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Girls’ education and empowerment: impact of secondary level schooling on rural women’s lives in Bangladesh

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dc.contributor.author Bilkis, Shahana
dc.date.accessioned 2019-12-01T10:02:00Z
dc.date.available 2019-12-01T10:02:00Z
dc.date.issued 2015-01-26
dc.identifier.uri http://localhost:8080/xmlui/handle/123456789/1399
dc.description This dissertation submitted to the faculty of social sciences of the university of Dhaka in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of doctor of philosophy. en_US
dc.description.abstract This study examines the implications of secondary level schooling on young women’s lives in the rural areas of Bangladesh. The study is set in the context of a significant expansion of girls’ education in the country during the last two decades with an expectation of women’s empowerment through education articulated in various national policies. This study uses qualitative methods to explore the assumed way of empowerment of women through education in rural Bangladesh. In order to examine the impact of SSC-level schooling, this study also focuses on the situation of uneducated women to get a comparative view. The field study was conducted in five villages of Moghia union in Kochua upazila in Bagerhat district of Bangladesh. Under the influence of the British development approach in the sub-continent during the colonial regime women’s issues gradually came up, representing middle-class values guided by Victorian ideals with respect to women’s position in society. Thus, female education and limited freedom became necessary to produce housewives capable of coping with the rapidly industrializing society in undivided India. Hence, female education began to be included in the British education policy and this legacy continued even after they had left the sub-continent. Similar conceptions guided the earlier policies of girls’ education in Bangladesh. Later, a gradual shift in policy was noticed, and from the Fourth Five-Year Plan onwards the issue of bringing women in the mainstream development activities, with the specific objective of reducing gender disparity and ensuring promotion and protection of women’s human rights gained. Girls’ education was seen as instrumental to realising this. World Declarations and goals like EFA and MDGs also made it obligatory for Bangladesh to promote girls’ education with a view to promoting gender equality and empowering women which resulted in a dramatic increase in girls’ enrolment rate at the secondary level. The level of empowerment of educated women has been assessed using Sen’s (1987) theorization of gender and co-operative conflict and its three indicators of their relative bargaining power, i.e., breakdown position, perceived interest and perceived contribution. Another theorization of Kabeer (1993) and Rowlands (1997) about empowerment which analysed different forms of power, including, ‘power over’ (controlling), ‘power to’ (generative), ‘power with’ (collective) and ‘power from within’ (transforming consciousness), has also been used in this study. The findings of the study show that although most women perceived education as something that increased their social dignity and helped them to be self-reliant, an overwhelming number of the educated women considered education only to be a means to raise and educate children properly. Thus, education input did not appear to produce adequate output through the schooling process, which could have enabled women to be aware of their own interest. In contrast, many uneducated working women who had greater mobility were found to have a clear idea about their rights as human beings. The hard life-struggles of the uneducated working women enabled them to act against social norms and values that distort women’s perception about their own interest. This study found that educated women emphasized gendered roles such as better performance as mothers. Many women also echoed some development rhetorics such as national development when they spoke about their perception of education. According to Sen, perceived interest, i.e., how clearly and confidently a person perceives his/her own interest, is one of the main determinants of securing a better bargaining position within the family co-operative. SSC-graduate women were found to be in a dismal position in this regard. Since they sidestepped their own interest and merged it with their families’ wellbeing, they received a worse deal in the bargaining outcome. This weak bargaining power resulted in vulnerable breakdown position of women which in turn undermined their self-confidence to challenge oppressive male authority and acquire empowerment. Men’s attitude to girls’ education was found to be conflicting and shifting simultaneously. Husbands were found to perceive girls’ education as a way to increase social prestige, prepare them to carry out family responsibilities in their absence, and earn some more money for the family in the face of deepening economic crisis. On the other hand, they showed their rigid patriarchal stance regarding the gendered division of labour, women’s mobility, decision-making and access to resources. Another important aspect to note is the contrasting views of husbands and fathers regarding girls’ education and empowerment. While in some cases fathers were seen to be in favour of women’s autonomy and empowerment, hardly any husband seemed to harbour similar notions. A huge majority, i.e., 87%, of the educated women in the study area were found to be unemployed. Only 13% of them were engaged in wage employment, mostly in primary schools. On the other hand, over 45% of the uneducated women were engaged in wage employment which did not require any education, and unsuitable for women of higher socio-economic position. Social class differentiation is another significant factor that acts upon rural women’s work and mobility. Even though in rural areas the level of education was higher in the middle and high income families, they also tended to maintain a more traditional outlook about women than poorer families. Unavailability of jobs suitable for educated middle-class women was another important reason for their low employment rate. In order to find out a way to survive, poor women had to break cultural norms