Monique Kwachou is a Cameroonian feminist researcher and writer with a deep passion for education and youth work. She has over seven years’ experience working at the intersection of gender, higher education, and youth development within academia and the NGO sector. She holds a dual honors BSc in Gender Studies and Sociology from the University of Buea, an MA in Education, Gender and International Development from UCL Institute of Education, London, and recently fulfilled requirements for a Ph.D. in Development Studies at the University of the Free State, South Africa. Her research interests revolve around African-feminist thought, engendering, decolonizing, and improving [higher] education for African development. Her doctoral research posited an original African-feminist and Capability Approach assessment of the assumed empowerment of higher-educated Cameroonian women.

Research Abstract

The concerted efforts of scholars, development agents and governments have established the idea that education is both intrinsically and instrumentally good, life-changing, has direct returns, and is particularly empowering for women. The cumulation of these ideas has resulted in the development of societal assumptions that an educated woman is an empowered woman, and the more educated a woman is, the more empowered she will be. In Cameroon this assumption has bred some antagonism directed at ‘over-educated’ women on account of their presumed empowerment. The commonplace use of the Pidgin-English phrase ‘too much book’ or French-slang epithet ‘long crayon’ are often directed at higher-educated women to suggest their being educated is to their detriment. These expressions demonstrate the belief that a certain level of education is deemed sufficiently empowering for women in Cameroon and they risk becoming “too much” if they proceed further. In this way, education for women in Cameroon is seen as acceptable and adding value up to graduate level, at which point it succumbs to a law of diminishing returns.
Thus the widespread assumption (especially by international agencies) of higher education being sufficiently empowering for Cameroonian women generates two problems: 1) it promotes the limitation of young women’s aspirations and, 2) advances an incomplete informational basis for government (and public) judgement of higher education as a response to Cameroonian women’s oppressions. 
This study presents a bilateral response to this problematic assumption women’s empowerment through higher education and corresponding fear of higher-educated Cameroonian women. It uses both conceptual and empirical findings of what empowerment means for women in the Cameroonian context to assess the potential of their higher education to enable them to both consider themselves and be considered as empowered.
Given its two-sided objective and informed also by literature, the study considers Cameroonian women’s empowerment through higher education from both the responses of participants, and an original theorisation of an African-feminist Capability Approach. As a participatory narrative inquiry, the study engaged a sample of 20 Cameroonian women graduate students in the conceptualisation and analysis of their empowerment through individual life-story interviews and via a participatory analysis workshop. 
The data   which is presented and analysed sequentially by way of narrative analysis and analysis-of-narratives   suggests that the assumption of Cameroonian women’s empowerment through higher education is a misconception as the higher education offered to these women lacks the capacity to adequately address the empowerment needs of these women in the face of their multivariate oppressions. The study’s findings point to: the conditionality of higher education’s potential for women’s empowerment; the need for examining intersections in evaluations of African women’s empowerment; and the ways that Cameroon’s higher education can be improved to better enable the plural aspects of empowerment which Cameroonian women have reason to value.

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