Revolutionary Struggles and Girls' Education: At the Frontiers of Gender Norms in North-Ethiopia argues that at the base of girls’ poorer performance than boys at secondary school level when puberty has set in, is the “symbolic violence” entailed in sanctioned femaleness. Informed by the modesty of Virgin Mary in Orthodox Christian veneration, it instructs girls to internalize a “holding back” which impinges on her self-efficacy and ability to be an active learner. Neoliberally-informed educational policies and plans which have co-opted liberal feminism also in Ethiopia, do not address “hard-lived” gender norms and the power and domination dynamics entailed when parity between boys and girls in school continues to be the dominant measure for equity. Despite women’s courageous contribution at a literal “frontier” during the Tigrayan liberation struggle (1975-91) where they fought on equal terms with men, and despite the tendency that girls’ outnumber boys at secondary level in the present context, sanctioned femaleness constitutes a “frontier” for girls’ educational success and transition to higher education. In fact, when teaching-learning continues to be based on memorization rather than critical thinking, the very transformative potential of education is undermined - also in a gendered sense.
Thera Mjaaland is a researcher in the department of social anthropology at Addis Ababa University and adjunct associate professor at the Institute for Environment, Gender, and Development at Mekelle University.
Chapter 1. The Politico-Historical Context from the Perspective of Gender Equality
Chapter 4. Learning to “Hold Back”
Chapter 5. Youth Sexuality in the Context of Secondary School
Chapter 6. Negotiating Femaleness
Chapter 7. “Education is the Foundation for Development”
Chapter 8. Revolutions, Teaching-Learning Practices and the Reproduction of Power
Chapter 9. Blaming the Girls
At the frontiers of evolving gender perspectives, Mjaaland poses a central question: to what extent are the Ethiopian government's efforts for boy-girl equality in conflict with hard-lived gender norms, which hinder girls' educational accomplishments relative to boys', and how successful are they? Society frequently blames girls for their lesser academic achievements and lower test scores, perceiving the lack as a personal shortcoming rather than the result of cultural and structural obstacles. Drawing on many interviews with and case studies of secondary students over some 20 years in a northwestern Tigray market town, Mjaaland concludes that supposed gender parity, though desirable, is insufficient to overcome community norms. Educational norms, which often emphasize rote memorization over critical thinking, may further influence girls to hold back and keep quiet, contributing to their diminishing academic successes. Though she stresses the role of education, Mjaaland touches on such related topics as underage marriage, virginity, and urban-rural distinctions, recognizing that economic imperatives may supersede gender opportunities. The many interviews with and case studies of secondary-school boys and girls offer a gold mine of information for researchers. Recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty.