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Masculinities and femininities

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It is often difficult to isolate individual identity from the larger context of society and structure. Identity, as a malleable construction, seems to be fundamentally shaped by an amalgam of external factors: the family unit, the community, the political economy, the state, etc. What becomes problematic is the conception of the individual self as a tool of these forces, for example when the state assists in the construction of identity in order to reinforce traditional roles as they relate to masculinities and femininities. Thus, notions of gender further complicate the matter as such articulations become directly intertwined with the dominant structure. The two readings discussed below explore these concepts in more detail, drawing attention to issues of education, the role of international organizations, and the interconnection between societal constructions and individual conceptions of masculinities and femininities. Taken together, the authors uncover linkages between gender, education, identity, and structure, and the intrinsic complexities associated with these intersections.

In Degrees without Freedom, Jeffrey, Jeffrey & Jeffrey (2010) attempt to situate the current role of education in the modern neoliberal global economy, going on to discuss the relationship between education, the economy, and constructions of masculinities and femininities. The article notes the paradox of the promotion of education in the face of declining rates of employment, indicating that levels of schooling do not hold inherent value in what the authors deem one of the, "most unsettling paradoxes of contemporary globalization": "at almost the precise moment that an increasing number of people formerly excluded from mainstream schooling have come to recognize the empowering possibilities of education, many of the opportunities for these groups to benefit from schooling are disappearing" (p. 9). More specifically, they point out that this current "educated un/under-employment," affects traditional "gendered conceptions of 'the life course'" (p. 23), acknowledging that men and women may deal with this uncertainty in differing culturally specific ways.

In the wake of the recent recession, this notion becomes particularly relevant as conventional ideas of masculinities and femininities are simultaneously shifting alongside the ever-changing economic climate. Pertaining specifically to ideas of masculinity, the authors observe, "Educated un/under-employed young men characteristically occupy an ambivalent position with reference to hegemonic masculinities: they conform by dint of their education to certain visions of successful manhood while being unable to assume male breadwinner roles" (p. 20), highlighting the intersection between larger structure and individual constructions of masculinities. It will be interesting to watch the progression of such (re)constructions of masculinities and femininities in the face of the current neoliberal market - if unemployment continues to rise and returns on education remain uncertain and variable, it can be assumed that traditional conceptions of gender will continue to evolve.

Also exploring constructions of masculinities and femininities as they relate to the global economy is Bedford (2009) in Developing Partnerships, where she traces the World Bank's shifting development agenda and in-turn its varying incorporation of gender. Arguably the most noteworthy part of the discussion centers on the World Bank's current approach, that "gender equality is good for growth and poverty reduction" (p. 24). Linking gender equity to economic growth as well as to non-market benefits reinforces the interplay between constructions of gendered identity and larger societal structures: one seems to be inherently interdependent on the other. Ideas of masculinities and femininities are constructed here as means in which to achieve a desired end - both men and women must adhere to their heteronormatively prescribed role (as both caretakers and breadwinners) in order to move towards positive "growth." Individual creations and expressions of gender are lost; instead, women and men are paired together as partners working towards the assumed shared goal of economic growth. Again, with staggering unemployment rates and the continued economic downturn, changing notions of gender and associated roles remains significant. The World Bank is one of countless organizations currently advocating for marriage promotion as a means of poverty reduction. It is unclear how interpretations of masculinities and femininities will progress in relation to this, but it can be assumed that a heternormative approach will likely serve to reinforce existing constructions.

The two pieces discussed above delve into the intricacies linking gender, identity, and society, but many uncertainties remain. How is one able to tangibly move beyond such interconnectivity? Does the evolution of conceptions of masculinities and femininities need to occur at an individual or societal level - most likely in tandem, but what actions can be feasibly expected and how can the two be satisfactorily disentangled? Gender roles appear to be concurrently connected to the changing global economic climate - household responsibilities and job market opportunities and the corresponding conceptions of masculinities and femininities are seemingly perpetually intertwined. It will be intriguing to observe how the chaos of the current neoliberal market continues to effect both constructions and deconstructions of traditional ideas of masculinities and femininities. Moreover, the presumable spillover effects from such shifts in perceptions can be expected to have interesting implications for future conceptions of gender and identity.


Bedford, K. (2009). Developing partnerships: gender, sexuality, and the reformed world bank. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Jeffrey, C., Jeffery, P., & Jeffery, R. (2008). Degrees without freedom?: education, masculinities, and unemployment in North India. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Mathur, K. (2010). Body as site, body as space: bodily integrity and women's empowerment in India. In Azim, F., & Sultan, M., (Eds.), Mapping women's empowerment: experiences from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan (pp. 209-233). Dhaka: University Press Limited.

