Blog post by Lisa Öhman, intern at Flickaplattformen
This text is based on my final thesis for my bachelor in Development Studies. My thesis is a discourse analysis of texts collected from governmental development agencies, analysing their call on the importance of girls’ education.
During the past decades, gender and education have become central elements in debates about development aid. Today, almost all international development organizations have included a gender perspective in their work. The reason why education for girls and gender equality have become such central parts of development aid can be traced to the many direct effects it has on economic growth and human welfare. It is often argued in development discourses that educating girls and women is an investment that is worthwhile. This view of girls’ education as a tool for development is often described as instrumentalism.
This instrumentalist view on girls’ education has received criticism. The central argument against it is that girls’ education is only seen as being of importance due to its effect on development. I argue that the instrumental theory is flawed, because if it would be proven that it is instead women’s oppression and lack of education that would lead to economic growth, the logic of the instrumental theory would then lead to actions taken against girls’ education. It is therefore worthwhile to consider the moral aspects of instrumentalism.
In my view the discourse on gender equality is an important part of creating equality. The way a problem is formulated affects the actual solution to the problem. We can therefore not only focus on what practically is being done for girls’ education but also why it is presented as an issue in need of a solution. We must also critically scrutinise solutions that are presented in public and academic discourses. If we constantly argue for gender equality and women’s presence in the public sphere in instrumentalist terms and argue that it is important because of what effects it can have, real gender equality will not be reached, as women’s presence only becomes valued when it has a positive effect on others.
By using instrumentalist arguments, women are continuously being told what to do by others than themselves. Instead of being controlled by a patriarchal society where they are told that they should become wives and mothers they are instead being told by development advocates that they should become a part of the economy and strive for employment in specific sectors. We need to focus more on strengthening girls and giving them autonomy to decide what they want to do with their lives instead of telling them how to act. Instrumental arguments creates the image that women’s education is only important when it has a positive effect on development, and education is thus of no use if girls do not use it for something that has an economic or human welfare effect.
In my thesis I found that the most dominant view of the importance of girls’ education was the instrumental one. I wanted to focus on the discourse on girls’ education because it is often viewed as the solution for developing countries that will change everything. One cannot argue with the fact that girls’ education can have a lot of positive effects, but it is also of relevance to analyse why these effects are the main focus of organizations that invest in girls’ education. I believe that the main focus when claiming that girls should be educated should be the rights of the girls themselves – instead of the effect their education can have on their family, community and country’s economic development.
Cover image: Hungerprojektet