Girls and secondary education opportunities in rural Tanzania: Men's influences on equity in education in the Magu district

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education

First Advisor

Dawn Penney

Second Advisor

Lily Taylor


Education is the key to social justice, opportunities, and social, economic, and political development. Some girls in Tanzania, sub-Saharan Africa, and some parts of the globe are denied opportunities to progress in education because they are marginalised by the social, economic, and political systems. Tanzania's government invested in significant initiatives in the 2000s to increase education access at all levels, including the construction of many primary and secondary schools and the expansion of tertiary education. These government efforts have improved the enrolment opportunities for children in primary and lower secondary education. Yet, cultural values, beliefs, norms, and practices in rural areas in Tanzania continue to limit equitable access for girls to educational opportunities, particularly in secondary education. In rural areas, girls continue to have lower school attendance rates, higher dropout rates, and lower academic achievement in comparison to boys.

This study sought to explore the influences and perspectives that men in the Sukuma community have in relation to girls’ education and specifically, secondary education. The study, therefore, explored these influences and perspectives in family, community, school settings, and in the context of the educational system at the district level in the Magu district. The African feminism framework informed the examination of ways in which men, as family and community leaders, schoolteachers, and policy officers, collectively influence progress towards greater equity in education for girls in secondary schools in Tanzania and specifically in the Magu district.

The research methodology was informed by an interpretivist paradigm featuring an ethnographic approach. The research project was conducted in the Magu district, in the Mwanza region of Tanzania, where I was born and raised. The ethnographic approach guided me to see the research problem in the unique social reality of the Sukuma people, of which I am also a member. As a cultural insider researcher, the ethnographic approach helped me to focus on concepts, characteristics, meanings, and descriptions of everyday life within and across the family, community, school milieu, and the educational system at the district level.

Data collection was undertaken over three months in four sites: family, community, school, and the district education policy setting; using documentary, observation, and interview methods. Three fathers from different family groups, two community leaders, three male teachers at a secondary school, and a male district educational officer made a total of nine (9) male participants. All participants were purposively selected to fit the purpose of this study and data collection centred on these participants. Semi-structured interviews, documentary, and observational data collection were complementary, enabling depth to be progressively extended and similarities and contrasts in data explored. Interviews with the fathers and community leaders were conducted in the Swahili language, audio-recorded and subsequently translated into English by the researcher. Interviews were conducted with male teachers and the District Educational Officer in English, audio-recorded, and subsequently transcribed. Manual coding was used for data analysis, which suited working with bilingual data, and the data analysis involved progressive identification and refinement of themes.

In family and community settings, the study highlights that cultural values, beliefs, and norm are key to continuing the reproduction of gender inequities in education, as many girls are denied access to educational opportunities. In the secondary school and district education policy setting, the study found a mismatch between policy commitments to equity and practice. The findings show that cultural values, norms, and beliefs are practiced in a way that marginalises the values of girls, limiting their educational opportunities. The study further discovered that gender inequities in education and opportunities are reproduced by gender power dynamics and hierarchies, gender roles, and poverty. All these factors adversely impact secondary schooling opportunities for girls. The study suggests that the transformation of cultural practice in families, communities, and schools is important to introduce cultural values that promote greater equity and inclusion in education for both girls and boys. Finally, the study presents a case for further research, exploring the often-hidden consequences of men’s influences and perspectives on girls’ education at other educational levels, such as advanced secondary and tertiary education.

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