this meant an ample supply of newly liberated female laborers ready to work the fields, the factories, and the mines — an arrangement that no doubt pleased liberator-in-chief Vladimir Lenin.

But American women are becoming wary of the ideological agenda that lurks behind the empowerment facade. Conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly recently commented, "It's clear that feminists never wanted gender equality; they want power for the female left, which is why they use the word empowerment so reflexively."

At the US Agency for International Development, female empowerment has become a religion of sorts. Every problem that afflicts the female gender is filtered through the neo-Marxist prism of power and control.

So if you want to fathom the problem of partner abuse, "unequal power relations between men and women" are to blame, according to the USAID website.

The agency goes on to boast, "USAID is committed to preventing gender-based violence by supporting legislation against it." And exactly what kind of laws are we talking about?

In India, USAID "was instrumental in the formation of Women Power Connect," according to its March 6, 2007 press release. "WPC's priority issues include…the 33% reservation for women in Parliament."

Translation: In the name of promoting democracy, American taxpayers have been bankrolling a radical feminist group to rig democratic elections and impose a gender quota on the Indian lawmaking assembly.

Another pet USAID project is microfinance programs, which provide $50 to $500 loans to aspiring entrepreneurs in impoverished countries. According to the Marxist formulation, men have all the power, so poverty-stricken males need not apply.

USAID hails its microfinance effort in northern Mali, Africa, where "2,700 new women micro-entrepreneurs received conditional seed capital, business training, and help in forming saving groups, while 1,097 already established women micro-entrepreneurs received additional training and networking assistance." (A government program to train women to network with their gal-pals? Yes, that's what the USAID fact sheet says.)

But microfinance programs have come under fire lately. That's because microfinance is just a fancy name for a sub-prime loan program for low-income borrowers. Since up to one-third of these loans go sour, lending agencies end up charging interest rates of 40% or more.

The title of a recent article in The Atlantic says it all: "Lies, Hype, and Profit: The Truth about Microfinance." Others refer to it as government-sanctioned usury.

Just last week the UK Guardian ran an article about Indian families trapped in a "deadly spiral of microfinance debt." The essay recounts the story of Victoria Bandari who took out a loan a decade ago. When her son was injured in a road accident, Bandari needed more credit for medical expenses. The 38-year-old woman took out a third, then a fourth loan. Finally, Bandari began to sell off her daughter's wedding jewelry.

Rama Peadda Boiana, a 29-year-old farmer's wife, consumed a lethal dose of pesticide to escape encircling debt collectors from a predatory flock of microfinance firms.

There's another reason that microfinance programs exploit women — they impose a Faustian-style bargain on the unsuspecting.

The subtle but unmistakable message behind feminist-inspired microfinance programs goes like this: "Ladies, your husband is an unreliable schmuck. Stick with him and you'll die a penniless waif. But come on board for our loan and job training programs and you can become a member of the global Sisterhood!"

That's the deal that the Great Society struck with low-income black women in the 1970s. The result: the marginalization of black men, an explosion of single-parent households, and the institutionalization of a near-permanent under-class.

Forty years ago, social scientists devised a clever euphemism to sum up the effects of a government program that picks taxpayers' wallets, weakens the family, and turns women into wards of the state: the feminization of poverty. ESR

 © Carey Roberts, 2011

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