Schooling, Gender and Mobility in Nepal: At The Crossroads towards Development?
Nepal is the third poorest country in Asia according to the World Bank’ standards, and the one with a wide gender gap (World Economic Forum, 2013). Therefore, the country has become a priority in the cooperation intervention, particularly in the scope of girls’ and women’ education. With a schooling enrollment tax below 70% and a 10% gap regarding gender, UNICEF has prioritized Nepal as the 25 most needed countries of intervention.
Following a classical approach to development, access to schooling is understood as a basic tool for measurement as well as to promote gender equality, in line with most international programs (UNESCO, 2000; United Nations, 2010; World Economic Forum, 2013). Other critical approaches question currently used global and homogeneous indicators to conceptualize and measure inequalities and its policies, as well as its real scope and impact in the field (Aikman, Halai, & Rubagiza, 2011; Nieuwenhuys, 1996; North, 2010; Shiva, 1989; Unterhalter, 2005).
In fact, schooling in Nepal has been developed hand by hand with the imaginary and politics of capitalist-‐productive development, ranging from the old influence of the British-‐Indian colonial period to the current widespread presence of NGOs (Caddell, 2007). Bikas, and school operating as its symbol, have become a new social distinction in Nepal (Skinner & Holland, 1996), spreading an ideology of modernization and new scales of progress (Pigg, 1992) from a dualist framework: urban vs rural, modern vs traditional, developed vs backwards, new vs old (Fujikura, 2001; Pigg, 1992; Shrestha, 1995). But social categories and distinctions, far from being simply imposed, are negotiated and re-‐interpreted, assimilated and contested by local people (Fujikura, 2001; Harber, 2014; Skinner & Holland, 1996).
At the core of such debates, the paper presents an ethnographic case study among Sherpa in rural Nepalese Himalaya to analyze the relationship between schooling and the production and reproduction of the gender regime (Connell, 1990), as well as the impact of schooling as a tool for development in the village. Results show remarkable discontinuities inside-‐outside school and the reproduction of a symbolic hierarchy of cultural and educational practices, as well as the high value placed on the urban and productive as “educated”, beyond the rural, that is viewed as “uneducated”. In particular, the paper focuses on the findings regarding a particular phenomenon imbricated in school process: the increasing mobility to urban centers despite the poor real opportunities to reach the expectations generated by the school; and its consequences for the configuration of the local gender regime. Exploring particular mobility regimes among young women from rural areas let us know about their experiences and expectations and how the development ideology is incorporated, negotiated and contested through schooling, becoming a powerful tool for identity politics.
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