From Girl’s Literacy to Women Leadership: a Leap Forward?

Recently, the Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, spoke at the event regarding women’s education. In her speech, she thought highly of an international women’s college called “The Asian University for Women” (AUW), located in Bangladesh.

“The Asian University for Women works for the most powerful transformational force,” said Irina Bokova. “Educating girls and women is a force for empowerment, for inclusion, for human dignity, for justice. It is best way to fight poverty and build peace.”


AUW was founded in 2008 with start-up grants from several Foundations. The university enjoys a diverse student population. Among its 600 students from 15 countries, some 50 are from India, with the rest from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Syria and Vietnam and even war-torn Syria, plus exchange students from France and the United States. Most of its internationally recruited faculty members are female. Cherie Blair, former First Lady of Britain, was appointed as the university’s chancellor. The university mission is to cultivate future women leaders, regardless of their backgrounds, through higher education.

“Research shows that when you educate a girl, you have a bigger knock-on effect than when you educate a boy, because there’s a generational impact. A woman who has, at least, a secondary education is less likely to marry young. She’s more likely to regulate her fertility and have fewer children, to get them vaccinated and to understand and follow public health messages. She’s also more likely to educate her own children, in turn,” says Blair.


Despite the whole-women student population, AUW’s uniqueness also lies in its admission process. It combines academic tests and interviews with great emphasize on students’ personal life stories and struggling. Courage, moral outrage and empathy are the three major criteria. According to its executives, that is their own approach to achieve UN Millennium Development Goals on women education.

The AUW is surely a good example of women’s higher education and international education, for Asian countries set more cultural restrictions for women pursuing higher education. It increases the awareness of women’s wellness and values in today’s world, some may even be neglected by women themselves. But to what extent does what they learn in the university change their lives? We do not see how their alumni perform in the professional world and there is no data supporting how this university help improve the quality of women’s higher education. Plus, in order to cultivate more women leaders, should we educate men as well?

To make things worse, AUW is facing financing problems. Since the majority of students are on full scholarships and AUW is currently entirely funded by donations, there always exists the challenge that they may run short of money. But the problems of AUW are more than that. Poor management, frequent resignations from faculty, the complicated relationship with political world, put this good-intention university at stake.

AUW also collaborates with UNESCO’s recently announced new Joint Program with UN Women, UNFPA and World Bank entitled “Empowering Adolescent Girls and Young Women through Education”. We are hoping for a real liberate higher education for women instead of the resurgence of the Feminine Mystique presented by Betty Friedan.


Empowerment 101: the Asian University for Women is educating an alumni of game changers. (2015). The Post Magazine. Retrieved from

Min-sik, Yoon. (2015). ‘Stop asking only women to make compromises’: U.K.’s former first lady urges support for women’s education and professions. The Korean Herald. Retrieved from

UNESCO. (2015). “Educating girls and women is the best way to fight poverty and build peace”. UNESCO. Retrieved from

Wright, Tom. (2012). Asian University For Women Faces Problems and Flak. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Yeung, Linda. (2015). Women Universities Challenges Gender Bias. University World News. Retrieved from

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