How a young teacher is making gender equality a reality in Ethiopia

As a young girl growing up in rural Seydebir in Semien Shewa, Ethiopia, Tigist had to walk for an hour to go to school. When she was in primary school, she would walk to school with her brother every day. They hiked uphill and downhill and crossed a river under the sun’s heat to reach the school.

Tigist’s walk to school was filled with fear. She often heard stories of girls who had drowned in the river or had been raped on their way to school. One of her close relatives was abducted when she was only aged seven, and never returned home.

Tigist, now aged 20, is a graduate student of the Integrated Science Department at Kotebe Metropolitan College in Addis Ababa. As part of her studies, Tigist is currently teaching at Netsanet Birhan primary school. She has a third grade class of 38 students, 24 of whom are girls.

Although the challenges she faced growing up in a rural area may be different from those that girls face in urban areas, she believes that gender equality issues are relevant in any context.

Tigist participated in a training about gender-responsive pedagogy (GRP) as part of a UNESCO project in Ethiopia. The training built teachers’ capacity to establish teaching and learning processes that encourage equal participation and involvement of boys and girls, and take into account boys’ and girls’ specific interests, learning styles and needs.

‘I have learned how to be sensitive of gender stereotypes and ensure gender equality and equity principles are applied in school’, she says.

At the GRP training, Tigist learned that the representation of girls in textbooks contribute to perpetuation of gender stereotypes that can be detrimental to girls’ learning and self-confidence. She observed that the textbooks, notes, quizzes and illustrated examples mainly referred to boys.

‘This is something I never noticed before the training,’ she says. She stresses that textbooks were reinforcing stereotypes about gender roles in society: ‘the textbooks seemed to suggest that professions in areas such as engineering, medicine and piloting were only reserved for boys, so girls may grow up feeling that they cannot pursue a career in these areas.’

Tigist decided to make a change.

When she started teaching, she noticed that girls were not comfortable playing with boys, and that fewer girls than boys participated in the classroom. In her classroom, Tigist addresses both girls and boys equally while teaching and preparing examination questions.

She makes sure her teaching is inclusive of both genders and also takes into account the needs of students who may have a learning disability.

Tigist explains that the training helped her to be conscious of every detail around gender issues. ‘Through sharing my life experience, I tell my students that all girls can achieve their dreams.’

Tigist’s face lights up as she shares her dream to go back to her village one day and provide girls the education they deserve. She plans to raise community awareness so that parents send their daughters to school, instead of marrying them at an early age. She also aspires to share what she learned about GRP with the teachers in her primary school.

The project in Ethiopia aims to enhance the quality and relevance of education for adolescent girls, and ensure that all girls have access to and transition through the full education cycle successfully. It is implemented by the UNESCO Liaison Office in Ethiopia, under the UNESCO-HNA Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education. As part of the project, the UNESCO Institute for Capacity Building in Africa provides technical backstopping in institutional capacity-building for gender mainstreaming in education, GRP and teacher training.

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