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Family Empowerment: Changing Opportunities in Education and Employment for Women in South Asia

Varuni Ganepola (PhD), Associate Professor in Psychology, Asian University for Women


The family is a central institution in South Asia. In the recent past, there have been many organisations advocating for change for women. Some of these countries include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan where there has been dramatic and rapid changes in the situation for women. A central concept in the current research study was ‘family’ since this is where women and men negotiate how to adapt to and manage change. The context of change is prevalent predominantly in women’s education and employment and research shows that families have both benefitted from these changes as well as faced challenges. A three-year study was conducted in the above countries from 2013-2016. Utilising interview data from over 111 families and survey data from over 3000 individual men and women, the study documented how these opportunities and changes are perceived by families and how women and men negotiate these changes and experiences in the context of the family.

The study sheds insight on how structural and macro-level changes translate into changes in attitudes, behaviours and relationships and micro-level dynamics. Overall findings show that there is a shift in perception among women and also men, towards education and employment of women. There was also greater awareness on injustice and inequality for women. The reasons for promoting women’s education and employment, remain intriguing. The most positive finding of the study is that even though change is slow, it is, gradually, taking place.

One of the common findings from all four countries was that cultural pathology, i.e. restrictive norms about family honour and shame; gender role expectations; and controlling the freedom of women, particularly their freedom of movement, education and employment: and unsupportive social, economic, and politics structures (lack of resources; poverty; early marriage; poor work force participation; violence faced by women etc) continue to impede women’s chances and opportunities for change. The study also looked at how women especially, manoeuvre these impediments and negotiate change. The study contributes to the theoretical understanding of the sociology and psychology of change, gender and family: our findings could improve the way policies and programmes on gender are developed and implemented.



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