Non formal Education and Women’s Empowerment

Formal Education commonly aim at providing learners with skills, abilities and knowledge that make individuals capable of participating in society. The formal educational system focus primarily on individual change in the lives of the learners. Nonformal education and training may – like formal schooling – be used to maintain and reproduce stereotyped gender roles, but can also be used as strategies for promoting empowerment and transformation of oppressive social structures and relations. Nonformal education and training are perceived as particularly significant tools for the empowerment of women in the Third World (Monkman 1998; 500).

Education as a Means to Empower Women

Empowerment consists of various levels and dimensions. In order to be empowered it requires both changes at the individual level and the societal level. We believe that it is possible to empower women, at the individual level. Being able to read and write and gain new knowledge, are important factors that enhance self-esteem of the individual, and is a prerequisite for generating change and empowerment. Participating in education is an expression of psychological and cognitive components of the empowerment process. An educated woman is more likely to send her children to school. This is an illustration of cognitive empowerment because the woman becomes capable of making important decisions about health and educational matters on behalf of her chilren. This illustrates the woman as an active agent, being able to improve and change the life conditions of her children. But it is not enough to challenge structures of gender inequality at societal level. Collective action has a greater potential in creating more widespread change. It can exert more pressure, and being a group gives more visibility and a stronger voice and provide a stronger challenge to discriminatory factors. The collective awareness of their common subordination as women creates a “we”, – a collective identity. Non formal education programmes strive to create a critical awareness of the ideological mechanisms that construct the ideas of women’s subordination as natural. That is why non formal education programmes are particularly significant, because they are based on the active participation of the women. They focus primarily on the local experiences and concerns of the individuals, and thus enable women to formulate collective demands regarding their position as women. An illustration of collective participation and action was shown in the previous section, where a group of women succeeded in getting men prosecuted for wife beating. This case is an expression of political empowerment. The limitations of many non formal/popular education programmes are their inability to link local level concerns with broader policies and practices. They often fail to transfer their success into macro level efforts. Collaboration among organizations is vital to bridge the gap between the micro scale projects and macro scale programmes, in order to get resources from national governments and international organizations, and to exchange knowledge and experiences.But it is not only within the non bformal educational sector that programs exist which try to change status quo. Experimental and consciousness-raising programmes within the formal educational system also exist. The teacher training programme from Argentina mentioned in section eight, aimed at changing the attitudes of teachers, that is, their stereotyped perceptions of men and women. During the programme the teachers became aware of their discriminating behavior. Through the process, the attitudes changed, and participants were determined to change inequalities when returning to their schools. But they faced resistance in their efforts to introduce their new perspectives on gender. Although they faced difficulties, we believe that this is an indication of the individual teachers becoming empowered during the programme, because of their efforts to transmit the new knowledge. But although the individual teachers can become empowered, they can not fulfill their desires and wishes for change, because of the rigid patriarchal structure of the formal educational system. There are too few of these experimental teacher training programmes with the goal of changing the contemporary schooling system. We thus find it important to implement teacher training programmes, in the formal teaching training colleges, that aim at educating teachers at all levels in the educational system to have far-reaching effects. Teachers are essential agents in the socialization process of boys and girls in their function as role models. Already in primary school are girls influenced indirectly, by the teachers’ stereotyped expectations of girls. But if teachers participate in experimental training programmes where they become empowered, they can as important transmitters of knowledge, values and norms empower girls even in primary school. The empowerment of girls may become particularly visible when girls reach puberty (Bonder 1992; 243). Equally important are the effects that teachers have on boys. If boys early in school life are socialized into perceiving girls as equals, these attitudes and values might become naturalized and incorporated into the habitus of the boys. This was attempted in the school in New Delhi, India, as mentioned earlier. Thus, long-term change will only occur if boys and girls, men and women are incorporated and targeted in the change processes. Although teachers might be positive towards creating equal terms for boys and girls, some norms and values regarding gender roles are very hard to overcome. At the end of the teacher training programme in Argentina, teachers discussed, -on the basis of their new knowledge- norms and behavior relating to the labor market. They agreed that competition within professions between men and women is acceptable but women should avoid defeating men. In case of defeating them, women should seek to hide their Satisfaction, (ibid;246). This shows that although equal gender relations might be acknowledged, there are still some norms and values which are so deeply rooted in people’s habits that they are very difficult to transform. This is why it is necessary to start changing attitudes and perceptions early in life.

Conclusion: Education is widely acknowledged as an important means in development strategies to improve conditions and reduce poverty in Third World countries. Benefits of education have for long been obvious, but since the 1970s special attention has been paid to the education of women. Research has shown very crucial benefits of educating girls and women. Decrease in infant mortality- and fertility rates are among the most important results. Furthermore an educated women is more likely to send her children to school, and also acknowledge the special importance of educating her girls. Even though there has been focus on the education of women for decades, women still have unequal opportunities, in terms of less access to and less participation in, the educational system. As a consequence of the low enrollment in schools, many girls and women are deprived of capabilities such as, being able to read and write. The main course of their deprivation and marginalization is due to their gender. Male domination and female subordination is socialized into boys and girls at a very early age. The socialization conceals the ideological mechanisms that construct the gender inequality as natural given. In this way girls are contributing to their own subordination. The origin of gender inequality manifests itself in the family, but is also transmitted and reinforced in context such as the educational system. In many developing countries girls face unequal opportunities even before entering the school. Many constraints, such as the attitudes of their parents, deny their access to schooling. Entering primary school the girls are burdened with more housework and childcare compared to boys. Thus reducing their performance in school. In teenage years, pregnancy and marriage contribute to high dropout rates of girls. Along with these factors the educational system reproduces patriarchal values, norms and gender stereotypes. Thus gender inequality is maintained at all levels in the educational system. The reproduction of the gender stereotypes is transmitted through the curriculum content, which is textbooks and through teaching practices and expectations. Thus, to achieve gender equality in the educational systems various strategies are necessary in order to reform schooling. One of the crucial strategies is the training of teachers. Raising the awareness of teachers’ differential behavior towards girls and boys is important. Unequal relations between men and women are today widely recognized in development discourses. These development approaches to women are focused on changing the institutional basis of gender inequality, in contrast to previous approaches, as for example WID, which did not challenge the basis of female subordination. The key word today in many development approaches towards women is empowerment. One of the first elements in the empowerment process is raising the awareness of women of their own subordinate position. Empowering women is seen as a way to change gender roles and to enhance their capabilities of creating change and making decisions about crucial issues in their own lives. The outcome of empowering women also affects family relations and social relations within a community. This strategy is central in many non formal education and training programmes for women. Being more flexible and based on participation, focusing on women’s own experiences and interests, these programmes are particularly suited in bringing about change, first of all in the individual lives. But they also have the potential through collective action and organization to affect national policies and enable societal change. Though it requires long-term systematic strategies and collaboration between different organizations from various levels in order to generate a thorough and pervasive transformation of society.

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