Oct. 28 – Dec. 2, 2014: Impacts of Ideologies of Masculinity and Femininity in Access to Education in Context of Forced Migration

October 28 – December 2, 2014

(Sponsored by the Refugee Research Network (RRN); organized by the RRN’s Gender & Sexuality Cluster).

The Refugee Research Network (http://www.refugeeresearch.net) and the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) Project (http://crs.yorku.ca/bher) are interested in how ideologies of masculinity and femininity impact access to education for those living in refugee camps.

Masculinity and femininity are categories that are not value neutral but instead are politically, socially and culturally constructed through gender discourses that value the former over the latter. The ideology of gender dichotomization and hierarchy that values masculinity over femininity has found wide acceptance and remains largely unchallenged. The aim of this forum is to engage you in a discussion that will enrich our understanding of the ways in which constructions of what it means to be male and female has a bearing on access to education for individuals living in refugee camps.

Concurrently, we are in the process of preparing an annotated bibliography onthe same topic. We welcome your suggestions as to scholarly research that we could include in this project.

Before contributing to this forum’s discussion, please consider the following questions:

  • What role do ideologies of masculinity and femininity play in creating policies governing lives in refugee camps?
  • What role do these ideologies play in everyday lives of people living in refugee camps?
  • What role do these ideologies play in access to education for men and women living in refugee camps?

Information obtained through this forum will be compiled and posted on the RRN website, and shared with BHER partners.

We thank you in advance for your participation.

The link to the forum is here: http://refugeeresearch.net/ms/forums/2014/10/07/impacts-of-ideologies-of-masculinity-and-femininity-in-access-to-education-in-context-of-forced-migration/.

To contribute to the forum discussion, please go to http://refugeeresearch.net/ms/forums/how-to-participate/. If you are not a member of the RRN community, please register as new user. If you are a member already, just log-in, write and post.


Guest Contributors:

Dacia Douhaibi, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography,
Research Assistant, BHER Project, York University, Canada;

Don Dippo, Professor, Faculty of Education,
Member, Executive Committee, Centre for Refugee Studies,
Co-lead, BHER Project, York University, Canada;

Emily Antze, Program Administrator, BHER Project, York University, Canada;

Farhia Abdi, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Education,
TA, BHER Project, York University, Canada;

Janette Holmes, Course Director, Faculty of Education, York University, Canada,
Instructor, BHER Project;

Jennifer Vadeboncoeur, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Canada,
Instructor, member of the Gender and Equity Committee, BHER Project;

Lorraine Otoide, Course Director, Faculty of Education, York University, Canada,
Instructor, BHER Project;

Marta Bak, MA Social Anthropology,
Research Assistant, BHER Project, RRN, York University, Canada;

Wanjiku Khamasi, Associate Professor, Department of Family and Consumer Science, Chepkoilel University College, Moi University, Nairobi, Kenya,
Co-chair, Gender and Equity Committee, BHER Project;

Wenona Giles, Professor, Anthropology, Scholar, Centre for Refugee Studies,
Co-lead, BHER Project, York University, Canada.

24 thoughts on “Oct. 28 – Dec. 2, 2014: Impacts of Ideologies of Masculinity and Femininity in Access to Education in Context of Forced Migration

  1. Research indicates that early marriage in refugee camps is a multi-dimensional issue that is interconnected with the education of girls and young women. Studies such as, Jenson and Thornton (2009) argue that early marriage is incompatible with continued formal education given the domestic responsibilities and social expectations for wives and daughters-in –laws. However, when girls are educated it diminishes the negative effects often associated with early marriage. That is, girls are more likely to have healthy families, personal empowerment, greater skill sets, and more economic potential. In fact, higher levels of education are often linked to lower incidences of marriage (UNESCO, 2014).

    What local support programs in camps or education policies are necessary to lower the incidence of early marriage and provide educational opportunities for girls, especially retention in higher grades? What are the key components of policies and programs that are successful in reducing child marriage?

    • Lotoide has raised pertinent questions that seek to tackle the problem from the root; local support programs and policies. In terms of local support programs, Refugee Education Trust (RET) in Dadaab is implementing a training program for its beneficiaries in all the five camps and the host community, that intensively focuses on ‘Gender and Development’. One of the objectives is to work on the community’s mindset who are predominantly Somali/Muslim.

      For women to effectively participate in development, they must be educated. Some topics that recently elicited heated debates in this training include: the place of men and women in society and factors that hinder women from accessing education, hence participation in development.

      As an observer, I noticed the ideologies of masculinity and femininity so much at play here. Female attendance was 19%. All apart from one of these well educated ladies, was courageous to speak audibly to the audience. There are enough inhibitions among females in this Somali community.

