Mother, Daughter, Schoolgirl: Student Pregnancy and Readmission Policy in Malawi’s Era of Education for All
Rachel Silver

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Wisconsin-Madison

Primary Discipline

In Malawi, the pregnant schoolgirl embodies failure for diverse actors and institutions. She signals moral degeneration and a loss of control over girls’ sexuality for parents and teachers, chiefs and clerics. At the same time, she demonstrates the programmatic failure of schooling to delay reproduction and trigger a “ripple effect” of positive social, demographic, and economic outcomes touted in mainstream international development discourse. My dissertation explores this convergence and shows (1) how schoolgirl pregnancy has come to be understood and constituted as a social problem by a range of actors and (2) how discourses on, and policies related to, pregnant students shape the possibilities for young women’s wellbeing and schooling experiences. Using multi-sited ethnographic methods and an anthropology of policy approach, I focus specifically on Malawi’s 1993 Readmission Policy, which banned the practice of permanently expelling pregnant girls from school, and its 2016 reform. Readmission Policy serves as a lens through which to examine why, though young mothers in Malawi have been allowed to re-enroll in school for over two decades, very few do, and how key stakeholders understand the relationship between sexuality and schooling. I consider how girls and women navigate between their roles as students, workers, wives, and mothers, and ask what it means for adolescents and the project of education when reproduction is taken to signal schooling’s failed promise.
About Rachel Silver
Rachel Silver is a joint-degree doctoral candidate in Educational Policy Studies and Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research explores the relationship between discourses on girls’ education and sexuality in international development and the lived experiences of adolescents. Rachel is co-author of Educated for Change?: Muslim Refugee Women in the West (2012)—an ethnography of young women’s school lives in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps and northern New England—as well as chapters in edited volumes on globalization and education, forced migration in the global South, and ethnographic methods. Rachel received an International Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council in 2016. She holds an M.A. in Anthropology from UW-Madison, an M.A. in African Studies from Yale University, and a B.A. in Anthropology from Bates College.

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