Gracious Empowerment?

By Alexandra Rijke

Minor Thesis
Title: Gracious Empowerment? Evaluating the impact the GRACE-network project had on the empowerment of female university students in their stance against Gender-Based Violence.

This minor thesis (click here for the complete thesis) is part of the Research Master International Development Studies at the Wageningen University and Research Centre. The objective of this minor thesis was to evaluate the GRACE-network project. This project was conducted in Irbid, Jordan. The aim of the GRACE-network project was to investigate how ICTs could be used to empower female university students in their stance against Gender-based Violence (GbV). The project was evaluated during four months of field work in Irbid, Jordan. During these four months the women participating in the project were interviewed and a focus group discussion was organized. The women, participating in the project as participants and as researchers, were asked during these interviews what empowerment meant for them, how they had experienced the GRACE-network project, if they felt empowered because of their participation in the GRACE-network project and how their stance against GbV was influenced.

To investigate if the GRACE-network project empowered the female university students in their stance against GbV the theory of De Vries was used. De Vries stated that the development of autonomy is needed for someone to become empowered enough to say „no‟ to the GbV directed towards them. The process described by the women involved in the project as participants, the process described by the researchers and the theory of De Vries were compared in this thesis.

The women aligned empowerment with three concepts, Self-love, Breaking Boundaries and Freedom of choice. Freedom of choice was the description used by the majority of the women, seven out of ten. The changes the women described were that they improved their Self-confidence, improved their Self-love and their Awareness of GbV, (self-)abuse and their own dreams and wishes. The researchers involved in the GRACE-network project reported an increase in Awareness and Self-love as project outcomes, not an increase in Self-confidence. All the women participating in the project stated that their level of empowerment increased because of their participation.

In their stance to GbV most of the women did not increase their empowerment enough to say ‘no’ to the GbV directed towards them. Two women indicated that they addressed the people who were treating them in an abusive way in a direct manner, making it clear they did not accept the violence anymore. The other six women indicated that they had become more aware of GbV and were discussing the topic with people in their environment. They were however not directly saying ‘no’.

This thesis argues that a reason for this outcome could be that the researchers did not directly and consciously address the area of autonomy in the project outcomes reported. This, together with the theory used by the researchers, indicated that there was also a lack of focus on this area during the process of empowerment. This however cannot be stated with certainty and more research would be needed to investigate which role was given to autonomy in the GRACE-network project in Jordan. The outcome of this thesis is the recommendation that if the outcome of more research would be that autonomy was not given direct attention in the GRACE-network project, future GRACE-network projects should give autonomy more direct attention during the process of empowerment. By doing that the researchers may increase the already positive influence of the GRACE-network project on the lives of the women participating.

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