Transforming the Lives of Impoverished Girls in Patriarchal Societies
Since 2003 a privately funded high school has provided desperately needed education for girls from impoverished families in Lucknow, the capital and largest city in Uttar Pradesh, in northeast India. Urvashi Sahni, the founder of Prerna Girls School, tells the stories of how the school has changed the lives of more than 5,000 girls and their families. Most important, this book tells those stories from the perspectives of the girls themselves, rather than through a remote academic perspective.
The book focuses on how gender equality can be achieved in a patriarchal society through education. It shows how girls learn to be equal and autonomous persons in school as part of their official curriculum and how they use this learning to transform their lives and those of their families. The book’s central argument is that education can be truly transformative if it addresses the everyday reality of girls’ lives and responds to their special needs and challenges with respect and care.
Although Reaching for the Sky describes just one relatively small school in one corner of India, the book’s message and the stories it tells will interest anyone concerned about the necessity of girls’ education, especially in developing countries. The lives of the girls at Prerna Girls School are largely representative of those of millions of girls living in poor contexts in countries where patriarchal structures and norms prevail.
Maureen A. Lewis, Marlaine E. Lockheed
October 9, 2007
R. Shep Melnick
March 6, 2018
Praise for Reaching for the Sky
Reaching for the Sky presents a model of gender transformative education and demonstrates
what is possible when the rights of girls and women are the heart and soul of a school.
Grounded in extensive research and critical analysis, this volume is also a key resource for
educators, gender activists, and scholars, bringing a gender lens to the global discourse
on the politics of education.
—Nora Fyles, Head of the Secretariat, United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative
This volume provides a timely reminder that while statistics matter, ultimately education
speaks to the spirit and the soul. Here is an encounter with real people: with girls from
the lowest caste and the poorest families, with teachers who care deeply about every
student, and with Urvashi herself, who has worked hard to overcome gender prisons,
including the one in her own mind. This book will captivate everyone who wants to
see a better future for the hundreds of millions of girls who are at risk of being denied
equality, opportunity, and a pathway out of poverty.
—Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia; Distinguished Fellow, Center for Universal Education at Brookings; and Chair, Global Partnership for Education
In a world rife with gender inequalities, Urvashi Sahni offers a riveting, evocative example from India of how the most vulnerable young women in that society develop their voices, their sense of agency and self, and their abilities to influence their futures. This happens through the support of a remarkable school, steeped in feminist principles and grounded in reflection and action. Sahni’s book is a tour de force that shows us how injustice can indeed be challenged and life worlds can be transformed. It presents the best writing about education in a generation.
—Glynda A. Hull, Professor, Elizabeth H. and Eugene A. Shurtleff Chair in Undergraduate Education, University of California, Berkeley
Urvashi Sahni captures the spirit of the girls who face challenges in India today and
efforts to surmount them in a real meaningful way. Empowerment of girls and women
has been Urvashi’s enduring goal for many decades, and the success stories that have
emerged would encourage everyone who shares this spirit, not only on the topic of
“development,” but all those who want a gender-just society.
—Vrinda Sarup, Secretary School Education and Literacy, Government of India, and retired Senior Officer in the Indian Administrative Service
Urvashi Sahni is an educator, social entrepreneur, and feminist activist. Apart from being an Ashoka Fellow, she is a Nonresident Fellow at the Center for Universal Education at Brookings and an adviser to the government of Rajasthan.