How do Mothers Perceive their Ability to Influence their Daughters’ Education? A qualitative study of mothers’ capabilities in three rural communities of Punjab, Pakistan
Girls’ access to education in Pakistan is an ongoing challenge, with a greater percentage of girls currently not attending school than boys (ASER Pakistan, 2019b). Existing research, which is primarily quantitative, has highlighted the positive influence of mothers on their daughters’ school enrolment (Faize and Dhar, 2011; Khan and Ali, 2005). These findings, first, reveal the significant role mothers play in their daughters’ education. Second, they highlight the need to develop a deeper understanding about the underlying processes through which mothers are able to play this role. To achieve an in-depth understanding of these processes a qualitative perspective has been adopted drawing on Sen (1993, 1999) and Nussbaum’s (2001, 2011 a & b) notions of capability and agency. Capability in the focal context is defined as mothers’ freedom to acquire educational opportunities for their daughters, and agency as their capacity towards achieving these goals. These theoretical concepts are operationalised by evaluating mothers’ aspirations regarding their ambitions for their daughters’ education, and actions to demonstrate their capacity to fulfil these. By exploring mothers’ aspirations and their actions in support of their daughters, it can be elicited whether they have the capability (freedom to achieve) and agency (the capacity for action) to shape their education. By so doing, the conditions that enable mothers to help their daughters to pursue education effectively can be uncovered. Based on the abovementioned theoretical concepts, I developed and conducted semi-structured interviews with mothers and their family members from thirty households in three villages of rural Punjab, Pakistan. After conducting thematic and narrative analysis of the data, I discovered that mothers who demonstrated the capability and agency in supporting their daughters’ education are enabled to do so in two ways. Firstly, they utilise silences and voice (in a figurative sense) to realise their aims. That is, the narratives of some mothers show how silences and voice are strategically used to create a pathway towards their daughters’ education in a historically complex and gendered environment. Secondly, in order to stay focused on their goals, mothers develop an ability to shield themselves from the frustrations that accompany disadvantage, and consistently pursue their goals until they are successful. I also demonstrate that this shielding ability aligns with one of Unterhalter’s (2017 and 2018) theorisations, that of negative capability. In sum, the analysis of mothers’ aspirations and their actions reveals how some are able to gain the capability and agency to achieve their goals by using ‘silences and their voice’ as a resource, and through developing an ability to remain unaffected by disadvantageous conditions to pursue their goals consistently. In this thesis, the importance of mothers’ efforts for their daughters’ education from the perspective of their own attempts to support it is investigated. The outcomes reveal the unconventional ways in which mothers in the focal context gained capability and agency through silences and negative capability, thereby contributing to the emerging literature on the multiple methods women use to exercise agency.