Perhaps we should start with a definition. A quick perusal of the world-wide web showed that most groups agree on a definition similar to the one below:
Women’s empowerment focuses on identifying and redressing power imbalances and giving women more autonomy to manage their own lives.
To find empowered women in Less Than a Widow, many readers will need to take themselves out of the Western mode and transplant into another culture. The realities of women in patriarchal or tribal societies—in ancient times and today—may be very different than the way you were raised. I recently watched a video in which Palestinian father and educator Yousafzai Ziauddin speaks about his daughter’s struggle to be educated, how he supported and encouraged her, and the price of her efforts for empowerment. [You can view this at http://www.ted.com/talks/ziauddin_yousafzai_my_daughter_malala. ] Ziauddin explains the expectations of obedience for women and honor for men—precepts that put women in a prison from which there is little chance for escape.
In Less Than a Widow, Ruth’s rebellion almost led to her death at the hands of her birth father. (His wives aided and abetted him, as do many women in this kind of system.) Without a man, without boy-children, women are considered dead-weights that drag fathers-brothers down. They have no rights, no means of sustenance besides prostitution, and still they are punished severely for engaging in that occupation.
Ruth’s battle for empowerment continued throughout her life, and she made some choices that some readers might consider to be sell-outs. I don’t. I hope that I approach my life with the courage, wisdom, and faith that she displayed.