306 Research Portfolio Post #4: Abstract Draft

Development agencies and international organizations construct female education programs as unquestionably good solutions to issues in developing states.  Though there is much written about how the women in these programs make sense of their “empowerment”, the concept of “empowerment” remains ambiguous.  My research extends current understandings of “empowerment” by examining how college women who work with female education programs make sense of “empowerment”.  Specifically, I research the question “How does She’s the First construct “empowerment” and to what extent is that understanding shared with participants?”  Using discourse analysis of social media campaigns and interviews, I research how individuals take up a uniform discourse and make different sense of it.  I examine literature from developmental, feminist, and educational schools of thought regarding “empowerment”.  I argue that women understand “empowerment” differently even when international organizations transmit a uniform narrative of the benefits of educational development.  This research is important because it questions the overuse of “empowerment”.  It has larger implications for developing future international education programs that take on a more dimensional view of power structures.

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  1. International development organizations present female education programs as perfect solutions to developing states’ challenges, and existing literature examines the “empowerment” of women in these programs, but the definition of “empowerment” remains ambiguous. My research extends current understandings of “empowerment” with an analysis of the organization She’s the First. Using discourse analysis of social media campaigns and interviews, I compare the organization’s construction of “empowerment” with its volunteers’ shared understandings of the concept. I argue that women have diverse understandings of “empowerment” even when international organizations communicate a uniform narrative. This research confronts the overuse of “empowerment” and challenges international education programs to use a more dimensional view of power structures.

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