Women's Empowerment and Force Migration
This visual educational ethnography sought to understand women’s empowerment with Somali women who participated in non-governmental organizations’ (NGO) adult educational programs in Dadaab, Kenya. Dadaab is home to the largest refugee complex in the world, with five sprawling camps and over 250,000 Somali residents as of February 2017. Women’s empowerment is a driving force behind educational programming in international development worldwide. Given the growing global migration crisis, this study analyzes responses to forced migration in Dadaab in the form of educational programs that aim to empower women and that are provided by NGOs. I analyze how women participants in educational programs experienced and conceptualized empowerment related to their involvement in the adult, non-formal learning environment. Using innovative visual and educational ethnographic methods, this research seeks to answer the following questions: How is empowerment interpreted, internalized, (re)appropriated, or contested by women learners in NGO educational programming in Dadaab? How do women participants in NGO programs interpret empowerment in their daily lives? How does their participation in NGO-led programming, as a social process, develop these experiences of empowerment, if at all? I conducted a visual educational ethnography of empowerment in educational programs, drawing on data collected in June - August 2014, May - June 2015, and April - June 2016. Ethnographic methods situate NGO educational programs and empowerment goals to capture and record women participants’ voices and experiences. What occurs in the classroom is linked to and reflects field workers’ and participants’ regular daily habits, including power relationships and the use of the term “empowerment” in their lives and work. Visual tools circumvent the traditional research gaze from outside to allow a multi-vocal analysis of videos of learning environments and women’s autophotographic descriptions of lived experiences of empowerment. I found that women interpreted, internalized, (re)appropriated, and contested empowerment by describing their experiences of surviving and attempting to thrive in the camps. Women’s interpretations of empowerment centered on improving their lives and the lives of their family members and required NGO support, contrary to field workers’ goal of decreasing refugees’ dependence on organization-provided services. Both challenging and reinforcing gender roles, women identified ways in which they are powerful, including making household decisions, persuading community members to change harmful practices, and being skilled producers of goods for sale. Field workers’ experiences and explanations help explain the systems in which women’s empowerment operates within Dadaab, particularly considering contradictory goals of service provision and ending dependency on NGO programs.