Is There a Model for Women’s Empowerment?

Start date: 1 March, 2016 End date: 14 April, 2016 Project type: Master's Thesis (prior to 2018) Project code: A29489 Countries: Bangladesh Institutions: Roskilde University (RUC), Denmark Grant recipient: Afif Hossain Total grant: 29,000 DKK



Gender inequality is a global problem, particularly in the global south. Despite considerable national and international efforts coming from both practitioners and the academic world, women’s empowerment remains a topic for debate. Due to its elusiveness, practitioners and policymakers have employed varied approaches and methods in order to attain a positive transformation. In this quest I have discovered an unique project in the rural areas of Bangladesh known as ‘Gono Kendra’ (GK) to the local people which in Bengali means ‘People’s Center.

The thesis provides enough evidence to prove the project has made some positive changes in the lives of the marginalized people, particularly the women in Bangladesh. In the study, I have attempted to identify the obstacles that hinder the process of women empowerment in the GK. To develop a holistic and deeper understanding of the case and of women’s reality, I have adopted an ethnographic field study in two rural areas of Bangladesh. Several interviews were conducted and complemented with participative observation during the data collection process.

In order to, answer the research question, a theoretical framework is developed in three layers. Firstly, contemporary and relevant concepts related to the idea of ‘power’ are discussed as it is central in defining ‘women empowerment’. Furthermore, a definition and conceptualization of the notion inspired by Naila Kabeer’s research in the field has been presented. Finally, Kabeer’s conceptualization on women empowerment is complemented by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of different ‘forms of capital’ and applied later on to the case of village women in Bangladesh, who are living in a resource constrained environment. Bourdieu’s perspective in the study was beneficial to assess the extended value of the resources that Kabeer proposes as a precondition for ‘women’s empowerment’.

The analysis is written in the form of a narrative to encourage and engage the reader in visualizing the reality of women’s life. During the research, I have identified several obstacles that women have already experienced and probably will occur again in future in the process of change. Finally, the findings conclude that some of the barriers were psychological while others were related to the impact that their surroundings had on them.