In 1986, the U.S. Army launched a new ad campaign that targeted an audience of people who perhaps felt they were not reaching their full potential in their current situations. Their new slogan, "Be all that you can be," ended up being one of their most successful mottos of all time, remaining the main recruiting tool of the Army for nearly fifteen years. Much like the old U.S. Army slogan, the capabilities approach to gender development seeks to help people, specifically women and girls, achieve all that they are capable of achieving.

By "protecting and enhancing the freedoms that allow for a wide capability set" Unterhalter argues the main idea of the approach "is that what should be evaluated are capabilities, that is people's freedom to achieve what they have reason to value"(Unterhalter, 2007, p.74). This is an important distinction. What sets capabilities approach apart from an approach focused on rights or achievement of basic goods as an end goal is that "capabilities are the opportunities or choices that one values" (DeJaeghere & Lee, 2011, p.29) The breadth capabilities should be all inclusive, especially including "educational opportunities that relate to the multidimensionality of girls lives" (DeJaeghere & Miske, 2011, p.147). Unterhalter borrows from Sen (2003) when she talks about achieving gender equality, education and opportunities, and not simply the outcomes that education can provide (Unterhalter, 2007). These outcomes can vary between gender, class, and ethnicity. It is important to keep in mind that simply because a young girl is provided access to schooling, it does not mean she is given an equal opportunity at an education as a boy her age, or as another girl from a higher economic situation.

Furthermore, if the value of a girl's education is deemed low, then labor will increase in value, which can cause young girls and boys to abandon or be removed from school (DeJaeghere & Miske, 2011). This is a problem because it might "also suggests that other barriers exist within the society, such as job discrimination, that prohibits non-majority ethnic groups from utilizing their education to a full capacity for their well-being" (DeJaeghere & Miske, 2011, p.150). The capabilities approach also is a response to other forms of development theory, such as the human capital approach. Capabilities approach is concerned with making social changes, not simply economic changes (Unterhalter, 2007). It is interested in making women an end to themselves, and not as a type of tool for others to use (Nussbaum, 2000).

The idea of women and girls being an end themselves is echoed in a rights based approach as well. As Unterhalter points out, "Rights are claims humans make because they are human, not because this is efficient or will result in growth," again, trying to problematize a human capital approach (Unterhalter, 2007, p.66). However, as Unterhalter also details, a rights based approach is not without its difficulties. For example, a libertarian perspective on rights would assume a set of rights based on self-ownership, and an obligation from others not to interfere with those rights. Meanwhile, a more liberal view of rights might expect an obligation to deliver an end state (Unterhalter, 2007). To put in more familiar terms for this audience, think about the argument revolving around the educational "rights" of Americans today. There are some who believe the American government is obligated to educate their children, while other believe the government is obligated to let them choose their own method of schooling. Who is right? To look at it another way, do we as Americans have the right to bear arms, or do we have the right to walk in the park without fear of being shot?

Another problem with a rights based approach is whether the rights being discussed are truly universal rights. Do these rights established by Western entities take into account different value systems across all cultures? Unterhalter states that, "The implicit question is how important are culture and history in formulating a theory of human rights and in considering gender equality in education as part of such a theory" (Unterhalter, 2001, p.61). Stop and think about how much difficulty we as Americans have interpreting the rights set out for our country only two hundred some years ago. Now imagine trying to discuss the rights of a culture over one thousand or even two thousand years old. Despite these problems, the rights based approach at least useful in that it moved the discourse away from a needs based approach, signaling a tactical change rather than a philosophical one (Unterhalter, 2007). The key point is that needs are derivative of rights. It might help to think of it this way: by meeting the educational needs of girls, you will fulfill their basic human right to education. If we can do that, if we can satisfy those needs, then, and only then, will they be able to realize what they are truly capable of.


DeJaeghere, J. & Lee, S. K. (2011). What matters for marginalized girls and boys in Bangladesh: A capabilities approach for understanding educational well-being and empowerment. In V. Seeberg & K. Monkman (Eds.). Girls and Young Women's Education and Empowerment in Marginalized Regions of the World (Research in Comparative and International Education, Volume 6, Number 1), (pp. 27-42). Symposium Journals Ltd.

DeJaeghere, J. & Miske, S. (2009). Limits of and possibilities for equality: An analysis of
discourse and practices of gendered relations, ethnic traditions, and poverty among
non-majority ethnic girls in Vietnam. In D. Parker & A. Wiseman (Eds.). Gender, Equality and Education from International and Comparative Perspectives (International Perspectives on Education and Society, Volume 10), (pp. 145-183). Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Nussbaum, M. C. (2000). Women and human development. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Unterhalter, E. (2007). Gender, schooling and global social justice. New York: Routledge.

