Comparative Analysis: Bangladesh Ganokendra programme and Mahila Samakhya Programme in India.

The two cases chosen for this comparative analysis, the Bangladesh Ganokendra programme and the Mahila Samakhya Programme in India were set out to address the despairing combination of illiteracy, poverty and gender imbalances, by focalizing on poor women who leave the education system due to all sort of circumstances (for example arranged marriage at a very early age) and in an environment that normally undervalues them, leaves them voiceless and vulnerable to poverty. Both programmes share a high level of success that stems from the implementation of a community participatory process and the implementation of informal education settings with high community involvement. However, the differences from one to another are not small; the involvement of civil society and government actors, the socio-cultural context and the way each project tackled the issues demonstrates how two successful projects can achieve their aims through different strategies and contexts.


Ganokendra Project, Bangladesh

“Ganokendra is a literacy-based poverty alleviation initiative with special emphasis on women’s empowerment and on gender as a cross-cutting theme in the rural context.” However, Ganokendras centres were open to men and women alike, and were based on tackling poverty alleviation in general while gender empowerment was seen to come naturally as a consequence.   Bangladesh has over 130 million inhabitants, of whom roughly 45% live below the poverty line, poverty being wide spread among women.” (Alam, 2006a). General poverty alleviation and literacy strategies were seen as the most successful means to address gender issues.

The Ganokendra Project is an NGO initiative carried out by the Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) since 1992, which started focusing on providing post literacy education in rural areas. Their approach was based on a series of household and resource identification surveys that assessed the situation and needs of the poor and the women in the community. During this consultation time “clientele groups come to a consensus regarding the objectives and functions of the Ganokendras and also regarding their management and operation.” (Alam, 2006b). The consensus required by the community approach required flexibility to allow that each Ganokendra decide their priorities and activities depending on the local needs and interests. With time, the education process showed similarities among the centres, such as their links to local NGO’s that provided skill-based training and/or micro credit.”(Alam, 2006a)

Mahila Samakhya Programme.

The Mahila Samakhya Program is a government initiative (started in 1988 to achieve the goals of the 1986 education policy) that aimed to provide educational opportunities to women “as a concrete programme for the education and empowerment of women in rural areas, particularly of women from socially and economically marginalised groups.”(Minsitry of Human Resource Development). The MS programme was part of a political agenda that saw women’s empowerment as “the most critical precondition for their participation in the education process”. It was based on a national policy that recognized the need to address traditional gender imbalances in women’s access and achievement of education. The programme saw women’s empowerment through literacy as a means to strengthen citizenship and participation as described by Stromquist (2006). It also saw literacy and education as the route to breaking up social caste rules that marginalize women and keep them in poverty.

Similarly to the Ganokendra project, the Mahila Samakhya Program addressed the literacy, poverty and gender issues with a community approach that took into account “women’s concerns and problems as articulated by them”. However the activities of the MSP centred on addressing women’s rights and equality issues. “To acquire empowerment, women must occupy an autonomous space with a clear political project.” For both projects, literacy becomes the main way to successfully tackle the problem, but the difference is that since its independence, India, has more actively worked from public policy towards education. The Mahila Samakhya Program, for example, was located under the “Department of education and not in the Women’s Development or Rural Development ministries” (Jandhyala, 2003). while the Ganokendra project was lead by an NGO working within Bangladesh’s “Development Plans and its Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS)” (Alam, 2006a)

Women and education

Both projects have similarities with regards to women’s education that are key to their success; both understand the problem as a combination of illiteracy, poverty and gender unbalances. They share a non-formal education approach with literacy and critical literacy as the means to achieve their objectives, both projects understand that for non-formal adult education to be successful it should be innovative and contemplate the communities needs and finally both shared the need of permanent program that not only addressed the literacy aims but also permanent learning activities that kept developing other skills as well.

The formal education system that is “hierarchically structured, chronologically graded ‘education system’, running from primary school through the university” (Smith, 2001).is not adequate to address the needs of people living in this circumstances. The projects analysed here required an informal education or non formal education approach that contemplated the “Relevance to the needs of disadvantaged groups; concern with specific categories of person; a focus on clearly defined purposes and flexibility in organization and methods.” (Smith, 2001).

Both long service programmes interacted with gender-education perspective shifts as is highlighted in the Recoup Working Paper. For example, early gender writings omit the analysis of “the position in society of women in relation to that of men” (Colclough, 2007). In a way both projects address shifts in perspectives about women’s education that could be summarized in two streams: a) the search for an understanding of roles and motivation that inform gender equality in education (Lind, 2006) b) the importance of women’s participation focusing on the “the claiming and use of public space and power” (Stromquist, 2006).

The first and most significant difference among them is that the MS programme is highly political and is primarily gender orientated, seeking women’s empowerment through active citizenship, a key difference from the poverty alleviation orientation held by Ganokendra centres that aimed to empower women primarily towards subsistence activities. It is not surprising that a programme lead by government had a stronger political agenda and saw women’s empowerment as the level of women’s participation in the political system, however as all political interactions are based on power struggles, the work in this direction ended up with a more aggressive gender rhetoric. It focused on empowering women to break the very culturally embedded caste system. This more confrontational aspect is exemplified with the case study about the community where women addressed the problem of alcoholism in their community by taking on the illegal alcohol store.

