Women’s Empowerment

Several of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) deal with the situation of women. The target of Goal 3 is the elimination of gender disparity. Goal 4 seeks to reduce child mortality, and Goal 5 aims to improve the health of mothers. But the empowerment of women and the strengthening of their position in society is the aim of the other MDGs as well. Women play a crucial role in the fight against extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1). Girls and women lag far behind boys and men in progress toward achieving universal basic education (MDG 2). No progress at all can be made in the fight against HIV/Aids, malaria, and other endemic diseases (MDG 6), unless women are included. And without the participation of women, it will be impossible to ensure environmental sustainability (MDG 7).

Women normally have to work harder than men, especially in the countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. They maintain traditional vegetable gardens, raise domestic animals, and do the farming. They are responsible for child rearing, feeding their families, doing the domestic chores, collecting the fire wood, and fetching the water. They supervise the education of their children and nurse them back to health when they get sick. They guarantee domestic stability, taking on any work they can get to secure the family income, more often than not in the informal sector and without the benefit of social security. They do sewing, cooking, hairdressing, or house cleaning, produce and market processed agricultural products and handicrafts. More and more they are finding work in clerical or secretarial occupations or in the service sector.

But despite the important role they play for family and society, in all essential areas of life women are generally at a significant disadvantage as compared with men, whether in terms of education, income, partner choice, inheritance laws, property rights, decision-making processes, community organization, or access to leadership positions in education, business, or politics. The goal of gender equality is far from being achieved both in the public mind as well as in reality. Work with and for women in the interest of “women’s empowerment” will continue to be one of the main tasks of adult education for a long time to come. The task is a difficult one, considering that it involves the calling into question and changing of sociocultural behaviour patterns and rules. The advantage is that all over the world, women play a highly active role in the continuing education sector.

It will take more than just education and training measures, however, to empower women to overcome their education deficits and to develop the self-confidence and initiative they need to take action and assume new roles in society. Before women can gain equal status with men, it will be necessary to secure equal rights on the political and legal plane. This makes women-specific education a political task as well as an educational one. Besides working directly with women, adult educators are called upon to intervene with decision makers on the national and global level. One such advocacy initiative has been launched by a broad group of women’s organizations and networks which have joined together to form the “Women and Gender Constituency”. Explaining their purpose as follows: “We seek to ensure the representation of women’s voices, experiences, needs and capacities, as women are still underrepresented in planning and decision-making at all levels, including Parties and observer organisations to the UNFCCC”, this network participates at all international conferences in order to influence and monitor the adoption of resolutions.

To quote Ana Agostino of the International Council for Adult Education ICAE: “Women’s rights are human rights. No agreement, decision or mechanism on climate change will be effective or successful without the full respect of women’s rights and the recognition of our valuable knowledge”. Alongside her many international activities in the interest of women’s empowerment and gender equality, she is a member of AED’s editorial board. Her contribution on gender equality, climate change, and education for sustainability originated in connection with the UN Climate Conference, Conference of the Parties (COP) 15, which took place in December 2009, in Copenhagen. The project “Beyond Access”, launched in 2003 by Oxfam, the Institute of Education of the University of London and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), has kindly granted us permission to reproduce the article, which originally appeared in the February 2010 issue (no. 24) of the newsletter “Equals”.

A Chilean-born Swedish national, Marcela Ballara is an international advisor on questions of gender and adult education, and a representative of the Gender and Education Office (GEO) of the International Council for Adult Education ICAE. With her long years of experience attending and monitoring the major international conferences to ensure that agendas in every relevant policy sector include women’s concerns and gender equality as a cross-cutting objective, she sees gender equality not only as a question of conviction and good will, but also as a matter of finance.

In a remote prefecture in Guinea “Jeunes Animateurs Communautaires et Incubateurs d’ Entreprises” (AJACIE) is working on a completely different level to help people overcome illiteracy, lack of know-how, poverty, and environmental degradation. Recognizing the key role that women play in tackling all of these problems, the organization seeks to help them learn how to maximize their strengths and take the initiative to change their situation. Alhassane Souare is the coordinator of the organization’s programmes. In his contribution, he lets the women speak for themselves.

In Pakistan, as in many other countries, the status differences that put women at a disadvantage begin already with the school system. Girls are less likely to attend school than boys and tend to leave school at an earlier age. Only supplementary non-formal education campaigns can ensure that any progress will be made toward achieving the goals of Education for All. This section includes a contribution by Fazalur Rahman, Nabi Bux Jumani, and Khadija Bibi, educators at Islamabad’s Allama Iqbal Open University and International Islamic University, who report on the outcome of a study conducted in Punjab to evaluate the extent to which such initiatives have produced the desired impact.


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