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Title:Local voices challenging global campaigns: Re-thinking childhood, agency, and girls’ education in northwest Pakistan
Author(s):Rahman, Fauzia S.
Director of Research:Herrera, Linda
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Herrera, Linda
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Dhillon, Pradeep; Dressman, Mark; Ali, Tariq
Department / Program:Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership
Discipline:Education Policy Studies
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Muslim girls
children and social media
children's agency
child rights
international development
schooling and conflict
Abstract:International development discourses and policies that center girls’ education are heavily influenced by U.S. foreign policy priorities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) West Asia, and South Asia regions. Muslim girls growing-up during the “war on terror,” have been especially subject to discourses and policies that stem from U.S. geopolitical goals and ambitions in the region. Nowhere is this more true than in the northwest region of Pakistan where Pashtun children, and particularly girls, have been at the center of counter-terrorism strategies as policies that consistently celebrate children’s “voice” and empowerment. Muslim school girls’ in particular are supposed to exert their “agency” for the purpose of fighting Islamist militancy. The story of Malala Yousafzai is the most known expression of this global phenomenon. The aim of this study is to construct an evidence-based understanding of girls’ education by raising questions of children’s agency. It draws on the story of Malala and juxtaposes it against Pashtun children’s perspectives of schooling in times of conflict. The purpose is to situate educational interventions in the lived experiences and needs of students and their communities. To this end, the research questions are as follows: What is the relationship between geopolitics and girls’ education? How have policies and discourses derived from international development shaped views about Muslim girls and their education? How is the story of Malala connected to these two questions? The research takes a critical globalization approach to girls’ education and Pashtun children, and is divided into two phases of research. The first phase combines the life history method with critical media studies to study Malala’s biography and the factors that gave rise to her career as a social media child activist and international spokesperson for girls’ education. The second phase of research combines critical ethnography and children’s ethnography to explore questions of Pashtun children’s agency in three different schooling settings in Peshawar, Pakistan. This exploration problematizes the translation of Malala’s story as a model for children’s participation that can be exported around the world by global advocates for girls’ education fairly wholesale. This is further illustrated across all three schooling contexts where the relationship between geopolitics and girls’ education increases Pashtun children’s vulnerabilities. The voices and stories of Pashtun children raise questions about the structures of power that dictate why, how, and when they engage in debates on their education. As children growing-up during times of war and instability, their communities live under the constant threat of school-related violence, poverty, ethnic profiling, and gender discrimination. The findings show unequivocally that Islamist militancy and geopolitical conflicts cannot be fought by Pashtun children. This idea that all the region needs is to give children more voice is not only harmful but can be deadly. Global advocates and development “experts” can no longer afford to ignore the host of issues that surround international development discourses about Muslim girls’ education and Pashtun children that continue to inform global and local education policy. If they are truly interested in using Muslim children’s experiences of schooling in conflict to inform debates on girls’ education there is an urgent need to move beyond Malala’s story. A more complex understanding of the “unheard” situations, struggles, and needs of Pashtun children will help in creating healthier and safer schooling environments for children living in conflict. This study creates space for these “silenced” perspectives waiting to be considered in debates about their education.
Issue Date:2018-11-27
Rights Information:Copyright 2018 Fauzia Rahman
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-02-08
Date Deposited:2018-12

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