Educational aspirations and gender equality: Pathways to the empowerment of girls in disadvantaged communities in north and South Sudan
Sudan is one of the countries with a large number of people who move around the country for safety and better living conditions due to conflicts and the long lasting war. These people are referred to as Internally Displaced People (IDPs), and most of them live in rural areas. The war in Sudan has led to socio-economic deterioration, and has negatively affected social services such as health and education, particularly in the IDP camps. As a result, children's access to education and the quality of education remain a great concern. Educational challenges include poor infrastructure, lack of facilities and teaching-learning materials, over-crowding and shortage of trained teachers. Illiteracy rates are higher among women, and the drop-out rates are higher among girls. It is believed that traditional socio-cultural practices are barriers to girls' access to education in this country. In light of the above, this study investigates factors which contribute to girls' construction of educational aspirations in the IDP camps of North and South Sudan. The girls' educational aspirations are explored in relation to gender empowerment discourses in order to gain an understanding of how gender empowerment is perceived and implemented by young females as they move between the school and home environments. It analyzes the impact of socio-cultural factors on girls' educational aspirations, perceptions and self-esteem in order to understand the significance of education within a gender empowerment framework in the lives of young girls 10 disadvantaged communities of Sudan. Through the lens of the Capabilities Approach and various Feminist views, the study explores how gender discourses in education are understood, and the extent to which they contribute to building girls' opportunities and capacities in the local context. The study provides an analysis of the girls' opinions of themselves, and the influence of socio-cultural factors on their inspirational plans and expectations. This study employed a qualitative case study design. Various qualitative data collection methods which include qualitative Life History Interviews (LHJs), In-Depth Interviews (IDIs), Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and non-participant observations were used for triangulation purposes. Data were collected from two schools in IDP areas in North Sudan, Khartoum State and in Juba, South Sudan. The target groups were girls in Grades 6, 7 and 8. The teachers and girls' parents in the IDP communities were also involved in the study. The findings of this study indicate that the girls' educational aspirations are built around knowledge, agency and capabilities which appear to correspond with girls' empowerment and self efficacy. However, there a number of traditional socio-cultural practices which . seem to have a negative influence on girls' educational aspirations, and they tend to reinforce gender inequality and stereotypes in different ways. These practices are rooted in the patriarchal nature of the Sudanese society, and the manner in which children are socialized. Girls' educational aspirations in such contexts are subject to the life challenges that they experience in their environment, such as poverty and their perceived low socio-economic status at home and in school. This study concludes that girls' educational aspirations and perceptions are constructed and shaped within the gender role socialization and the traditional or patriarchal social system in Sudan. The home and school environments in disadvantaged communities of Sudan appear to reinforce gender inequality in the manner in which parents and teachers treat children. The entrenched socio-cultural practices and pressures seem to impact negatively on the school girls' educational aspirations, expectations and self-esteem. The research provides a number of recommendations which aim at bridging the gender gap in school and at home, in order to support girls' equal access to education. It recommends free gender biased school and home environments which provide equal education opportunities to both boys and girls for socio-economic empowerment.