Empowerment, especially of women and girls, has become a central focus of development efforts over the past decade. There are a wide variety of ways in which the construct of empowerment is defined and conceptualized across development efforts. This plethora of meanings has allowed for a multitude of development programs to be labeled as empowerment programs, but has also led to confusion as to what is meant by the term empowerment and what it is that empowerment programs are attempting to accomplish. This study aimed to provide greater specificity about the definition and conceptualization of empowerment within international development education programs, specifically within programs which intend to empower women and girls. By asking professionals in the field of international development education about their experience with empowerment programs, this study helps to clarify the meanings of empowerment for these individuals and to identify the most salient aspects of the empowerment programs with which they work. Twenty one interviews were completed and 32 questionnaires were collected from professionals working in 12 different organizations including non-government organizations, multi-lateral aid organizations, bi-lateral aid agencies (such as USAID) and private consulting firms. Quantitative and qualitative data analyses showed that these development organization professionals conceptualized empowerment along three main themes Agency, with a focus on decision-making; Power relations/negotiations in family relations; and Laws and structures to empowerment. The sub-theme of involving men in empowerment also came out as a critical theme to empowerment. These four themes indicate what the participants feel are the most salient issues in empowerment programming. In general, participants defined empowerment in individual-agency-based terms indicating that their empowerment programs are focusing on a linear progression of individual progress. These four themes indicate a conceptual framework for empowerment which places agency at the forefront with other domains of empowerment being addressed separately or at a later time. The focus on agency may, in the short term, allow empowerment programs to address larger numbers of individuals and may indeed provide a building block for empowerment, but may also limit organizations' conceptualizations of empowerment as well as reduce the possibility for transformative change in the lives of women and girls. The theme on power relations and negotiations in the family highlights the complex nature of family hierarchies and the shifting nature of women's roles within them. The findings indicate that these participants view empowerment programs addressing the constraints women face from other women as important and in some situations more important than the constraints from men. Future research into this area may allow for these complex power dynamics to be addressed in a manner that reduces any possible negative effects on women while increasing their status and bargaining power within both the male - female hierarchies as well as the female-female hierarchies.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2013. Major: Educational Policy and Administration. Advisors: Dr. Joan DeJaeghere, Dr. David Chapman. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 178 pages, appendices A-E.
Hegeman-Davis, Raya G..
Conceptualizing empowerment in international development education.
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