Rethinking Empowerment: Gender and Development in a Global/Local World

By Jane L. Parpart; Shirin M. Rai et al. | Go to book overview
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Education as a means for empowering women
Nelly P. Stromquist

Education has often been seen as one of the keys to empowerment. This chapter presents the concept of empowerment from an educational perspective, namely, how it has been applied in formal schooling with young students and in non-formal education programmes, with mostly adult populations. It offers a wide scope, appraising efforts in various parts of the world, particularly in Asia and Latin America a reflection of the existing literature, which is often available only in the form of conference papers or institutional reports. As we explore the applications of the empowerment concept in the educational arena, we consider the objectives it has sought, the forms it has taken and the instructional modes it has utilized. This chapter also presents and evaluates several case studies of educating for empowerment.

Revisiting the concept of empowerment

The concept of empowerment has special resonance within the women's movement today. Although its origins are unclear, the evidence points to an Asian rather than a Western inception, perhaps best reflected in the publication by Gita Sen and Karen Grown, Development, Crisis, and Alternatives, widely distributed at the Third World Women's Conference in Nairobi in 1985. An exhaustive interrogation of the ideas and actions in the USA's feminist movement reveals no such concept in almost forty years of the movement's efforts to reframe and advance the condition of women in society (DuPlessis and Snitow 1998; see also Ware 1970). Contrary to popular belief, the concept of empowerment did not formally originate with Freire. His ideas of conscientization are totally compatible with the notion of empowerment, but conscientization (or deep awareness of one's socio-political environment) is really a precursor to the development of empowering skills and feelings. In fact, the word 'empowerment' still has no fixed translation in Spanish, some preferring potenciamiento, others poderío, and yet others the neologism empoderamiento.

At times the concept has been used in an all-encompassing manner that has amounted to co-optation. For instance, one can find in the educational literature claims that attending classes is 'empowering', that story-telling is 'empowering',


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