Masculinity and Femininity

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In attempting to discuss masculinities and femininities and their role within this exploration of gender, education, and development, I became somewhat disoriented within the complications of trying to determine what each of those terms actually means. The fact that I am specifically trying to analyze the very notions of masculinity and femininity within educational contexts made this realization a somewhat daunting discovery. To discuss femininity, one must know what it means and represents, and I realized that I don't really have a solid understanding of the term. I began to question my preconceived notions of femininity and wondered who determines or defines the constructs and characteristics of what I know as femininity or masculinity? Whose perspective should I employ, and what influence does that have in my context and others that influence educational settings. If we are going to consider the role of femininity and masculinity within war torn contexts of the Congo to consider the gender based sexual violence that currently exists within that context, how do we simultaneously address notions of femininity and masculinity in rural, and economically impoverished villages in India? Or for that matter, how do I try to ground such understandings in my own reality and experiences trying to apply concepts of masculinity and femininity in teaching comparatively "privileged" white girls in the United States? It suddenly seems to become a bit of an impossible paradox with little commonality for understanding femininity or masculinity throughout such incredibly diversified contexts.
Thus, it seems that the content and meaning of these terms is fundamentally dependant upon the context, traditions, expectations and intentions within various contexts, cultures, and circumstances. Carrie Paechter highlights this complexity within her work surrounding power and knowledge dynamics involved within learning masculinities and femininities, "it seems clear to me that what counts as masculine or feminine behavior is not only culturally constructed, but varies (often quite dramatically) according to the social setting in which this construction takes place; what counts as masculine behavior in one localized community may be seen as feminine, or neutral, in another" (Paechter 2003, p. 543).
In trying to construct suitable definitions or understandings of femininities and masculinities it can become somewhat paralyzing to analyze something that seems so diversified and ambiguous across time and place. It becomes clear, especially in reviewing the work of Paechter, that femininity and masculinity are not stagnant terms or solidified concepts, but rather, serve as notions of a constantly evolving characterization of men and women (Paechter 2003). However, it can also feel somewhat insufficient to simply say that masculinity and femininity are merely contextualized understandings of abstract ideals along a gender continuum; as the need for understanding feminine and masculine are necessary components of identity construction for ourselves and others, "we are our bodies, our bodies are us, and we cannot totally separate from them... these bodies are, physically and socially, sexed" (Paechter 2003, p. 543). In addition to that, I would add that bodies are also physically and socially raced, adding an additional level of influence and impact. Such intersectionalities of multiple physical characteristics and the integrated power and knowledge embedded within each make a consistent and definitive understanding of masculinity or femininity seem counterproductive, "we are connected to our histories through our experience of participation as our identities are formed, inherited, rejected, interlocked, and transformed through mutual engagement in practice from generation to generation" (Wenger, 1998, p. 89).
Similar difficulty in attempting to concretely define masculinity and femininity as a constant terminology or broadly applicable definition is reflected within challenges of approaches to gender within global, national, and local gender understandings. Katie Bradford's work provides a more global exploration through the World Bank's evolving understanding of masculinity and femininity. While Jeffrey, Jeffrey & Jeffrey and Mather examine masculinity and femininity through a more localized perspective within specific cultural and social contexts and the resulting implications within educational settings.
Katie Bedford argues that the World Bank is attempting to improve approaches to gender equity understandings and awareness of gender relations through shifts in gender policies including increased emphasis on, "working women, caring men, and family strengthening in gender documents" (Bedford 2009, p. 2). The World Bank's shift from policies and approaches emphasizing Women in Development (WID) perspectives to a more recent emphasis on Gender and Development (GAD) approaches is reflective of a global emphasis on the fluidity of masculinities and femininities. The GAD approach, as emphasized in more recent World Bank policies, no longer only emphasizes the impacts on, and from, women in development emphasizes the importance of the role of women and men and the resulting relationships and interactions among the two.
While this shift in emphasis does not come without its own shortcomings, it is seen by many as an attempt to provide a more meaningful, relevant and inclusive means toward gender equality. In this sense, the notion of femininity also becomes more inclusive and broad reaching as it recognizes the insufficiency of defining femininities as only characteristics applicable to the homogenized woman, without acknowledgement of the intersectional ties of masculinity, race, and class. This exploration gains further depth when considering the complications of the 'double burden' on women of production and reproduction, as even the 'triple role framework' that includes the gender considerations and influences in roles of production, reproduction, and community management. It seems that even within these recent shifts to more fully attend to the complexities gender as explored through notions of masculinities and femininities, the enormous weight carried by women remains. This push highlights a need to address the overburdened load carried by women in the household while simultaneously attending to the damages experienced in men's masculinities from such conceptualizations.
While these conceptualizations are addressed within the approaches and policies of the World Bank, they are simultaneously explored in more localized contexts. Although such understandings and norms are necessary and relevant to better meet the needs of men and women as globally constructed ideals, they cannot assume to be stationary or consistent across context, culture, and even across individual experience. Consequently, schools across the globe are wrestling with issues of safety, equity, and achievement differences based on limited gender conceptualizations. Concerns put forth by Jeffrery, Jeffery & Jeffery emphasize the role of power dynamics and inequality to determine the amount of educational 'freedoms' provided to students within and through educational contexts. Through a push to more broadly conceptualize the role of gender within education these scholars help us to prioritize, "education as 'social opportunity', and education as the key tool to individual and social transformation as intimately connected to people's ability to obtain a range of substantive freedoms such as employment, political participation, and dignity" (Jeffery, Jeffery & Jeffery, 2010).
Through an application of Bourdieu's conceptualizations of social capital and cultural capital, these scholars provide an alternative approach to consider the consequences and implications of particular notions of masculine and feminine as a more quantifiable value within educational contexts. The ways in which gender and gender roles are constituted within various cultures and societies determine what is important and powerful, "the claim to posses educated knowledge and skills, or the opposite strategy of distancing oneself from education, is frequently a key means of signaling masculinities and femininities in varied global contexts (Levinson and Holland 1996 in Jeffery, Jeffery & Jeffery 2010). Within this framework it then becomes necessary to complicate and problematize notions of femininity and masculinity that do not necessarily allow for equitable access to "capital" within education contexts as well as within society at large.
When we consider some of the characteristics of femininity present in the context in which Mather frames her work, we see the implications embedded within such differences of definition. This is emphasized within Mather's emphasis on the expectations of a specific culturally defined notion of femininity, "the socialization of the girl child is a complex process, the main purpose of which is to inculcate in girls the appropriate codes of conduct including self-effacement and self denial and to train them to see their life primarily in terms of service to others" (Mather 2010, p. 211). What has become the more stagnant and consistent notion of femininity within this context, as well as the equally influential and relational notion of masculinity, might complicates and contradicts our own conceptions of femininity. Ultimately, these ongoing processes, of redefining and readjusting notions of femininity and masculinity often seem to force a sort of separation from traditional expectation and understanding in ways that are not always easy or comfortable. However, I wonder what parts of the fluidity and evolution of gender conceptualizations could ever be simplistic or definitive, as it is something every human will continually navigate as a physically and socially constructed gendered being?

