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Approaches to women’s economic and knowledge empowerment through non-formal education in Bangladesh and India

Tue, April 16, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Bay (Level 1), Bayview B


Within the last fifteen years, South Asia has experienced remarkable economic growth. Despite these gains, the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report shows that Bangladesh and India have both declined in gender parity in educational attainment. Out of 144 countries ranked on educational attainment in the Global Gender Gap Report, Bangladesh came in at 95th in the year 2006, and dropped to 114th in 2016; likewise, in the same years, India fell from 102nd to 113th. Within international education development, there is a concern with expanding education to school-age children, meanwhile, millions of older female youth and women in this region are left out. Non-formal education creates a pathway by which women can develop literacy, professional skills, self-esteem, and a sense of belonging they were not able to acquire earlier due to age and social restrictions (Romi & Schmida, 2009). Although previous scholarship either praises or critiques the loose borders of non-formal education, little has been done to examine the nuanced ties between this form of education within the lens of knowledge empowerment.

This paper intends to examine two questions. First, what are the differences in approaches to women’s non-formal education among international organizations working in South Asia? Second, how do international organizations use non-formal education to promote women’s economic and knowledge empowerment? Adopting Stromquist’s (2015) concept of knowledge empowerment, this research expands upon the term to further define it as a woman's ability to acknowledge, understand, and challenge how gender norms are pervasive throughout their society and lived experiences; their ability to turn knowledge of their subordination into action; and their ability to utilize action to promote gender awareness and equality.

The methodology for this research operationalizes several indicators related to women’s economic and knowledge empowerment to examine BRAC in Bangladesh and GAP Inc.’s Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (P.A.C.E) program in India. A content analysis derived from annual reports, external evaluations, and other relevant documents was used to understand how and if these programs’ use of non-formal education was effective in supporting women’s economic and knowledge empowerment.

The conclusion raises several questions for the future of non-formal education as a sustainable form of schooling. First, can we rely upon non-formal education to be a site for all forms of empowerment? Second, should we have the same expectations of non-formal education interventions as we do with formal education? In order to improve non-formal education practices, quality, and research, there is a crucial need for substantial financial investment by state governments and the international community. Although the value of non-formal education is highly contested, its potential to engage and empower civil society, and disenfranchised communities could outweigh the risks.


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