New homes built by UN-HABITAT for teachers in the district of Lira in northern Uganda will attract female teachers in a community recovering from two decades of war and in need of strong female role models, say local school inspectors.
Helen Achan was a teacher for 15 years and now works as a school inspector. In rural areas of Lira that were badly affected by fighting between the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Ugandan forces, Ms. Achan has found that schools have few female teachers and some have none at all. But she says the 64 new houses UN-HABITAT has built at rural schools will be a big boost for recruitment. “It is one of the ways of attracting female teachers to reach hard-to-reach areas,” she says. Of the district’s 2,656 teachers, there are only 651 women, and they tend to be concentrated in urban areas.
The proximity of the new houses at the school sites eliminates the need for teachers to ride their bicycles up to two hours on bumpy dirt roads, from the towns or trading centres, where many live in rented accommodation, to the rural schools where they teach. Ms. Achan says these long and tiring journeys are a factor behind high rates of teacher absenteeism and lateness among teachers, and also a main reason why many female teachers find it difficult to teach in village schools, especially when they also have families to take care of. Lira has no public transportation system and few can afford cars.
During heavy fighting between the LRA and government forces, many teachers fled from their villages to transitional camps, and then decided to stay in towns and trading centres even after the camps disbanded. After a ceasefire agreement in August 2006, peace and stability in the area has improved steadily, but the impact of 20 years of fighting in northern Uganda has left many scars. Two million people were displaced, villagers were massacred and tortured, and thousands of children were abducted by rebel forces. Many boys were forced to fight and kill and many girls were forced to marry and have sex with rebel commanders.
Ms. Achan says that female teachers will have a positive social impact on children, many of whom have lost family members through killings and abductions. Liberata Omachi, a fellow school inspector, agrees.
“Female teachers are mothers to all the children—the way they advise them, the way they counsel them. Children feel more comfortable talking to the females than to the male teachers,” she said. Only 43 percent of children in Lira finish primary school, and the percentage is even lower for girls. Ms. Achan and Ms. Omachi said female teachers would help inspire and encourage girls to study.
Anne Attard, Chief of Operatons at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Uganda, says having a good gender balance in schools helps to make them safer, too.
“In a school with all-male teachers, girls are often subject to all sorts of pressures—and abuse, actually—so one of the key elements of creating a safe environment in the school is to have a balance between female and male teachers.” The District of Lira will ensure that a minimum of 25 per cent of the new houses will be reserved for female teachers. UNICEF funded the housing project, while the World Food Programme provided the machines for making the environmentally friendly bricks used to construct the buildings."
Speech by Mrs Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, at the handover ceremony of the teachers’ schools at Igony School, Lira, Northern Uganda, 3rd July 2009
After decades of civil war, UN-HABITAT helps with a new start in Northern Uganda
Read about the environmentally friendly bricks used to construct teachers’ houses in northern Uganda