Bedford, K. (2009). Developing Partnerships: Gender, Sexuality and the Reformed World Bank. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Jeffery, Jeffery & Jeffery (2010). Chap. 1.
Mathur, K. (2010). Mapping Womens's Empowerment. Dhaka, Bangledesh: The University Press Limited.
Paechter, C. (2003). Learning Masculintities and Femininities: Power/Knowledge and legitimate peripheral participation Women's Studies International Forum, 26(6), 541-552.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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.

Open a newspaper, visit a coffee shop or enter a bookstore and you are likely to see the consensus that education, and particularly education for girls, is the key to development. "Educate a girl, and educate the world" we are told, and certainly we want to believe it and do. Corporations eager to present themselves as good global citizens attempt to associate their brand with empowerment by offering consumers ways participate in girls' education. We learn somewhere there is a girl waiting to leave her proverbial shackles behind by entering the classroom, and our purchasing of this bag of coffee, those shoes, that book makes it all possible. The pictures are compelling, the stories of transformation through schooling uplifting, and we sign on our support. If our goodwill and disposable income were able to create empowered, educated girls and developed communities across the global South, one hopes it would have already happened. Yet it hasn't.
So why hasn't schooling, and specifically schooling for girls, been the panacea it seemed it would be? What may make schooling work better for the most marginalized? Would that the answers to these questions were so easily distillable as to fit on the label of socially conscious bottle of water. A closer look at communities around the world reveals schooling to lie at the nexus of widely various historical, economic, material, gendered, cultural and political realities. Academic content, methods of instruction, classroom conditions and levels of security and safety vary significantly. Schooling, we may conclude, doesn't necessarily, automatically create developed communities and empowered girls after all. We begin to re-think our assumption that education is always positive, always opportunity-creating and indeed that schooling for girls in the global South is the answer to overcoming poverty. If expanding education and getting girls into school isn't enough, what are we to do? Those of us interested in social justice and a more equitable world are tempted to despair at the elusive nature of progress.
These are the kinds of questions that led me, a Western feminist educator who has also been a secondary school teacher in Tanzania, back to the academy. Here I propose that rather than writing off schooling as a force for change in the communities and lives of girls in the global South or transferring our hopes to a new purported solution to global poverty, let us instead pause, take the posture of a learner and listen to the histories and experiences of historically marginalized communities to understand schooling's complexities and as a way to see how to best move forward. This kind of engagement is harder than simply opening our checkbooks, asks more of us than choosing a particular brand of coffee and understands there may not be one simple, global fix to complex and varying problems. Postcolonial and feminist perspectives on schooling, gender and development further the conversation. By re-conceptualizing history and placing those whose voices have been historically left out of the conversation back at the center, these frameworks offer ways to rethink schooling and potentially open a future for girls and marginalized communities that may indeed be transformative, empowering. The following accounts of schooling in two communities in the global South illustrate how schooling's historical roots influence its present expressions and offer hints of how we might proceed reflectively, intentionally, toward a more empowering form of schooling.
Frances Vavrus's account of how one community in northern Tanzania has negotiated with varying religious, colonial and postcolonial governmental authorities around schooling reminds us how education is inherently political. Her book Desire and Decline: Schooling Amid Crisis in Tanzania describes how education isn't always intended simply for the betterment of the local communities -- yet these communities are not necessarily passive recipients and can use schooling to meet their needs. Schooling for the Chagga people on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro has dramatically changed shape and purpose over the years. Formal education was originally used for conversion: it arrived with German missionaries in the 1890s and was only for male students to become evangelists and teachers. As spreading a foreign religion was not high on the Chagga peoples' agenda, families initially felt schooling's benefits were quite limited - sending sons to school meant lost labor, after all. Yet as the presence of Europeans increased, Chagga families perceived the advantages of literacy and the status afforded by education in dealing with their colonizers and soon embraced schooling as offering the possibility of self-representation. Missionaries gradually expanded education on Mt. Kilimanjaro to include girls, but for the limited purposes of spreading Christianity, emphasizing hygiene and disseminating Victorian ideals of mothering. Around the first World War, there were divergent colonial and religious notions of what schooling should be on Mount Kilimanjaro: German missionaries who thought it should preserve certain Chagga tribal traditions were replaced by American missionaries who thought assimilation and Westernization would free the Chagga from "ignorance" and cultural practices that stood in the way of "progress". The Chagga people, for their part, did what they could to own schooling for their children by advocating for more government schools and organizing to represent their economic interests by forming a coffee growers' cooperative union. That profits from this cooperative were used to support education suggests Chagga parents found schooling important for their children's futures.
