My dissertation research is about microfinance programs and women's empowerment in China and I found Kabeer's and Murphy-Graham's readings were really helpful for me to develop a better understanding of empowerment and the way of measuring it. Empowerment, though hard to be defined clearly, is often assumed to be an automatic outcome of microfinance. I find GAD approach can provide effective approaches to identify assumptions like this and provide an approach for strategies.
According to Peet and Hartwick (2009), GAD adopts Marxist analysis of social classes and feminist analysis of gender relations. It focuses on "empowering" women in order to change gender relations, and it argues that the division of labor between males and females is one of the major factors which determine gender relations. Vavrus (2003) states that this theory draws on a holistic approach to development and demands attention from political, economic, institutional, and organizational perspectives to examine patterns of discrimination in local communities. In critique of capitalism, patriarchy, and racism, GAD employs multifarious approach to distinguish key weaknesses of intervention policies and measurement strategies. At the same time, it also provides an approach for strategies. It promotes women to be engaged in society, and encourage women to be active agents of change instead of passive recipients of development assistance. The articles for this week put more focus on the critical analysis of measurement of women's empowerment and gender equality in education.
Kabeer (1999) analyzes the understanding of empowerment through indicators of resources, agency, and achievements. There are many interesting and inspiring concepts in this article, and in this response essay, I would like to reflect on "qualifying choice" (p. 440). She argues that sometimes women "choose not to choose" (p. 440) the benefits that they deserve and instead they voluntarily give them up to their male family members. It is referred as "altruism" caused by unequal intro-household relations and unbalanced power distributions between male and female family members (Nussbaum, 2000, p. 64). Kabeer (1999) points out that some behaviors of women indicate that they have internalized their socio-cultural status as less valuable. Subrahmanian (2005) also comments on the naturalization of different gender roles between men and women, and states women take domestic unpaid work at home voluntarily because of the social structured labor division and asymmetric power distribution between men and women. This reminds us of the complexity of power relations which are not merely manifested through agency and power, but also through whether the choices they make are based on their "critical consciousness" (p. 441). This concept is referred as "cognitive empowerment" by Stromquist (1993) as cited by Murphy-Graham (2008), and it is considered as important in the beginning phase of empowerment process. Related to the concept of choice, Kabeer (1999) also advocates differentiating decision-making responsibilities, which I think very important because in many contexts, the hierarchical distribution of decision-making responsibilities is a result of the naturalized unequal gender relations. For example, in many households, women have decision-making power only on things like "what to eat for dinner" or "what to buy for the kid". Regarding big decisions like making purchase of livestock or household furniture, it is usually men who make the decisions.
This argument of "critical consciousness" in Kabeer (1999) corresponds to Murphy-Graham (2008) which claims that education can empower women by widening their scope of knowledge, improving their self-value, and provoking their consciousness of gender equity. This article adopts the definition of empowerment (a process to "enhance women's capability for self-determination", Kabeer, 1999, p. 462) and the analytical framework (resources, agency, and achievement) proposed by Kabeer (1999). Murphy-Graham (2008) emphasizes that education is considered as potential catalyst which can facilitate empowerment, but access to education does not necessarily lead to improved self-determination, and the content and context of education must be taken into account. Gender roles can be shaped, reproduced, and enhanced in school settings through various ways, such as hidden curriculum, and daily encounters with peers.
Subrahmanian (2005) talks about the "social construction of gender identity" (p. 399) and the meaning attached to being a woman or a man in a certain context. Masculinity is highly emphasized among boys in school, and they tend to be socialized toward aggression and toughness; girls, in contrast, just try to be attractive at school as sexual objects instead of as agents. I think the self-identification and self-representation of boys and girls at school are extremely important because it is a powerful gender ideological power which plays important role on gender parity and equality in education and in their future career as well. Schools can construct and reproduce gender inequalities, but education has the potential power to change the stereotyped gender identity at school, but it has to develop some necessary programs to address gender-related issues, such as gender-sensitive educational plans and curricula, to facilitate this change.
These articles provide some insights on my understanding of the methodology that should be employed for intra-household relationship analysis and women's empowerment measurement. Due to the complicated struggles among family members over resources and opportunities, merely using statistical investigation sometimes is not sufficient to dig out the underlying negotiation process between men and women, so researchers should explore women's experience and perspectives through qualitative studies as well. Murphy-Graham (2008) is a good example of a qualitative study on women's empowerment and it yields valuable findings which would not be obtained if quantitative methods were solely employed. In contrast, Aikman and Unterhalter (2005) admits that qualitative methods can present a deeper understanding of gender inequality, but merely qualitative analysis fails to portray a broader picture of the problems, so quantitative study is also needed. Therefore, I am considering conducting a mixed-method study for my dissertation which will focus on evaluation of microfinance programs and women's empowerment in China.
Aikman and Unterhalter (2005) critiques on the current measurement of gender equality in education through "gross enrolment ratios (GER) and net enrolment ratios (NER)" (p. 60). These statistical data can only tell us how many students are registered in school, and how students are disproportionate between girls and boys, but it cannot tell us anything about how children perform at school, and how is their attendance to class. Subramanian (2005) deepens a human rights approach to promote an understanding of gender equality in education as the right to education, the right within education, and the right through education. This approach can cover aspects of access to education, content of education, and outcomes of education, so it provides a more comprehensive analytical framework for gender equality measurement in education.
Both Aikman and Unterhalter (2005) and Subrahmanian (2005) mention the importance of clarifying the difference between gender parity and gender equality in education. Gender parity is just the first step towards the measurement of gender equality, and it just indicates "formal equality" (Subrahmanian, 2005), such as the aforementioned statistical GER and NER. The measurement of gender equality should cover more than numerical indicators. It also approaches to the asymmetric power distributions and the relational dimensions between men and women. I totally agree that it is extremely necessary to have a clear distinction between these two concepts, because the confusion of the two may bring misguidance to gender studies, and it is particularly detrimental for the measurement of gender equality.
I highly enjoyed reading these articles, and I was particularly inspired by the linkage among these studies. Putting these articles together presents a clearer picture of what really matter in measurement of gender equality in education.
Aikman, S., & Unterhalter, E. (2005). Beyond access: Transforming policy and practice for gender equality in education. Oxford: Oxfam.
Kabeer, N. (1999). Resources, Agency, Achievements: Reflections on the Measurement of Women's Empowerment. Development & Change, 30(3), 435.
Murphy-Graham, E. (2008). Opening the black box: women's empowerment and innovative secondary education in Honduras. Gender & Education, 20(1), 31-50.
Nussbaum, M. C. (2000). Women and human development: The capabilities approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Peet, R., & Hartwick, E.R. (2009). Theories of development: Contentions, arguments, alternatives. New York: Guilford Press.
Subrahmanian, R. (2005). Gender equality in education: Definitions and measurements. International Journal of Educational Development, 25(4), 395-407.
Vavrus, F. K. (2003). Desire and decline: schooling amid crisis in Tanzania. New York: Peter Lang.