Education, poverty and "purity" in the context of adolescent girls’ secondary school retention and dropout: A qualitative study from Karnataka, southern India

Satyanarayana Ramanaik, Martine Collumbien, Ravi Prakash, et al. PLOS One, 2018; Read the full article here

Gender-related norms and poverty remain important structural barriers to secondary school attendance among adolescent girls in southern India.

This paper presents findings from research that analyses how gender norms interact with family deprivation and dynamics to result in girls dropping out of school; identifies the main facilitators of school retention and changes to gender socialisation. The research comprised longitudinal qualitative case studies with 36 girls who were nested within a cluster randomized trial to evaluate the Samata intervention.


  • 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.

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.

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