The Ganokendra Project, was less political and the women’s empowerment rhetoric less confrontational. The project had a community approach lead by an NGO that reached consensus via a gender aware literacy programme and was not exclusive to women in relation to the poverty alleviation approach. This approach to empowerment lead to achieving more balanced roles within the household without confrontation, but through gender cooperation. Women gained the respect of men by showing that by studying they could also contribute to the household livelihood. This aspect is exemplified in the case study where husbands in a community felt proud about their wives and helped them to build better projects.

The strengths and limitations of the two projects.

Ganokendra projects had from the onset a conciliatory approach in nature that seeks consensus and sustainability from its very early stages. Its strength is to reach high levels of commitment from all actors involved, i.e. NGOs local authorities, and community members. In terms of gender approach another strength lies in its ability to embrace the gender issues as an integrated, conscious and organic process that brought both men and women to develop a more balanced and respectful relationship. The long-term approach played a crucial role in promoting ownership and a reliable strategy for constant development and permanent learning. The main limitation was that it involved a time consuming process whereby achieving commitment of all actors was slow and difficult to apply in many communities and contexts.

The strength of the Mahila Samakhya Programme was that it successfully linked public policy to cultural change. While allowing society participation the project became very successful at breaking the barriers within the caste system and empower women trapped in poverty, illiteracy and social stigma. However the political dynamics of the programme were more conflictive in nature and for women to sustain this sort of pressure can be very stressful and create a feeling of attrition for the women of the programme, which, if not properly supported can undermine the long term objectives and jeopardize the results.


The selected cases on this analysis of non-formal education covering basic literacy and post literacy curricula within a community based approach are the examples of effective ways to address the needs of poor, illiterate women from different angles. There are good lessons to be learned and good insights from both projects to generate awareness and sensitivity on what is needed to create meaningful change.

The lights and shadows from both approaches, are highly influenced by contextual and cultural circumstances that should be taken into account in design and implementation in this sort of programmes, however the combination of the study of these two projects shows that there are common ground on both community approaches like: the importance of conducting participatory research, the building towards sustainable long-term approach, and the key aspect of strengthening literacy programs with a post-literacy curricula based on local interest from where positive contributions can be exploited and a knowledge network can be developed.


Alam, K 2006, ‘Ganokendra: An Innovative Model for Poverty Alleviation in Bangladesh’, International Review Of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift Für Erziehungswissenschaft / Revue Internationale De L’education, 3/4, p. 343, JSTOR Arts & Sciences IV, last viewed: 10/02/2014.

Alam, K 2006b, ‘Ganokendra: An Innovative Model for Poverty Alleviation in Bangladesh’, DVV International Publications, Number 63;[] last viewed: 10/02/2014

Colclough, C. (2007) Global gender goals and the construction of equality: conceptual dilemmas and policy practice. In: Gender Education and Equality in a Global Context: Conceptual Frameworks and Policy Perspectives. Fennell, S.; Arnot, M. (Eds). Routledge, London, UK 51-66. ISBN 978-0-415-55205-9 (paperback), 978-0-415-41944-4 (hardback), 978-0-203-93959-8 (electronic)

ICT4D (2006) ICT4D Guyana National Strategy Final Draft [Online]. Government of Guyana, Gerogetown. Available at (Accessed 01 Jan 2014).

Jandhyala, K. (2003). Empowering Education: the Mahila Samakhya experience. Background paper for the Education for all global monitoring report 2003/4: gender and education for all: the leap to equality; [] (last viwed: 10/02/2014)

Lind, A 2006, ‘Reflections on Mainstreaming Gender Equality in Adult Basic Education Programmes’, International Journal Of Educational Development, 26, 2, pp. 166-176, last viewed: 10/02/2014.

Minsitry of Human Resource Development, “MAHILA SAMAKHYA PROGRAMME: Genesis” (last viewed: 10/02/2014)

Smith, M. K. (2001). ‘What is non-formal education?’, the encyclopaedia of informal education. [ last viewed: 10/02/2014]

Stromquist, NP 2006, ‘Women’s Rights to Adult Education as a Means to Citizenship’, International Journal Of Educational Development, 26, 2, pp. 140-152, last viewed: 10/02/2014.

Unterhalter, 2003; Education, capabilities and social justice, Background paper for the Education for all global monitoring report 2003/4: gender and education for all: the leap to equality [ Last viewed: 10/02/2014]

Bangladesh, Education, Ganokendra, India, International Development, Mahila Samakhya

Mariano Gutiérrez Alarcón

This is Mariano's Blog, here is a compilation of all my interests, as eclectic as they are, my main intention here is articulate them all in one place, and a better platform to show my work and my thoughts freely.

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