The aim of the study was to profoundly gain understanding into specific cultural values that underlie traditional practices which pose as barriers to rural girls’ education in Zambia. A pairwise case study approach was used to identify and describe types of cultural values prevalent in the Bemba and Tonga ethnic groups of Zambia. A total of 28 interviews (16 focus group discussions and 12 key informant interviews) were carried out with community members and school heads in Choma and Kasama, to verify specific proximate barriers associated with school-going girls. Thematic data analysis was performed using NVivo 12. The study identified six broad values that the two ethnic groups mutually desired. Security and protection, purity and propriety of a woman, conformity, respect, generosity and hard work. Conversely, power and possession, and unity were specific to Tongas and Bembas, respectively. The value of “unity” portrayed more impetus than that of “power and possession” to restrain girls from attending school. While both social groups indicated desire to uphold these values, modes of value expression and collective practices were clearly differentiated. The study established that specific practices and norms chocking rural girls’ education are performed through the process of cultural value activation. Further, the study demonstrates that cultural values have underlying associations with rural girls’ education advancement especially at higher ages. Gaining detailed knowledge of cultural values underpinning specific social groups through case study research is important in order to inform the design of more effective girls’ education promotion interventions.
Key word: Cultural values, rural girls’ education, ethnic groups, traditional practices, norms, Bemba, Tonga.
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