      • Not to confuse “what is said” with “what is done”, and recognizing that there is an element of performativity in all my conversations with students in Dadaab, I am struck by the level of concern and commitment to gender equity expressed by most of the male students in our programme. Yes, men tended to monopolize discussion in small groups, and yes, men often spoke on behalf of women, but when this was pointed out they took the criticism as positive and constructive. I take this openness to critique and willingness to reconsider practice as evidence of the gender equity work that organizations like RET have been doing for years in the camps.

    • Early marriage is quite an interesting issue to raise in conjunction with a woman’s potential to access education. Early marriage is indeed often a barrier to higher education, particularly for families living at or below a particular income level. It would be interesting to consider why, in some refugee communities, early marriage does not pose a barrier to education for women, while in others it does. Perhaps there is also an element of culture there – the appropriate roles of married men and women. Although I am unfamiliar with any programs that may be present in Dadaab to lower the incidence of early marriage – and I wonder at how well received those sorts of programs might be – I do believe that by laying a foundation of higher education for women, and bringing the first few cohorts of female BHER students successfully through the program, there will be a ripple effect that will encourage higher numbers of women to seek out education. Their desire to begin these programs, and the support and encouragement of other women who have started educational programs already may promote male family members who might otherwise have opposed the continuation of education of their female family members to support it as well. Part of this practice of early marriage is typically connected to finding someone who can provide for a young woman. When more women are in the position to enter the workforce, even beyond the camps, the advantages of higher education – and now the availability of it – may result in higher numbers of female students.

      • I agree with Dacia and maybe others on this forum, that early marriage is not necessarily the issue. Marriage will prevent women’s access to education only when women are devalued members of their community and their reproductive labour (including bearing and raising children, and other household labour) is not recognized as important work. Once recognized as a valuable form of labour, men may take up more of these household tasks, leaving women the choice to access education or other endeavours. Hence the importance of bringing gender issues into our courses for the Dadaab students. Best, Wenona

  2. Just to add to the questions Lorraine posed, what sorts of research has been conducted that investigates the meaning of educational opportunities to the girls and young women themselves? And further, the meaning of these opportunities in relation to their cultural contexts?

    • Regarding the “meaning of educational opportunities”, our students in Dadaab have talked about education in relation to their imagined futures in Dadaab, in another country, in Somalia. What they have not talked about (but probably would) is the more immediate pleasure of coming to the BHER Learning Centre. There is tremendous sociality at the site and students are very clearly enjoying each others’ company. Ideologies of masculinity and femininity are being worked out in that space away from (though not entirely) family and local community.

    • Jennifer, that is a really interesting question: re “the meaning of these [educational] opportunities in relation to their cultural contexts?” Could you explain further what you mean by “cultural contexts”? Are you referring to (for example) Somali culture? or camp culture? or the Kenyan cultural context? or some combination of these? Or maybe war culture? There is an interesting bit of research that I came across recently (I will look for the ref) that describes how Somali women were more involved as entrepreneurs in Somali prior to the war than Somali men – and very accepted as such. I also remember Jennifer Hyndman saying that when she did her research in the Dadaab camps in 1992 when the camps first opened, you would be hard pressed to find a woman wearing a covering/scarf. It is the opposite now. Interesting to contemplate what these two phenomena mean in relation to “cultural context” and how in the very same space a “cultural context” can alter over the course of time. Best, Wenona

  3. To add to the questions Lorraine and Jennifer asked, in particular the meaning of these opportunities in relation to their cultural contexts? deepens the complexity of whose ideologies have an impact on the camps ? The culture the refugees fled from or the hosting country’s? Or is a new culture evolving and that evolving culture then becomes the cultural context that gives the opportunity meaning? and does the BHER project affect that evolving culture?

    • I think that there are a number of elements at play here. First, as you rightly suggested, was the cultural background that each person and family carried with them when they arrived at Dadaab. Traditions may have been held tightly to prevent them from changing as a result of living in a different and difficult environment away from home, and they may likely have ben impacted as a result of living in a such close spaces with other families who may have explicitly shared, or only partly shared, those traditions. Over time, and as result of exposure to all of the programs provided in the camps, I am sure that things have been evolving. I am also very sure that the ideas, questions and topics discussed in BHER classes, and the very nature of the way that the instructors have physically arranged their classrooms and structures group activities, will also have an impact. Some of the comments the students have made about their classroom experience seem to suggest these effects are taking place – it will certainly be interesting to observe how this impacts the ideas of masculinity and femininity that pre-existed BHER.

