Educating Women for Men’s Sake: Discourses of Female Education in Late Rana Nepal
While the Ranas who ruled Nepal for a more than a century (1846-1951) in general barred their “subjects” from having access to formal education, there was a policy turnaround especially after the assumption of power by Padma Shamsher in 1945. From the erstwhile policy of controlling the access to education, the new policy sought to craft the minds of the masses by providing them “appropriate” education. With this change in policy, Nepali girl/women in principle were able to have access to education. This opened the floodgate and eventually and paved the way for the education of women.
Chiefly through archival research for the period 1933-51 AD, this paper examines the discourses on stri-shiksha (female education) which ensued in the then existing controlled and limited public sphere following the new education policy. The paper argues that the idea of female education befitted the state project of “crafting the mind” of people according to its definition of “appropriateness.” More specifically, there were key concerns that education have no detrimental effect on the “modesty” and “good character” of Nepali women.
The paper begins with an overview of the landscape of female education during the above mentioned period. It then examines discourses of female education that ensured following the opening of education for women. There were multiple views and opinions on the virtue as well as the need for educating women and other related questions e.g., subjects to be taught, merits and demerits of co-education, and so on. An analysis of views from the vantage point of men and women documents the very different views of that time and their rationale. In more specific terms, on the whole men on the surface welcomed the idea of female education, especially given that it was officially sanctioned the autocratic Rana ruler. However, this paper argues that men were also terrified of the potential consequences of educated women. The saw the latter as potential threats to their power and authority. Consequently, while voicing support for the education of women, they sought the opportunity to further “domesticate” the women by engineering the female minds through “appropriate” education. Thus education as a means to keep women in the private sphere in gendered roles of good mothers and wives were a key concern for the men. Women on the other hand viewed education as emancipator and sought to break the chain of confinements within the household. By playing the parity card-they wanted to be equal to men and at par with the “foreign” women. They also wanted be equal partner in the nation building effort and lead from the frontline.