The empowerment of Afghan refugee women through non-formal and informal education: a post-colonial feminist perspective


The World Bank recognizes that women’s empowerment is essential to reducing vulnerability and poverty, and it is a priority development goal (Malhotra, Schuler, & Boender, 2002). In recent years, special attention has been paid to empowering refugee women. Various international conventions, including The New York Declaration on Refugees and Immigrants (2016), emphasize the significance of empowering all refugee women and respecting all these women’s and girls‘ human rights and gender equality (Lakshmi, 2016). Empowerment is often related to various factors, one of the most important of which is education: „Education is a key to all the human capabilities. All institutions and individuals have a responsibility to support education, as key to the empowerment of currently disadvantaged people.“ (Nussbaum, 2004, p. 17)

Due to the high illiteracy rate among refugee women and their limited access to education, the importance of education becomes even more vital for empowerment. Although the impact of education on women’s empowerment and the relationship between education and women’s empowerment have been considered and addressed in recent years both in the global development debate and in the scholarly community in the Global South (Robinson-Pant, 2004), the education-empowerment relationship remains unnoticed from the refugee women’s perspective in the new context in which they have resettled (Klenk, 2017, p. 166). There is insufficient research on how empowerment is introduced and perceived in adult education in groups of displaced people, mainly from women’s perspective (Krupar, 2017). Thus, the perspectives of refugee women are often neglected in the research on empowerment, and their voices are marginalized (Coleman, 2018).

It is key to consider women’s own experiences when defining and studying empowerment. Therefore, listening to women’s voices about their empowerment through education seems to be an essential step.

Hence, this dissertation aims to study refugee women’s empowerment through education in Austria from a postcolonial feminist perspective, taking Afghan women as a case study. More specifically, by education, I mean not only „formal education“ such as „curricula qualifications and teaching-learning requirements“ (UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, 2012, p. 10). But, I also pay attention to non-formal and informal education.

Bearing in mind the paucity of research on these women, which put their perspective at the center of inquiry, my dissertation investigates the following central questions: What are Afghan refugee women’s experiences in non-formal and informal education? How and to what extent do the women perceive their non-formal and informal education experiences as empowering?

I argue that education, especially non-formal and informal learning, is of crucial importance for empowerment for women to make their own life choices.

My dissertation adopts a combination of „focused ethnographic approach“ (Knoblauch, 2001) and biographical-narrative interviews (Rosenthal, 2015, p. 163) to ensure that women’s experiences are placed at the center of research and that concepts can be explored from participants‘ distinctive perspectives (Lenette, 2011).