Three ways to help female teachers in conflict and crisis contexts

Three ways to help female teachers in conflict and crisis contexts

Photo Credit: Jessica Scranton/FHI 360

In education in conflict and crisis (EiCC) situations, community members often take on new roles to provide essential education and psychosocial support services to children. This is especially true for female teachers, who are expected to provide academic and nurturing care to their students while also caring for their families and coping with their own social, emotional and material needs. This is a tall order, and female teachers do not receive the support they need to be as effective — and engaged — as possible.

A forthcoming FHI 360 literature review that is part of a larger study on female teachers in Nigeria, expected to be released later this year, highlights the crucial role that female teachers play in EiCC contexts, especially in promoting girls’ education. We found that most EiCC literature talks about female teachers as a means to an end, that is, more female teachers correlate with improved education outcomes for girls, higher enrollment and retention rates for female students, safer school environments and increased exposure to female role models and professional trajectories. What is needed is more discussion of female teachers’ holistic needs — for their identities, motivation and well-being — and how best to address them.

When gender norms for female teachers are addressed, they are usually presented as barriers to deployment. Click To Tweet
The challenges faced by female teachers

In conflict and crisis settings, female teachers face different realities and challenges than their male counterparts. The availability and deployment of female teachers, especially to rural areas where there is often the most need, is limited due to factors that are more pronounced for women, including family demands, social norms for women in the workplace and gender-specific safety and security. Female teachers often avoid rural posts because of perceived higher prevalence of sexual and verbal harassment.

Education and teacher recruitment policies do not typically address the underlying power and gender dynamics that are detrimental to female teachers. For example, recruitment quotas for female teachers may be set, but the structural and socio-cultural barriers to successfully achieve the quotas are minimally addressed. Unfortunately, when gender norms for female teachers are addressed, they are usually presented as barriers to deployment.

Gender dynamics can be a significant challenge: The way male colleagues treat their female counterparts impacts female teachers’ well-being, participation and retention. Studies suggest that the social and gendered responsibilities that female teachers face in conflict contexts, such as taking on the multiple roles of being a teacher, caregiver and social worker, as well as being asked to participate in a variety of time-intensive teacher professional development activities, can negatively impact their job motivation and increase burnout.

Three recommendations for moving forward

In 2005, the late Jackie Kirk, a pioneer for girls’ education and female teachers in EiCC, urged practitioners to find gender-sensitive approaches to protect, support and encourage female teachers. We have not moved quickly enough since then. Here are our top three recommendations for action:

  1. Ensure that education programs are responsive to the realities faced by female teachers. The design of any program that involves female teachers must include their voices and perspectives and reflect what they are actually experiencing. In Pakistan, for example, female teachers reported that teaching was motivating for them when the community supported and encouraged them. In this case, it makes sense to develop programs that increase community support and encouragement for teachers.
  2. Provide gender-sensitive teacher professional development. There is a massive movement to create gender-sensitive teaching and learning materials for girls. Now, there must be a new movement to create gender-sensitive teacher professional development programs. Such programs would offer flexible scheduling, in safe environments, where female teachers can express themselves as well as focus on their own well-being.
  3. Recruit, support and promote female teachers into leadership positions (e.g., school directors or district education officials) at all levels of an education system. This would help to ensure that female teachers’ voices and perspectives are present in the schools and institutions in which they work. In a teacher well-being study of Iraqi internally displaced people and Syrian refugee teachers in the Kurdish Region of Iraq, researchers found that respondents’ burnout scores decreased 0.54 points with every point of increase in school leadership support.

In addition to implementing the above recommendations, the EiCC community should generate more actionable evidence on what works to enhance female teachers’ identities, motivation and well-being. Programs that are not only evidence-based but also evidence-generating ultimately help the EiCC community, teachers and students to implement effective equity programs for all.

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