Ability to achieve freedom: The dynamic role of women’s agency

Pamèlia Rivière:


Mary Wollstonecraft’s concept of “justification of the rights and entitlements” is relevant for making a woman a free agent for her well-being.

Only agents with powerful agency are able to bring about essential changes in themselves, in others, and in society. Indeed, an individual’s capability is linked to income and education.

Regarding hijab, in many of my articles I recommended that not to objectify women, see them as standoffish, who chose hijab, Nikab, or Burqa, as a part of their faith. Women must know clearly the background of hijab, necessity of its use; however, they must not be forced by the state or family; it may be their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters or relatives.

Nobody has right to force what attire women will use/choose in a secular, multicultural country like Bangladesh including other part of the world.

Women are active participants in the process of development, not passive recipients. Agency is therefore important for an individual’s freedom. I strongly concur with Amartya Sen, as he emphasizes the dynamic role of women’s agency. It can enhance women’s well-being and bring about social transformation, thereby playing a significant role in the lives of both women and men.

Sen (1999) argues in his book Development as Freedom that development can be viewed as a course of action that enhances actual emancipation, which people experience with pleasure. Sen’s views on human freedoms in development contradict the traditional focus on individual incomes, growth of GNP, modernization through technology, and industrialization. He emphasizes free and sustainable agency, which emerges as a key mechanism of development (1999.

I argue that education should be a component of development, because the opportunities provided by basic, low-quality education are not conducive to development. Social opportunities in the form of education increase employment opportunities for women, and women must not be inactive beneficiaries of development interventions.

Women’s empowerment is one of the central issues of women’s development in Bangladesh. These important areas need more attention: the factors involved in integrating women into the education system; their land ownership patterns; their employment opportunities; and their access to the labour market.

For an example, following Sen’s roles of freedom, we may look at individual agency to ask if BRAC women get substantive freedom through the present education and microloan systems. It explores two aspects of freedom: opportunity and process. The “opportunity aspect” is important for fostering an individual’s opportunity to achieve results, whereas the “process aspect” is relevant to the effectiveness of the greater freedom of the individual.

Both aspects are interconnected and enhance people’s ability to achieve freedom. Women’s paid work outside of the home, income earnings, literacy, education, and property inheritance rights all have an impact on women’s freedoms and agency. When women are breadwinners, respect, dignity, and changes in distribution within the household enhance their relative position in their families.

In measuring empowerment capacity in women workers, a few concepts are very important, such as fertility rates, job options, income earnings, and access to income and resources. These also have policy implications in terms of establishing women’s rights on gender equity issues.

Thinking the dynamic role of women’s agency, society and its representatives must respect woman’s personal desire,reverence as an individual, free, and human being as she is an agency of a family and a state.

The writer is an Anthropologist and Environmentalist. Currently she is conducting her PhD research in Curriculum Studies and Teacher Development at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto.

This article was previously published on  Jun 1, 2015 in Women Chapter main site.

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