As the political landscape of the 20th century changed from a British colonial authority to a newly independent Tanzania, the Chagga continued to shape their region's schooling by advocating for more schools, the secularization of education, increased access for girls and the abolishment of regional quotas that restricted Chagga students' access to secondary schools. More recently, when internationally imposed structural adjustment programs made schooling in Tanzania more expensive and access decreased, Chagga people, like many Tanzanian communities, turned to private schooling as a means to continue educating their children. Yet paying ever-increasing school fees has not always been possible for families on the margins, and some Chagga parents, like many around the world, have had to make difficult choices about how best to maximize their meager resources by choosing to educate only some of their children and only to a certain level. NGOs , bilateral aid groups and religious communities have stepped into some of the gap on Kilimanjaro, but secondary schooling in particular remains out of reach for many families. Additionally, for those lucky enough to go to school, conditions can be tough, teachers and resources few and the local expressions of a depressed global economy are likely to limit job opportunities education can offer graduates.
We see that for the Chagga, schooling has been and remains a site of tension where identities and the purpose of education are contested, where Western players -whether missionaries on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro speaking the Chagga language or far away policy makers in international bank boardrooms - greatly influence what is taught and to whom. This is but one example of one community in one country on one continent, yet the Chagga people's historical and current relationships with schooling are representative of a myriad of complexities of schooling's place in communities around the world, particularly in the postcolonial global South. Though schooling hasn't always been fashioned to serve their purposes and isn't sufficient to guarantee an opportunity-filled future, Chagga families have continued to value schooling for their children and continually seek to influence and own education on Kilimanjaro. This suggests schooling remains a central strategy in building a better life, in developing individual and communal futures. So we ask ourselves, how might schooling, even with its at times dubious past and circumscribed present, be made to work for the betterment of marginalized communities, and particularly for girls? While there are a great many models of schooling for empowerment being explored, let us look at one.
Switching to another postcolonial context in India, Payal P. Shah describes a school that has made inroads in fostering empowerment for at risk girls. Also a former British colony, India's national education system retains vestiges of its colonial and mission past where Western-model schooling was first implemented to meet the needs of the colonizers. As such, rather than being an empowering, opportunity-creating institution, schooling has often perpetuated and exacerbated divisions and inequalities in India, especially in regards to caste and gender. The KGBV Residential Primary School Program is an effort between the Indian government and the NGO CARE India to meet the needs of the most marginalized girls who may not otherwise attend school due to their class, caste and gender.
Shah cites several innovative features of this school that make it uniquely equipped to serve these girls. First, in addition to emphasizing academics, the program explicitly focuses on building the girls' confidence through emphasizing social, communicative and life skills. This is done in part by shifting the pedagogical focus away from the teacher as experts toward the students as co-creators of knowledge, challenging top-down notions and enabling the students to develop their higher-order thinking skills. These skills will be necessary when they return to confront and possibly transform the realities of their communities. Additionally, the school intentionally seeks to create "space", both physical and metaphorical, for the girls to grow and develop. This is a particularly powerful concept for a girls' school in India given how densely populated the country is, and how some traditional gendered norms limit the opportunities girls are afforded. It is in this space that girls begin to imagine a world in which their places are reconfigured and how they may go about attaining such a place. Finally, as it is a residential school, girls are free from domestic duties and better able to concentrate on their studies and foster deep relationships with their peers and teachers. One girl remarks about her teacher: "(She) is like our mother, she takes good care of us. The other girls, we are all like sisters." Such a model builds a sense of solidarity and collective strength. Indeed, the program exemplifies ways in which schooling may be transformed from its more limited historical models to become a place that fosters transformative potential in girls for their own lives and their communities. The KGBV is a powerful model of schooling where education is owned by and works for the people it seeks to serve.
In Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, Chandra Mohanty affirms "it is the common context of struggles against specific exploitative structures and systems that determines our potential political alliances". Too often, both historically and in the present, schooling has been one of the more exploitative systems, particularly so in the global South. Thus schooling's position as the solution for the problems of global poverty and disempowerment need to be questioned. Nevertheless, the examples from Tanzania and India suggest that, despite its limitations, education remains a critical and potentially transformative component of individual and community development, especially schooling in reconfigured forms that intentionally seek to promote empowerment for the most marginalized. The challenge for those of us who seek social justice and wish to encourage empowerment for girls in the global South is to move beyond simplistic, consumer-oriented fixes and find ways to ally ourselves with those who are doing the hard, transformative work of schooling and development for empowerment. I am convinced that, with supportive solidarity, marginalized communities can find ways to own their schooling toward empowerment.


