In spite of patriarchy: Pathways from school to wage work and careers among adolescent girls in Bihar

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: In the context of rural Bihar where few women work outside the home, what scope do adolescent girls and young women have to transition into wage work and careers? While the mobility of girls is still widely restricted to secure their marriageability, the spread of higher schooling and the internet has inflated aspirations and levelled them out across boys, girls and social classes. Methods: The present study drew on 45 focus group discussions and 73 in-depth interviews among adolescent girls and young women and related stakeholders to develop 32 cases of transitioning girls across four districts of rural Bihar in India. The qualitative data were collected in 2022 and analysed using a combination of thematic and comparative narrative analyses. Results: The analysis identified some common features of transitioning girls and their pathways. Many girls had been forced by circumstance—household shocks or chronic poverty—to earn money, thereby building their skills and self-efficacy. Others were from families where progressive values ensured their mobility and exposure. Yet others transitioned “by stealth.” But all girls had the backing of at least one parent and all had to learn to navigate public space while safeguarding their reputations. By researching actual pathways (rather than distant dreams), the study identifies a variety of transition outcomes, including “good” jobs as teachers, nurses, and police officers, “low entry” jobs in factories and new services, and full-time businesses built from scratch. Conclusion: The paper suggests that interventions be designed separately for these distinct outcomes and that efforts are best directed towards girls already “self-transitioning” and demonstrating the requisite resolve and self-efficacy.