Social Spaces Enabling Girls' Education in India: An Outsider's Study

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Education is viewed as central to improving the quality of life in developing countries. Indeed, two United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) respectively call for every child worldwide to receive at least a primary education and the elimination of the so-called "gender gap," favoring boys, at all education levels. India has been striving to meet these MDGs, and has virtually eliminated the gender gap at the primary level. MDG statistics show, though, girls still trailing boys at the secondary level and a much wider tertiary-level gender gap. This research studies, in a spatial context, a purposefully selected group of students--young Indian women who have been challenged not only by gender but also in some additional social, economic, geographical, or other relevant way. Nonetheless, these students are educational success stories. The four study participants all have been schooled in India through at least the undergraduate level and are graduate students in the United States. The research investigates the specific social spaces, and the settings and processes found in or between these spaces, enabling the participants' educations. The role of patriarchy is also explored. Conducted by an "outsider" American woman, the multiple case study is principally qualitative. Feminism, through a geographical lens, provides the theoretical framework. An extensive questionnaire and in-depth personal interviews have been utilized as the main participant information collection tools. Data collected have been coded into categories used to construct participant education narratives. These narratives then have been analyzed to identify and develop research-related themes for each participant and also cross and collective participant themes. The thematic findings identify a number of educationally enabling social spaces, including home, school, and cyber spaces. Other enabling factors, such as mentors, personal agency, and English language ability are also determined. The research clearly shows the importance of identified social spaces in aiding or hindering the participants' educations. Often, too, both positive and negative influences were found in the same space. Furthermore, the education space has served as a link between the home space and the professional work space, and the participants' educations have resulted in spatial, economic, and social mobility.