British Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, higher education and defensive othering

Farhana Ghaffar, Jacqueline Stevenson

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Despite the rapid increase in the numbers of Pakistani and Bangladeshi girls entering higher education, practitioners of widening participation (WP) interventions continue to focus on access, under the mistaken belief that both groups have a strong cultural prevalence for early marriage and motherhood, have low attainment levels, or lack sufficient or effective careers guidance to help inform their academic or career choices. While more recent research has set out to challenge these stereotypes, there remains a paucity of research exploring the experiences of those who have successfully made the transition into, through and beyond higher education (HE). As a result, these stereotypical perspectives continue to prevail. This qualitative study examines the ways in which young Pakistani and Bangladeshi women have not only absorbed these stereotypical views but also, explicitly and implicitly, use stereotyping to define themselves in opposition to those women they deem 'unsuccessful'. In adopting a position of 'defensive othering', taken in opposition to what they perceive to be 'your typical Asian' , the women also position themselves as the Other. Drawing upon interviews with young women, we explore how the tensions between constructions of identity and the use of stereotypes from within their communities reveal some of the emotional difficulties they encounter in accessing both higher education and the workplace. Our paper therefore has importance for policy makers and academics involved in widening participation and student progression activities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-67
JournalWidening Participation and Lifelong Learning
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2018

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