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Constructions of gender in the context of free primary education : a multi-site case study of three schools in Lesotho.

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his thesis reports on a qualitative study of stakeholders’ constructions of gender in the context of the Free Primary Education policy in three primary schools in Lesotho. Through the lens of the social constructionist paradigm, the thesis examines how parents, teachers and children living in and around these primary schools think, act, and feel in relation to gender in their academic and social worlds. It looks at the ways in which these stakeholders engage with issues of gender in Lesotho communities ravaged by gender inequality. Based on parents’, teachers’ and children’s constructions of gender, the thesis suggests strategies that might help address inequitable gender relations in and around the primary schools. The thesis grounded my personal life experiences, as the researcher, as crucial in the development of methodological strategies and processes of this study. In a flexible and responsive manner, the study utilised informal conversations, semistructured interviews, observations, questionnaires and document analysis, as methods of data collection. It found that, influenced by ‘discursive constructs’ of providence and God’s will, child-adult relations, naturalness of gender differences and attributes as well as the Basotho culture, parents and teachers constructed gender in ways that reinforced existing gender inequality in and around the primary schools. The structural and social organisation of the schools that tended to allocate girls and boys into rigid social categories, and parents’ and teachers’ constructions of gender which reinforced inequitable gender relations, were found to have significant impact on the regulation of children’s experiences and meanings of gender. The study found that children’s experiences of gender informed how they actively engaged with issues of gender and the meanings they attached to being girls and boys. The study traces how Basotho culture and religion have been fundamental to gender inequality and violence in Lesotho. These factors encouraged the schools to use structural/physical identities (such as having biological sex as a boy/girl), as the bases for allocation of girls and boys into rigid and inequitable social categories. The dominant discourses of gender that emanated from these factors, ascribed stereotypic attributes to males (boys and men) and females (girls and women) as means to ground inequitable gendered human aptitudes, which were used to justify gender inequality. The study also identifies ways in which girls defy the insistence on their subordination, and sees fault lines where gender inequality can be confronted without abandoning Basotho culture.


Thesis (Ph.D.) - University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 2009.


Gender identity in education., Gender identity in education--Lesotho., Theses--Education.