Girls and families: Reflections from the field
Changing gendered social norms in Rwanda: Expectations versus reality for girls and their parents
Two of our country research partners reflect on families’ attitudes towards girls’ well-being, education and empowerment. We ask: how can GAGE research help support parents to tackle gendered social norms to ensure support for lifelong learning and well-being?
By Roberte Isimbi, Managing Director and Senior Consultant, FATE Consulting Ltd; and GAGE senior researcher, Rwanda
As Rwanda strives for an equal society, social norms and expectations are changing. In the past, parents believed sons were more valuable than daughters because the investment in a girl didn’t benefit her family from birth but that of her future husband. However, when parents make decisions for their children’s future, and opportunities are limited, they give preference to their sons. Depending on the circumstances, parents might not realise that they are discriminating against their daughters.
One example is Mukamana*, a mother of three, including an 11-year-old daughter, and two sons, one older and one younger than her daughter. Mukamana lives in Musanze District, in extreme poverty and she ekes out a living doing farm labour. Over time she became exhausted from her paid work and was unable to do the household chores, and so she made her daughter drop out of primary school to help around the home. “It’s because she is a girl,” Mukamana said. Mukamana let her son continue schooling because he could not give her the support she needed: “it is not socially acceptable for a son to do the household chores in the way that it is for girls,” she said.
While Rwanda’s political, policy, legal and institutional frameworks are supportive of girls’ education and well-being, there is a pressing need to raise awareness of the cultural barriers and how these slow progress towards equitable rights. Positive parenting meetings are conducted at a village level but these are unstructured programmes implemented differently across the country. GAGE can help can by identifying successful programmes which tackle broader social norms to achieve positive gender outcomes for adolescent girls and their communities.
*Name has been changed
Changing parents’ attitudes towards girls' education in Nepal
By Anita Ghimire, Director of Social Research, NISER; and GAGE senior researcher, Nepal
Nepal has achieved gender parity in primary education, reflecting changing attitudes among parents towards the value of their daughters’ education. However, such attitudes vary widely along the lines of ethnicity, geography and income quintiles, and contribute to the continued drop-out of girls at secondary level.
Given that a daughter’s upbringing is specifically aimed at producing a good daughter-in-law, education can reinforce this. Parents largely consider both the economic and social costs of educating daughters but the overarching belief is that educated girls make better mothers.
“Yes, if my daughter-in-law is educated, she will be a good mother;” but this might not always be what people need: “I don’t care if she is educated, I need a daughter-in-law who helps me with the household work”.
Sadly, careers and well-being for girls are not yet taken seriously. Careers are considered unimportant because there is a perception that a women’s income is for meeting her ‘womanly cravings’, which in reality is largely never the case. In some cases, marriage costs grow in line with girls’ higher education due to the dowry system.
Often in our field work, we find parents fearing that educated daughters may act indecently, bringing physical danger and shame:
“Usually uneducated ones prefers to wear simple clothes while educated ones are more fashionable and show off their body. Yes, they show everything. If a girl dresses sensibly nothing shows, so, rape will not occur. They wear pants that are so tight. They show-off their thighs.”
We need to address this fear and convince society about the economic benefits of girls’ education to ensure families are supportive. One suggestion is the use of role models – sharing stories of educated girls who have gone onto successful careers to counter parental fears of indecency. Additionally, girls should also be encouraged to plan their educational pathways and learn to negotiate in the household.
The GAGE programme can help build knowledge on what works – and what doesn’t work – when it comes to working with families to support girls’ education and tackle discriminatory social norms.