Today I’m joining millions of women everywhere in celebrating International Women’s Day today, as well as those who for a myriad of reasons cannot actually celebrate it, for they continue to be the victims of a lack of recognition, respect and protection of their human rights.
I’ve written today’s blog thinking about women who are teachers because they’ve chosen to dedicate their lives to a profession that unlocks young people’s potential and opens up a world of opportunities.
I especially dedicate it to female teachers who risk their lives on a daily basis to secure the right to education of children in conflict-affected areas, where their roles as educators of new generations put them at serious risk of being attacked, sexually abused and often killed.
Catalysts for change
Teachers, in general, play a key role in building the minds of new generations; they also play a key role in removing barriers for the children they teach.
In countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan or Liberia –countries with very low gender parity—female teachers can be the enablers of girls’ right to education. The presence of female teachers can increase girls’ opportunities to go to school by removing gender-focused barriers that prevent girls’ access and affect their retention.
Leaders in their own sector?
The teaching profession is overwhelmingly female but for many female teachers, however, it hasn’t been an easy ride: getting through primary, secondary and higher education and into a teaching institute, whilst perhaps having to face discrimination along the way.
However, women are under-represented in key leadership positions (whether it is in education ministries, teacher’s unions, head teacher roles, etc), and neither do female teachers get the salaries and compensation they should be entitled to.
Additionally, in many countries many women lose out on obtaining full official status, as a result of having lower or alternative qualifications. This is particularly the case in countries going through significant transition –particularly post-conflict situations.
In South Sudan, for example, many women participated in the Women into Teaching programme which aimed to increase the number of female teachers by focusing on women with a secondary education.
But they missed out on becoming part of the government’s payroll system in 2008, because they had lower qualifications that did not match the new requirements.
Such a policy had a detrimental impact onthe already low levels of female teacher and the reconstruction of a teacher worforce, and indirectly, had a significant knock-on effect on the number of girls enrolling in school.
There may be many women in teaching, but in many countries very few of them have access to continuous training or support. This requires an increase in national education budgets that reflects the aspirations and development needs of its teachers.
Similarly, despite an increase in global and donor interest in closing the gender gap in education, few donors are directing their funding towards building the proportion of female teachers in countries where they are needed the most.
Such a smart investment would not only increase girls’ opportunities but would empower many women to get into a profession they choose.
Given the huge impact female teachers have on children and society as a whole, can governments really afford not to pay more attention to them?