Mohanty, C. (2003): Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Durham, NC: Duke, Chap 2: Cartographies of Struggle: Third World Women and Politics of Feminism
Shay, P. (2011): Girls' Education and Discursive Spaces for Empowerment: Perspectives from rural India. Research in Comparative and International Education, 6(1), 90-106.
Vavrus, F. (2003): Desire and Decline: Schooling Amid Crisis in Tanzania. NY: Peter Lang, Chap 2: Transformations in Schooling in Northern Tanzania.

I have had the opportunity to look through several articles that discuss gender issues in education within development contexts. These articles bring up some very important issues as well as some critical questions. I would like to take some time to respond to these articles in this blog entry, and create some space for open discussion.

Stromquist-Romancing the State
The first article I read was Stromquist's work on how women use "romancing" to go about affecting change in the state. It appears she comes to this conclusion since women are underrepresented in much of state machinery and dominant political institutions, yet attempt to (naively, she says) change these structures while understanding that these are the very structures responsible for their disempowerment. Through the process of careful persuasion with the enemy-state, concessions can be made which (marginally) make a difference. This argument, however, comes only after a lengthy discussion about the nature of states and the competing "male perspective" and "feminist perspective." I found these sections the most thought-provoking and well written. Her discussion of attitudes towards the state as well as theories regarding state behaviour were very illuminating. It is a shame that when she finally gets around to elucidating her point about "romancing" the state, she uses states' failures to adhere to international agreements as examples for how states fail to implement gender-focused policies. Many states do not have an interest in following normative international agreements as we see so often, why would gender-related policies be any different? Stromquist should have cited evidence of how gentle lobbying has created new laws but simply were not enforced due to socio-political obstacles within a state. That would have been more helpful in framing the debate on how women should work to enact change at the state level. Stromquist further points out five generalizations about educational policy in contemporary states that are important in our analysis of education policy. However, number two stuck out to me as presumptuous if not slightly offensive to traditional sensibilities. I quote it below:
"2. Notwithstanding differences in social class, ethnicity, and religion, the state engages in the sexual conditioning of all women into accepting values of femininity and domesticity, and the educational system serves as a primary channel to perform this function. Sexuality is defined as a male/female process, and in this context sex education plays an important role as a prophylactic device, now targeting stopping the expansion of AIDS. Knowledge pertaining to abortion and masturbation that contribute toward women's control over their own bodies is considered controversial by dominant sectors; therefore, the state through its schools avoids it...The expansion of the educational system, therefore, tends to occur along safe lines: educational programs do not address gender relations in society, do not question sexual stereotypes, provide a very depersonalized sex education (if any), and seldom provide reorientation of teachers, counselors, and administrators. In short, educational programs do not promote empowerment, either on the part of students or for teachers."
Stromquist has done a remarkable job of pulling together all the controversial strands of feminist thought and throwing them together as one broad agenda, to be accepted as if this is what tackling gender-issues is all about. For those of us who are offended that that the author is framing these topics as problems, we simply are left out of the discourse all together. Must all feminists accept a certain perspective on abortion, masturbation, and sex-education? Her linkage is that educational policy does not question pervasive understanding of gender, sex, and acceptable sexual activity, and therefore is not empowerment. The question then is, must we all accept empowerment as the renunciation of traditional views on these topics? It would seem that Stromquist's article is yet another piece of feminist literature that excludes traditionalist voices rather than includes.