  4. Don, I was so glad to hear the mention of imagined futures, whether a future as an educator in Dadaab or elsewhere. This may be an interesting way of engaging in dialogue together, co-creating a narrative of the past, the present, and the future. In my research with young people learning in alternative contexts, “arrival narratives” are important as a way of beginning together, a way of grounding the work that we undertake together. Linking current work to the idea of “what becomes possible as a result of this work” and, again, engaging in this as a project together seems fruitful as a method for making decisions about what we do and why.

  5. Janette, notions of “hybridity” and “thirdspace” may be helpful here (we can borrow from Bhabha, Soja, even hooks) to think about how cultures intersect and clash and change each other and so I think your questions are key: How do educators in Dadaab identify their cultural connections, practices, social relations? How do these connections, practices, relations change as people enter Dadaab? How do they differ from what was practiced “back home” once Dadaab becomes “home for now”? And, I’ll take a step further back (I’m assuming too much!), for whom does Dadaab become a “home for now” and what are the costs associated?

  6. In thinking about how ideologies of masculinity and femininity affect access to education for men and women in Dadaab, I think it’s important to look not only at gender-based factors that may prevent girls and women from being present in schools, but also to consider how these ideologies affect their opportunities to be educated equally with their male peers, even if they attend school with equal regularity. In a context where female students make up a relatively small proportion of their classes, the majority of instructors are male, and cultural norms about femininity may dictate that women be less vocal and less active participants than men in a mixed-gender group, it is questionable whether female students expect to obtain the same level of education as their male counterparts in the same classroom.

    This August, a group of Kenyan and Canadian instructors (including several of the participants in this forum) delivered teacher training courses to a group of postsecondary students in Dadaab (a group of students that was about 30% female — a ratio the BHER team struggled to reach, given that female students have made up less than 20% of final-year secondary school classes in recent years). In their reports, BHER instructors described modeling and speaking about strategies for promoting gender equity in the classroom, such as having female and male students work together in small groups, insisting that both women’s and men’s voices be heard in all group discussions, and explicitly addressing instances where male students answered questions on behalf of female students when female students were slow to answer. These approaches seem to have made an impression on the BHER students — several BHER students, both male and female, commented positively on these approaches on their program evaluation forms, and described an intention to implement them in their own primary and secondary classrooms. Can strategies like these can be a first step towards offering female students equal attention and opportunities to their male peers? What else could be done to create a more gender-equitable classroom/instructional environment?

    • Pedagogical practices in the classroom are such an interesting way of engaging with, and impacting, some of the pre-existing notions of the appropriate or expected roles for males and females in the classroom. I believe they are an important first step in providing female students with equal attention and opportunities. Constructing group work that pairs female and male students, and ensuring that discussion remains as equitable as possible, or that there are an equal number of female and male “leaders” of the groups who present the group work to the rest of the class would certainly begin to impact gender equality in the classroom. I am sure other things such as ‘calling-on’ female and male students equally would be important, as would trying to ensure that seating arrangements do not leave women congregated to the back of the room. Providing equitable time using technology resources – such as computers in the lab – would also be important. The idea of equal attention rather than more attention is really a key one. If, in order to level the playing field, so to speak, instructors favored the female students, this could create an unintended backlash, detracting from an equitable educational environment rather than working towards one.

    • Hi Emily,
      I like that question: “What else could be done to create a more gender-equitable classroom/instructional environment?” Going back to the married women students issue: yesterday in our BHER Gender and Equity Committee, one of the members suggested that we should have a space for nursing mothers. In other words, we need to move outside the space of the classroom (in order to ameliorate the space inside the classroom) to think about what should be implemented to make the broader learning environment accessible and indeed welcoming for women. We don’t have funds for daycare, but surely there are other possibilities that we can think of? Ideas? Best, Wenona

  7. Don, I agree with the idea of having a distinct, though not completely separate, space for both male and female students to reflect on the gender dynamics at play in their communities and the classroom, and on how to introduce some of these ideology shifts more broadly. In the case of the Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins (JC: HEM) diploma program in Dzakela, Malawi, which also operates in Kakuma, Kenya, there has been both access and retention challenges for women to participate equally in the classroom discussions and to complete the three-year diploma. Having more female peer tutors, teachers and community mentors at both the secondary school level and in higher education appears to contribute positively to shifting these ideologies. Service learning activities in their camp communities also helped to put women in non-traditional roles, as part of the educational program, which contributed to both their own self-confidence and their perceived capabilities.

