The goal of this paper is to discover the link literacy has with the process of empowerment. My research question, How does participation in a functional literacy program contribute to a woman empowering herself? came from the work I have been doing for the last twenty months in Nepal. As a project coordinator of a women’s literacy program, I have often wondered what changes for rural Nepali women after gaining some basic literacy skills.

In order to answer my question, I went right to the source. Two colleagues of mine went out and conducted five focus group discussions in two districts of Nepal. Twenty-seven women participated in the discussions. These women completed a basic literacy course in May 1996, and eight of the women had been interviewed the year before by a co-worker.

For these discussions I developed a questionnaire based on 1996’s. In these discussions we were looking at several dimensions of empowerment and the influence literacy skills had on those areas. They include mobility and visibility in their communities; decision-making about educating their children, especially their daughters, and spending income the women have earned; and group participation. As a researcher I was also interested to find what the women thought the word educated meant and whether after six months of literacy training they thought they were educated.

My findings support that, yes, indeed, literacy does contribute to a woman empowering herself. In Nepal the role of women are changing, and women have begun to empower themselves. Empowerment is a lifelong process, and I conclude that the changes for the women we interviewed will be minimal, but the changes for their daughters will be much greater.


Education | Inequality and Stratification | Politics and Social Change | Women's Studies