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Empowerment, literacy, and community organization: A case study of self-help women's groups in rural Nepal

Sushan Gautam Acharya, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This exploratory study, conducted in an integrated watershed management project in rural Nepal, was intended to explore elements that empower women as a group. The study also explores the contributions of functional literacy to the empowerment process. Experiences of five different mothers' groups from both Brahman and Gurung backgrounds informed the understandings presented in this study. The women's experiences are different, partly due to cultural differences. Open-ended interviews, document reviews and observations are the main sources used to identify empowering factors. Major factors which contribute to empowering women as a collective group found in this study include both programmatic and non-programmatic interventions. This implies that looking at empowerment of women in developing countries through one lens and drawing conclusions on that basis is premature. Women's lives are influenced by political, social, cultural, economic, and educational situations. Therefore, to consider one component in isolation is inappropriate if the objective is to achieve a multi-faceted goal like empowerment. The study implies that empowerment, which occurs at different levels at different points in one's life, is a fluid process. Finally, several issues deserve further attention. Functional literacy, assumed to be thought-controlling and mechanical, can contribute to the empowerment process. Functional literacy, which promotes knowledge and skills needed for the learners' daily lives, raises motivation and participation in actions. Engaged in action which makes their daily lives easier and given opportunities, women find it useful to explore other possibilities to improve their situations. This trend keeps women engaged in action, reflection, and dialogue, enhancing their confidence, self-esteem, and ability to take charge of their situations. Areas where the study showed investigation is needed include: how can positive socio-cultural traditions be built up to strengthen community-based women's groups? What roles and attitudes do men hold regarding women's participation in individual and community development processes? How can raising men's awareness about and participation in family health and sanitation issues be incorporated into the programs? How can a multi-caste group function as a cohesive unit? And how much do issues of caste, as opposed to economic conditions, affect the process?

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education|Womens studies|Environmental science

Recommended Citation

Acharya, Sushan Gautam, "Empowerment, literacy, and community organization: A case study of self-help women's groups in rural Nepal" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9920579.