Panel 27

Including the Voice of Women in Educational Development

Panel organiser: Suzanne Adhiambo Puhakka, Agora Center, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

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Within the research on education, gender and development, as in development studies in general, the strand that gives emphasis for peoples’ ‘voices’ has intensified its status, drawing from the critique of policy level decisions without involving those who are targeted by these policies. At the core of this criticism are concerns that, in the planning, implementation and assessment of global policies, too little attention is paid to the notions of social justice and equality of opportunity and treatment. Furthermore, understanding of dynamics and underlying power relations in any human endeavour, including education, tend to be ignored. Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen (2005, xiii) has commented that the denial of ‘dialect’ from the common people is elitist, cynical and tends to encourage impassivity; for him, ‘participation in arguments is a general opportunity, not a particular specialised skill (like composing sonnets or performing trapeze arts)’. Yet the challenges for evidence-informed policy making, and consequently also for research, are whose voice, lived experience and story are of relevance to be told and heard, and how voices are represented and listened to.

In this panel we will discuss research approaches that have proven potential to provide tools for listening to women’s voice and meaningfully engaging them in educational research concerning their experiences, and ways to integrate their ‘voice’ in educational development from planning and management to implementation and evaluation. By giving the ‘voice’ for the women, our aim is to take ‘into consideration not only the global benchmarks, but also, and most importantly, the situation on the ground’ (Lehtomäki, et al., 2014).

Approved abstracts Panel 27

1. The role of research in examining implications of gender differences in education.

Author: Suzanne Adhiambo Puhakka (University of Jyvaskyla, Finland)

In this context, gender refers to culturally developed mannerisms that define the personalities and traits of femininity and manhood in societies. Gender differences are evident in education globally, there is a developing understanding that there are psychological differences in the way females and males think in any given setting and this affects how they perceive education and how they are influenced by the education they receive. Additionally, assigned roles within their environments may also affect their education. While we admit that this will always be the case, it is important for educationists to understand why the gender differences exist and the implications for these differences with the aim of creating equitable educational outcomes. Conventionally, research has been seen as a way of gathering evidence-based information on various topics however more recently research evidence is used to provide practical solutions to societal challenges. This paper builds upon a research framework whose aim is to examine how research can be used to better understand the causes and consequences of gender disparity in education.

Key words: Gender differences, Education, Research

2. Including marginalized women through research engagement

Author: Elina Lehtomäki (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)

Key tasks of sub-Saharan higher education are to enhance the human capabilities and reduce poverty. While gender disparities still remain in the enrolment of students and the number of women in academic positions, these differences are more evident among population groups that experience marginalization in education since early years. This paper provides insights into how women with disabilities studying in higher education – one of the poorest and most marginalised groups in society – construct their agency, perceive their roles as models for others and advocate for social change. The evolvement of agency is analysed in light of the capabilities approach across research on women with disabilities in sub-Saharan African higher education are presented. The potential of research engagement, with the foundational idea that research is conducted with persons involved and targeted by development policies for social change, is proposed as a strategy to further enhance the emerging capabilities among women with disabilities in higher education for promoting sustainable social change.   

Key words: equity, inclusion, marginalisation, higher education, women with disabilities, sub-Saharan Africa

3. Empowering teachers-as-researchers: Experiences from women teachers in a collaborative action research

Author: Said Juma (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)

Traditionally, women, in Sub-Saharan African context, have always been regarded as inferior and dependent to men. Women’s voices are hardly heard in planning, management and implementation of economic, development and academic issues. Using data collected through interviews, the researcher’s and teachers’ self-reflective journals, and reports from collaborative action research projects conducted in two primary schools in Tanzania, this presentation shows the commitment and active role played by women teachers in making their projects successful. The findings show how the women teachers successfully assumed most of the roles in their projects and how they managed to find time for their projects amid their heavy teaching load and family responsibilities. These women teachers also raise their voices to recommend strategies for promoting the implementation of inclusive education in their schools through collaborative action research as a continuing professional development model. These findings provide insights into how empowered women teachers can contribute to implementation of national policies and improvement of educational development.

Key words: women teachers, collaborative action research, inclusive education, educational development, Tanzania.

4. Examining female agency: Epistemological and ontological considerations

Author: Mari-Anne Okkolin (University of Jyväskylä, Finland and Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice, University of the Free State, South Africa)

More than twenty years ago, Shulamit Reinharz (1992) remarked on how Western feminists were criticised for not studying third world women (ethnocentrism) and for doing so as outsiders to those cultures (colonialism); she also stated how feminists studying women in cultures other than their own were criticised if they accepted that culture’s way of subordinating women (misogyny) and if they repudiated the culture’s subordination of women (ethnocentrism again). Overall, she concluded, feminists doing cross-cultural research seem to confront two competing sets of ethics: respect for women and respect for culture. Still today the question remains the same: how are we as researchers to respect both women – all of our research participants, for that matter – and culture at the same time.

The debates concerning the individual – society, agency – structure, macro – micro dualisms are at the core of the social and human investigations. To elaborate the above question further one may ask, how we are about to understand these foundational aspects of social reality ontologically and epistemologically, are and what kind of methodological implications they have in conducting research on women and culture.

This paper draws on the findings of a research on women in Tanzania. In the paper I examine the concept of female agency and illustrate the adaptation of the concept in analytical phases of the research process. In doing so, I wish to highlight the importance of acknowledged reflexivity and relationality of knowledge construction.

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