Women’s Empowerment and Education: Linking Knowledge to Transformative Action
Women's empowerment is a concept that has acquired substantial recognition in the past decade. However, it is better known among international development organisations, NGOs, and grassroots groups than in academic circles. This article examines the concept of women's empowerment as a foundational element in a theory of social change in which the oppressed must be key actors in the change process. On the basis of empirical evidence, it highlights four dimensions of empowerment: economic, political, knowledge, and psychological. The knowledge dimension is fostered by one of the most respected and universal of institutions: formal education. Yet schools do not always provide friendly or even safe spaces for girls; moreover, the school curriculum emphasises academic subjects and avoids ‘life skills’ discussions. Most successful cases of empowerment through education have occurred in non-formal education programmes that specifically promote critical reflection on gendered social norms and encourage corrective responses. The article argues that the empowerment process must consider the close connection between the private and the public arenas, as the private space seriously constrains women's availability and possibilities for transformative action; therefore, both macro- and micro-level interventions are needed to create a modified gender division of labour. The promotion of agency — at both the individual and collective levels — plays a major role in the development of women's empowerment. Such a process requires the engagement of non-state actors, particularly women-led NGOs. The article ends with challenges for policy.