Rai, Miske -Mainstreaming Gender
These two articles dealt specifically with methods to prepare, construct, implement, and evaluate public policy with the implications to gender-relations at the forefront of major concerns. This is termed gender-mainstreaming, with its ultimate goal being gender equality in public policy. Miske analyzes pilot projects and programmes, as well as evaluations, that used a gender-mainstreaming strategy in developing-country contexts. Miske points out that the use of this strategy was very effective in illuminating gender-nuances as well as major underlying challenges to gender equality. This emphasis on gender-focused strategy at the program or operational level also translated to the transfer of this data to higher levels, which is critical for public policy investment. This linkage from the operational level to public policy is an important one for any issue, but most especially for gender. Having a framework which by nature will employ strategy and impact evaluation throughout contexts is an invaluable tool for development practitioners interested in critically informing development policy. "National machineries", as Rai argues, are only as effective as they have good information, have close contact with women's groups, and have an established mandate to respond to constituent interests. It is through the organization and strategizing of these machineries that substantive change might occur. In this light, we see how gender-mainstreaming as an operative or programmatic tool is so important to gender equality.

Unterhalter- Ch. 1 Gender, Schooling and Global Social Justice
In this introduction, Unterhalter does a fantastic job of overviewing the history of and movement towards gender-based educational policies and initiatives. Her focus is on how gender issues naturally became implicit in the Education For All (EFA) movements in a post-communist world. The experience of Structural Adjustment and failed economic development spurred new energy into civic, social, cultural, and educational development initiatives. In so much as these rose to the forefront of development goals, gender became part of the focus especially within education. Firstly, access and opportunity to schooling (measured by parity in enrollment) became the way to view gender equality in schooling. Out of this, Unterhalter shows that gender equality took on a dimension of educational quality, and eventually wound up being extended to areas of life outside of schooling. Her overview is very helpful for those interested in the big picture. I found it to be a wonderful assessment of not simply those gender issues experienced in developing nations, but how gender is central to educational policy and broader development goals.

I hope these comments have been helpful or thought-provoking. I look forward to reading peoples' comments, and participating in discussion around these authors and issues. Thanks for reading!

Miske et al. (2010): Gender Mainstreaming in Education at the Level of Field Operations: the case of CARE USA's Indicator Framework
Rai, Shirmin (2003): Ch. 4 Mainstreaming Gender, Democratizing the State?
Stromquist, Nelly P. (1995): Romancing the State: Gender and Power in Education. Comparative Education Review
Unterhalter, E (2007): Gender, Schooling and Global Social Justice. London: Routledge.

