Empowerment through the lens of rural girls
Empowerment and its dimensions
Empowerment is intrinsically linked to the concept of disempowerment and refers to the process by which those who have been denied the ability to make choices acquire such an ability. In other words, empowerment entails a process of change.
The concept of choice needs to be understood very equivocally to understand empowerment. Some choices have greater significance than others in terms of their consequence on women’s lives. This calls for us to make a distinction between ‘first’ and ‘second’ order choices. First order choices include strategic life choices like choice of spouse, choice of livelihoods, whether to have children and number of children, freedom of movement, etc. These strategic life choices help to frame other second-order life choices, which may be relatively less critical but may be important for ‘quality of life’. Empowerment thus refers to addressing people’s ability to make strategic choices.
The ability to choose is central to the concept of empowerment. The consequences of choice can be evaluated in terms of their transformatory significance. Social structures operate through rules, norms and practices. Changes in the ability to exercise choice can be thought of in terms of changes in three inter-related dimensions that make up choice: resource, agency and achievements. The three dimensions are inter-related because change in one contributes to benefits and changes in the other.
Where girls don’t choose
When it comes to rural girls in India, most often there is a need for programmes on empowerment of rural girls so that they can realise the need to voice their choices and attain their basic human rights like high-school education. The scale and depth of the problem of disempowerment is so deeply entrenched in the rural community that breaking the barriers to empowerment and bringing into play the enablers can take some real investment and workforce. Simple life choices like access to personal mobile phones for digital education and academic excellence can be easily denied because girls’ are rarely educated to make and act upon strategic choices.
Power for change
There are many programmes which target socio-economic and cultural change so that girls can be empowered and take decisions on their health and education. While it is not easy to list such programmes, as there are far too many, old and new, however, it appears that programmes that have the scope for making rural girls technology savvy are few and limited, especially with the lens of empowerment. Engaging the stakeholders like ‘Jeevika’ (the largest Self-Help Group in Bihar) to help empower the rural girls, which is running under the aegis of World Bank and Turn the Bus is working towards an application of simple formula of closing the gender gap in education through technology. These interventions can help bridge the gender gap in education and empower the girls to make their life choices ‘more wisely’, choose to be self-sufficient in the later stages of their lives by choosing to earn a living or even launch their own start-ups. Empowerment therefore is central to human development.