    Shifting or transforming gender ideologies is such a gradual process, and those continuous one-on-one and group conversations are critical. How can higher education programs in camps, like BHER and JC: HEM, support these conversations both inside classroom spaces and within communities/households?

    • I agree with many here who point out and advocate that addressing issues of gender equity directly through implementation of gender-sensitive curricula, and engagement of students in the classroom in ways that challenge existing assumptions about gender expectations and gender appropriate behaviours are both productive and tangible steps. And the BHER project’s objectives of setting targets for the number of women participants are certainly a positive step as well.
      What I am interested in are the broader implications of ideologies of masculinity and femininity on access to education in the context of forced migration, that is, the ways in which international development organizations, states, laws, military institutions and armed groups and so on reproduce and “enforce” these ideologies. And the multiple and complex ways in which they affect the lives of those displaced, especially their access to education.

  8. Hi Marta,
    in my Anthropology class today, we just finished reading a chapter by Ruth Jacobson entitled “Women ‘After’ Wars” in the Carol Cohn book on Women and Wars. It is a very useful culminating chapter to the other excellent chapters in that book. Jacobson establishes a link/s between international agencies, states, etc and what happens to women in so-called ‘post war’ times. Ideologies that hinder, challenge, prevent women’s access to education arise from a number of different sites – international, national and local. Sometimes, ideologies in one site are indeed reflected in/influenced by ideologies located in another site. Jacobson refers to how neo-liberalism (and the “shrinking state”) can lead to women’s inability to access education.
    Best, Wenona

  9. This has some level of connotations with the community’s culture, traditions and historical background and the issue need to be given thorough thought and holistic approach when dealing with it. Nonetheless, nothing should deter education for all learners (both male and female) and strategies that take into consideration the specific needs of every gender should be put in place while at the same time not side stepping community’s contributions, views and recommendations!

  10. This exchange is very rich and interesting. Entering late, I wonder if it’s too late to query the question a little: ” how ideologies of masculinity and femininity affect access to education for men and women in Dadaab?” I would say that masculinity and femininity are relational and co-constituted, so that – as Don says – men can embrace masculiniites that promote underrepresented groups (not just women and girls) and are inclusive in the classroom. Reinforcing such masculinities will go a long way to making the classroom a more equitable space, especially if students are helping other students across gender lines.

    • Speaking to Jennifer’s point about access to education for men and women in Dadaab, I wholeheartedly agree that masculinity and femininity are relational. We cannot speak of one without the other. And they are also not natural and value-neutral. They are categories that are socially, culturally and politically constructed, laden with codes and norms; categories that are played out in the economic and social lives of individuals. And I would add, categories which significantly impact the experiences of both men and women in times prior to and during forced migration, including the availability of and access to education. Equally importantly, those ideologies and their influences globally, nationally and locally are one of the primary reasons why vast majority of forcibly displaced people in the world are women. I cannot help but quote de Beauvoir here: “representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth.” It is necessary to stress here that the category of masculine does not necessarily includes only men and all men. The same can be said for the feminine. Thus Jennifer’s point about this discussions title is well taken (if I understood it correctly). Different categories or groups of both men and women can have very different experiences, including those related to access to education.

      Embracing masculinities in ways that can lead to greater equity for all involved, in a classroom in this case (and I see Jennifer’s point that to talk about equity we need to include all, regardless of their identity) is a fine step. However, masculine identity is generally associated with beliefs and behaviours that are detrimental to all considered feminine or emasculate. How can the students then embrace their masculinity and at the same time promote equity? I would argue that much education has to take place to change attitudes even in a slightest way.

  11. Reading across these posts, I have a few ideas to share, I’d like to see what others think if/when you have time.

    1) We’ve noted that simply changing a behaviour does not necessarily change minds, social practices, ideologies. So working to balance participation by gender, while important, won’t necessarily help us engage with culture and ideology to advance equity-oriented social futures.

    2) We’ve also noted that some of the practices that present barriers for gender equity in some cultures, do not have the same effects in other cultures. Perhaps early marriage is a case in point.

    3) We’ve also noted a range of ways of enacting religious beliefs and ideological commitments. Islam is defined and practiced differently in different places, and differently in the same place as well. Some of my grad students are Muslim and use the Koran (Qur’an) as an argument for the importance of education for men and women.

    So what do we know of the ways in which ideologies work that might help us think through ways of engaging with educators at Dadaab around them?

  12. Dear participants,
    Thank you very much to each and every one of you for your participation in this forum. The issues discussed above are often overlooked in general, and more so in the context of forced migration. In coming days, a summary of your contributions will be finalized and posted here.
    Thank you again.
    With kind regards,
    Marta Bak

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