Background Gender-related norms and poverty remain important structural barriers to secondary school attendance among adolescent girls in southern India. We analyse how gender norms interact with family deprivation and dynamics to result in girls dropping out of school; we identify the main facilitators of school retention and changes to gender socialisation. Methods Longitudinal qualitative case studies with 36 girls were nested within a cluster randomized trial to evaluate the Samata intervention targeting adolescent girls in Bagalkote and Vijayapura districts in northern Karnataka. We used two rounds of in-depth interviews, conducted in 2014 at a time when respondents were in 8th standard at the age of 13 to 14 and sixteen months later. We combined thematic and narrative analyses. Results Our study found that poverty and socioeconomic realities at the household level strongly affect conformity with discriminatory gender practices such as restricting girls’ mobility. The value placed on education by parents clearly differentiates the regular school goers from those frequently absent and others who dropped out. With active encouragement of the girls’ educational and career aspirations, parents engendered the girl’s agency to communicate openly both at home and at school, allowing subtle changes to gender performance while resisting the pressure of social sanctions. In contrast, where educational aspirations were weak, parents invested more intensely in enforcing correct performance of gender, prioritising her well-being by aiming to secure her future in a good marriage. Among poorer families, girls’ domestic duties came at the cost of schooling with concerns about protecting her sexual purity predominating. Conclusions In contexts where a strong gender ideology of virginity before marriage rules, subtle shifts in harmful gender practices are possible. Interventions aiming to improve education need to target the most deprived families, focussing on trust building through open communication.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
- General Agricultural and Biological Sciences