The World Bank Group President, Robert Zoellick, visited Turkey in July for the launch of a new initiative called The Gender Certification Program. According to the World Bank's website, the program is intended to "support private sector firms that succeed in promoting gender equality as a business practice" and thus pave the way for equal opportunities in the work place for both men and women. One of the World Bank's concerns is that although Turkey has been highly successful in closing the gender gap in education, less than one-quarter of working-age females have entered the workforce in Turkey.
A 2009 World Bank report purports that "increasing the number of women who are actively employed in Turkey would reduce poverty, increase national economic output, and lead to improvements in social indicators." Zoellick's comments during his recent visit echoed these ideas, noting "The World Bank supports gender equality all over the world" and "gender equality means a smart economy." From these statements, it appears that The World Bank views Turkish women as a largely untapped potential for furthering Turkey's socio-economic development.
These views are largely in line with the Women in Development (WID) approach that has dominated World Bank and other international development policies since it emerged in the 1970's. This approach is primarily concerned with improving access and increasing the participation rates of girls and women in education and the labor force. As such, achieving gender parity in both schools and the labor force is an indicator of national development.
What is relatively new for the World Bank in this initiative is the World Bank's greater emphasis on gender equality, a concept that gained considerable attention through the Gender and Development (GAD) approach to development. The GAD approach emerged in the 1980's in opposition to the WID framework, which, despite its popularity among policy makers, was widely criticized due to its narrow scope and oversimplification of the gender issue and its solutions. The GAD approach argues that the mere inclusion of women in the development process is not a sufficient condition for attaining gender equality. Instead, it contends that social structures create inequality and that these deeply entrenched forms of gender discrimination must be challenged (Unterhalter et al, 2005).
Despite the World Bank's use of GAD terminology, particularly around gender equality, the WID approach appears to be driving its recent efforts in Turkey, this time focusing on the workplace rather than education. To better understand how GAD concepts are able to find their way into development language of the World Bank and other organizations without radically transforming those same policies, it is helpful to look at the core concepts of the GAD approach and consider how they are being defined, measured, and adopted among international development organizations and institutions.
The GAD framework is centrally concerned with the removal of structural barriers to gender equality and women's empowerment. It has made great strides in creating dialogue around the concepts of gender equality and women's empowerment and introducing them into the mainstream development agenda (Kabeer, 1995). However, attempts to conceptualize, define, and operationalize both gender equality and women's empowerment remain illusive (Kabeer, 1995; Unterhalter et al, 2005). The absence of an agreement on what exactly these two concepts mean in terms of development leaves room for various interpretations and jeopardizes the very essence of the GAD approach.
The GAD understanding of gender equality is much more complex than the WID framework and does not easily lend itself to simple definitions, explanations and policies. It attempts to make gender central to the concerns of policy makers through gender mainstreaming while at the same time, avoids offering overly simplistic conclusions and prescriptions characteristic of the WID approach (Kabeer, 1995 in Unterhalter et al, 2005). Unfortunately, the complexity of the GAD approach and absence of a clear definition of gender equality in education make it difficult to track progress towards this goal. In an attempt to fill this void, gender parity, which can be quantitatively measured, is often used as an indicator of or synonym for gender equality. Subrahmanian (2005) shows that although gender parity and gender equality have very different meanings, they both appear on the list of Millennium Development Goals and are often used interchangeably. This confusion further complicates evaluation of the two goals because gender parity is a quantitative goal that requires quantitative measures while gender equality is largely a qualitative goal that needs to be assessed qualitatively. Furthermore, gender parity is only one step towards achieving gender equality in education, and cannot offer a complete representation of gender equality. Because these two concepts have such different meanings, which in turn determine how gender parity and gender equality are measured and evaluated, it is necessary to achieve greater clarification of these terms in order to properly measure progress towards gender equality in education.
Equally difficult to define and measure is the concept of women's empowerment that is at the core of the GAD approach to gender and development. Women's empowerment is a central concept within the GAD framework in which power, or the lack thereof, are of primary concern. As Kabeer (1995) points out, not everyone accepts that empowerment can be defined and, for some, its fuzziness is what gives the concept value and room to breathe. Although many development organizations now claim women's empowerment as their aim, there is still no agreed upon definition of this concept (Murphy-Graham, 2008). In the absence of a clear definition, the term women's empowerment has been overused, misused and is becoming a synonym for participation, which bears a close resemblance to the WID approach that GAD proponents criticized.
In an attempt to provide a clearer conceptualization of women's empowerment and how it might be measured, Kabeer defines women's empowerment as "the process by which those who have been denied the ability to make strategic life choices acquire such an ability," (1995). Even if such a definition is widely accepted, Kabeer cautions that the indicators used to measure empowerment must also be carefully selected to avoid the risk of analysts applying their own interpretations and values to these indicators of empowerment. In order to ensure that indicators mean what they are intended to mean, Kabeer advocates for the triangulation of evidence based upon three inter-related dimensions: access to and opportunities to use resources, agency in decision-making and achievements.
The complexity of the GAD approach and its inability to define its most essential concepts of gender equality and women's empowerment leaves a lot of room for interpretation and poses serious challenges to its intended implementation in the mainstream development agenda. Because GAD concepts such as gender equality and women's empowerment have not been clearly defined, these terms can easily be appropriated by development agencies such as The World Bank to reflect their own ideas and agendas, which are not necessarily GAD-oriented. As a result, GAD goals may become lost in the interpretation of those who appropriate them. Therefore, when evaluating international development policies and programs, it is necessary to look beyond the discourse and carefully examine their content, with a critical eye toward their approach, definitions and indicators.
Taking this into consideration, should we expect any dramatic changes in the institutional mission statements of development agencies or their policies as they take into account new approaches and ideas? Is it fair to blame development agencies for obfuscating GAD and WID approaches in their development agenda when they were never clearly delineated in the first place? As a famous quote by Anais Nin reminds us, "we do not see things as they are, we see things as we are." Finally, to what extent is it even possible to translate such abstract goals of gender equality and women's empowerment into concrete policies with measurable indictorswhile keeping the core of the GAD approach intact?


Kabeer N. (1999). Resources, agency, achievements: Reflections on the measurement of women's empowerment. Development and change, 30, 435-464.

Murphy-Graham, E. (2008). Opening the Black Box: women's empowerment an innovative secondary education in Honduras. Gender and Education, 20, 1, 31-50.

Unterhalter, Challender, and Rajagopalan (Chap 3), Measuring gender equality in education. In Aikman S., & Unterhalter E. (2005). Beyond access: transforming policy and practice for gender equality in education: Oxfam Pub.

Subrahmanian, R. (2005). Gender Equality in Education: Definitions and measurements. IJED, 25, 395-407

Turkey model nation in gender equality, says World Bank head. (2011, July 20) Hurriyet Daily News. Retrieved from turkey-model-nation-in-gender-equality-says-world-bank-head-2011-07-20

The World Bank. (2009). Turkey's greatest untapped potential: women.
Retrieved from

The World Bank. (2011). KAGIDER and the World Bank sign Memorandum of Understanding in Support of Turkey's Gender Certification Program.
Retrieved from

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