produced through governmental programmes, even in ostensibly modern and democratic countries, avoid dealing with such potentially disruptive social modifications.
Subjective changes, such as increased levels of critical understanding, self-esteem and confidence, are crucial for the development of stronger, more assertive personalities. The cognitive and psychological dimensions of empowerment have been attained through access to gender-sensitive materials and teachers in the case of young women in the formal school system, and through participation in various kinds of workshops in non-formal education settings in the case of adult women. On those occasions, significant knowledge and skills are acquired to create new identities and autonomous agency among women, and even to develop a new democratic culture.
Formal education can 'empower' girls, but the concept takes a different form given the age of the students and the institutional parameters in which their learning takes place and in which 'useful knowledge' is defined. Unfortunately, in most nations, very little systematic learning occurs in schools to empower girls from a gender perspective.
At this moment, women-led NGOs, primarily in developing countries, have enabled women to realize the full dimensions of empowerment – not only the cognitive and psychological but also the economic and political dimensions. Though non-formal education programmes cannot always provide the best mix of experiences to foster thorough-going empowerment, the social spaces they create, the activities they promote and the flexibility they enjoy in dealing with new knowledge, and the forms by which it is conveyed, are contributing substantially to the emergence of 'empowered' women as individuals and groups.
Globalization forces today, which position states as competitors in the market rather than as providers of social welfare, may provide disincentives for government to engage in empowering initiatives for women and other disadvantaged social groups. The options left open are neither numerous nor well endowed. It is here that work based on hope, persistence and self-reliance emerges as crucial.
Abdullah, Maria Chin (1999) 'The women's development collective', paper presented at the International Seminar on Literacy for Women's Empowerment in the 21st Century, 10–14 December, Bangkok: UNESCO.
Aksornkool, Namtip (1999) Personal communication, 10 December, UNESCO.
Alvarez, Sonia (1990) Engendering Democracy in Brazil. Women's Movements in Transition Politics, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Bayardo, Barbara (1996) 'Sex and the curriculum in Mexico and the United States: A heavy burden in ignorance', in Nelly P. Stromquist (ed.) Gender Dimensions in Education in Latin America, Washington, DC: Organization of American States, pp. 157–86.