Worlds of Education

GPE/Roun Ry
GPE/Roun Ry

Our fight for education is a fight for women’s rights

published 7 March 2024 updated 8 March 2024
written by:

The right to education means that every child must have access to free quality education, a well-supported, qualified teacher, and a quality learning environment no matter where they live or come from, no matter their gender, ethnicity, or how much their family earns. This is our mission as education unions and the core tenet of our Go Public! Fund Education campaign.

Our campaign is a global effort to ensure the right to education for everyone, everywhere, especially the most vulnerable children, most of whom are girls. It is also an effort to ensure that our profession, dominated by women in many parts of the world, receives the recognition and respect it deserves.

The challenge at hand demands our full attention and urgent mobilisation.

The right to education at risk

The last few years have been marked by a set of worsening crises, from the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living , to rising violent conflicts, wars, and the growing climate emergency. Women and girls and marginalised groups are often the most affected, prompting the United Nations to focus this year’s International Women’s Day on the urgent need to invest in women.

According to the United Nations, immediate action is crucial to prevent more than 342 million women and girls from living in poverty by 2030. At the same time, conflicts and rising prices may lead 75% of countries to cut public spending by 2025, negatively impacting women and girls by limiting essential services , including education.

Since the start of the pandemic, education budgets have fallen in 65% of low- and middle-income countries. Even in upper-middle- and high-income countries, 33% are experiencing a decline in education budgets. Years of chronic underinvestment have fueled an alarming global shortage of 44 million teachers and, as things stand, recruiting them is impossible.

In many places around the world, teachers are overworked, undervalued, and underpaid. resulting in fewer people aspiring to be teachers. More and more teachers are leaving the profession they love, and that the world desperately needs. Those who stay too often experience low salaries, unmanageable workloads, stifling bureaucracy, precarious employment, rising teacher-to-student ratios, and very little respect for their essential work. Unsurprisingly, in many countries, the majority of those holding up our education systems despite the dire circumstances are women.

Refugee teachers and those working in refugee camps shoulder an even heavier burden. Stella Oryang Aloyo's voice echoed powerfully when she spoke at the Education Cannot Wait High Level Forum: “ I wish you could stand in my shoes for an hour. You would understand where I am coming from.” Being a refugee teacher means working with 200 students in your classroom, helping children navigate an unfamiliar place with little in the way of teaching materials or support, all for USD 120 a month that is not enough to feed your family and that is not even paid on time. Stella ended her intervention at the Forum with a call to action: “I am doing my part, do your part.”

Her call and the call of our profession did not go unanswered.

Transforming education begins with investing in teachers

The growing teacher shortage led United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, , to convene a High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession to focus on meeting our shared education goals. I was proud to be the voice of our profession on the Panel, making sure that the real-life circumstances of teachers like Stella informed tits work.

We achieved a breakthrough. The Panel’s 59 recommendations are progressive and ambitious, recognising that investing in well-qualified and well-supported teachers is an investment in the quality and sustainability of our education systems.

The recommendations echo many of our union demands, with a strong focus on gender equity and inclusion throughout.

In brief, the Panel said teachers and education support personnel must be supported, valued, and paid their worth. Workloads and working conditions must support educators’ mental and physical wellbeing. Salaries must be competitive with those in comparable professions, and they must be decided at the negotiating table together with teachers and their unions. Gender pay equity must be ensured and women’s leadership must be encouraged.

The recommendations also call for educational working environments that are inclusive, safe, and non-discriminatory for teachers in all their diversity, including those with disabilities. Teachers must be protected against all forms of violence and harassment and that includes gender-based violence.

Teachers working in emergency contexts must also be supported. The Panel calls on the international community to establish a Global Fund for Teachers’ Salaries to ensure that teachers working in crises receive fair and timely salaries. Their work to teach and support the most vulnerable children is essential.

As Secretary General Guterres said at the release of the Panel’s work, “Just as teachers support us all, it’s time to support teachers. Let's make sure they have the support, recognition, and resources they need to provide quality, relevant education and skills for all.”

Without a doubt, these 59 recommendations are a turning point in global education policy making. Our collective advocacy and our mobilisation around the Go Public! Fund Education campaign have brought us to this moment. We must continue to mobilise and organise to make the recommendations a reality for all teachers and students around the world.

The next key moment in our campaign is just around the corner. Beginning March 11, the 68th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women will convene in New York. Governments and women’s rights activists will discuss the threat posed by increasing poverty rates that disproportionately affect women and girls and will work together to propose solutions. Our delegation of women education unionists will be there to call on governments to invest in free quality public education so that no girl is denied her right to education and so that the women who make education happen every day are paid, respected, and valued for the essential work they do.

This International Women’s Day and every day, our commitment to the rights of women and girls is unwavering. We must continue to Go Public and call on our governments to fund free quality education for all. Together we will bring about real change for women and girls in all their diversity.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.