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Do Village Girls Gain Empowering Capabilities through Schooling and What Functionings Do They Value?

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This paper explores the relationship between girls’ schooling and empowerment in western China in the first decade of the 21st century. This paper adopted a capability-empowerment framework based on Sen’s capability approach into which were integrated concepts by Bourdieu, Appadurai, Nussbaum, Kabeer, and Unterhalter, to help to understand the tenacity with which village girls pursued schooling. In interviews with a group of 23 girls and young women, several valued functionings of intrinsic capability sets in the freedom dimensions of well-being and agency and their association with rising levels of school attainment were found. The girls were found to be gaining empowering capabilities through schooling, but that these were not equally distributed, neatly slicing the group into two sharply defined groups with different life paths. One set dropped out in the middle school years with a smaller set of empowerment capabilities to work in low-skilled jobs in cities, which offered them new places to change. The other set remained in school longer to achieve a larger set of empowering functionings that they converted into more substantive freedoms in a variety of settings.


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