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Increasing the number of female teachers is only part of the challenge; placing them in areas with high levels of under-educated girls is just as important
Suwaiba Yunusa was the only female teacher at Janbulo Islamiyya Primary School in the Nigerian state of Jigawa in 2016. In fact, with a shortage of qualified female teachers, the school's leadership was grateful to have even one.
As in other northern Nigerian states - where girls make up the biggest portion of children not in school - educators in Jigawa State recognized that with female teachers, girls are more likely to go to, stay in and perform well in school. Even one female teacher like Suwaiba gave parents greater confidence to send their daughters to school. For the students, she was a role model and trusted advisor.
Suwaiba herself was inspired by female teachers to continue her studies and turn to the teaching profession. "Growing up I had two women teachers," she said. "I remember thinking I wanted to be like them. Now I am. So, I know how important it is when the girls come up to me and say, 'When I grow up I want to be a teacher like you.'"
International Women's Day, which we observe today, is a perfect moment to reflect on how important female teachers are in a world where 132 million girls are out of school and where they are 1.5 times more likely than boys to be excluded from primary school.
Education to achieve gender equality will also be on the agenda of this year's G7 -- a group of countries with the largest economies in the world. It's a strong indication of the increased political commitment for education and gender equality by global leaders.
Girls face a multitude of barriers that keep them from going to and completing school and the Global Partnership for Education works with governments to tackle these issues. Among them are early marriage, poverty, pressure to put girls to work, stubborn bias against girls and women, long treks to and from school, conflict and fragility, threats of sexual violence, a lack of sanitary facilities as well as not enough female role models Indeed, countries with more female school teachers in the early grades tend to have higher enrollment rates for girls in secondary school.
The challenge is all too obvious in most developing countries that struggle to educate girls and face acute shortages of female teachers. In some countries, fewer than 25 percent of primary school teachers are women.
But increasing the number of trained female teachers is only part of the challenge. Placing them in under-served, typically remote areas with high levels of under-educated girls is just as important.
In Afghanistan, women make up one-third of all teachers nationwide, but the geographic distribution is starkly uneven. While in some areas, less than two percent of teachers are women; in others, women are nearly three-quarters of the teacher workforce.
To address the imbalance, Afghanistan's Ministry of Education, working closely with the Ministry of Women's Affairs, encourages female teachers with stipends to upgrade their skills. It also offers incentives such as housing and salary supplements, provided the teachers relocate from urban to rural areas.
In Nepal, the government's decade-long investment in getting more female teachers to underserved areas has paid off. Nearly all Nepalese children, including girls, are now in primary school. More girls move on to secondary school and Nepal has achieved gender parity in education - that is, girls and boys there go to school in equal numbers.
As the only female teacher at Janbulo Islamiyya Primary School, Suwaiba understood how powerful and critical her role was. "I keep thinking about the future," she said. "I know that someday, as more and more girls go to school and complete their education, there will be more of us. I can't wait for that day to come."
Alice Albright is the CEO of the Global Partnership for Education and a member of the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council.