Girls’ Schooling Empowerment in Rural China: Identifying Capabilities and Social Change in the Village

Vilma Seeberg, Kent State University - Kent Campus
ShuJuan Luo


This study is explicitly anchored in an emerging grounded paradigm, the human development capability approach, and proposes its elaboration using empowerment as a perspective, in this case, on the education of excluded village girls. The person-centered development imperative of the empowerment-capability approach provided the conceptual tools that brought together a holistic observation of social location, subjectivities, agency, achievements and transformative change. Seeking to explain village girls' demand for schooling, the work identifies intangible and instrumental capabilities often unrecognized and "their indirect role through influencing social change" (Sen 1999, 296) contributing grounded findings on the concept of empowerment. Findings further show that village girls gained valued freedoms from schooling which affected social changes in gender roles, the fertility and domestic transitions, including re-gendered filial duties, disruption of marriage patterns, as well as accelerating educational attainment and urbanization. The greatest impact on limiting the expansion of empowerment and freedoms for the girls, and hence limiting social justice change, is the linkage between village habitus and, one, the poor quality of basic and junior high education, and, two, the high cost of senior high school, cementing the urban-rural gap and inequality in urban employment. Policy to expand and regulate the quality of vocational secondary schools linked with non-formal skills education would counter the alarming increase in system-wide rural-urban inequalities that disproportionately affect village girls and women, would address pent-up demand constituted of the aspirations and agency of excluded girls like these village girls.