that failed to provide shelter from hunger and other basic needs. Consequently, uneducated poor women enjoyed more freedom of movement and work in rural areas. Thus, having practical experiences of breaking gendered roles and defying purdah for compelling occupational reasons, poor rural women were found to have greater self-confidence and appeared more empowered in terms of control over own lives than those who were educated. It needs further study to assess the significance of education with regard to empowerment among women of different economic classes. However, education offered middle-income families’ women some sort of social dignity. But due to lack of women’s self-confidence, economic dependence, narrow job market and the prevalent social attitude of viewing male persons as breadwinners, this social dignity did not help women gain greater control over their own lives. Thus, educational provisions alone failed to provide women with access to labour market. This in turn limits their self-esteem and confidence --power from within-- the core of the empowerment process. However, education remains a prerequisite for entry into the labour market, apart from the lower segment jobs. Within the pervasive atmosphere of male dominance in the private and public arenas, women have little chance to take decisions regarding themselves. This study found that educated women had hardly any say in decisions regarding their marriage, reproduction, maternal health, mobility, employment, etc. Due to this severe lack of access to decision-making, the incidence of child-marriage is very high in the rural areas. Women’s bodily security and control over the body was found to be severely violated by men. Majority of the women, both educated and uneducated, in Moghia were subjected to physical torture. It was also found that women from poorer households ware more assertive and enjoyed greater freedom than those from comparatively well-off households. Thus, it was seen that the educated middle-class families were more rigid in maintaining patriarchal values and ideologies. Educated girls were seen to lack the awareness of self-interest and self-confidence needed to create a stronger bargaining position, which would enable them to take decisions more effectively. Lack of incorporation of the gender perspective in the schooling system put obstacles to women’s decision-making power through education and hindered their autonomy. Lives of Bangladeshi women are deeply affected by numerous adverse socio-cultural norms which include early marriage with low education, patrilocal residential arrangements, economic dependence on men, unequal legal status, limited access to resources, dowry system, purdah, etc. Interestingly, these adverse norms and systems operate within the family relations by making women internalize their own subordination. Girls develop a weak self-identity because girl children learn from a very early age that they are not permanent members of their parental families and will be sent off to their in-laws’ home after marriage. Early marriage, coupled with detachment from the parental family has a strong adverse impact on women’s self-worth, as it entails insecurity, emotional sufferings and provides a space for the execution of patriarchal subjugation and oppression of women. Most of the incidents of violence against women, including dowry-related violence, are possible due to family support to the perpetrators and social legitimacy to control and punish wives and viewing it as a private conjugal matter instead of an aspect of social gendered relationship. Within such adverse familial situation, it seems difficult for women to gain self-confidence through education that is necessary to enter into the psychosocial process of empowerment. Thus relational empowerment to negotiate gender relations could not develop within the adverse conjugal family atmosphere where unequal power relations were strongly active even after receiving SSC level schooling. Apart from these, lack of women’s political participation is another major factor which deters their empowerment through education. The socially and financially disadvantaged women are far behind men to compete in the election races in national and local levels. There prevails a strong social attitude that politics is exclusively a male domain, particularly in rural areas. The provision of three reserved seats for women in Union Parishads does not appear to be capable of bringing substantial change in the social mindset. However, this provision has an impact as it makes people think and debate on the issue of women’s political participation and leadership role. The overall disadvantaged position of women again is reflected in their obtaining a very poor number of seats in the national parliament, a fact which results in their sheer lack of power to influence and participate in the process of formulating national policies in favour of them. This vicious cycle deters them from political participation which is an important aspect of women’s individual and collective empowerment. Girls’ education alone, without attempting to change this negative social attitude, cannot ensure women’s participation in politics and thus promote their collective empowerment. To conclude, it can be said that there is a gap between the planning of women’s empowerment through education and realistic implementation strategies. Bridging this gap requires assessing women’s practical and strategic needs to achieve gender equality particularly in the rural context through in-depth researches. Within the context of significant expansion of girls’ education in Bangladesh, realistic policy design and appropriate strategies to reduce gender inequality and women’s subjugation through schooling would be a necessary step to transform women’s situations in rural areas. It is even more crucial for a resource -poor country like Bangladesh to make the optimum positive use of schooling by effectively linking the empowerment issues with educational expansion while women’s empowerment is being considered as one of the policy goals. en_US
dc.language.iso en en_US
dc.publisher University of Dhaka en_US
dc.title Girls’ education and empowerment: impact of secondary level schooling on rural women’s lives in Bangladesh en_US
dc.type Thesis en_US


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