Women and the Teaching Profession

Exploring the Feminisation Debate

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The debates on women and teaching have been wide ranging and, in some cases, contentious. They have included reviews of why the profession can become gender imbalanced in favour of women, the impacts of this on learning processes and student education, and the implications on women’s overall empowerment within society and the economy.

Most of the research to date has concentrated on developed countries, such as the UK, Australia and Canada, where women have been a significant majority in the teaching workforce for decades. This study looks at how the teacher feminisation debate applies in developing countries. Drawing on the experiences of Dominica, Lesotho, Samoa, Sri Lanka and India, it provides a strong analytical understanding of the role of female teachers in the expansion of education systems, and the surrounding gender equality issues.

Co-published with UNESCO.



Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan women exercised universal franchise as early as 1932, and equal access to free education and health services came into effect in the 1940s. These have had already contributed to gender equality in some spheres of life of Sri Lankan women. With the majority of the population (70 per cent) being Buddhists, there was an even a longer heritage and cultural tradition of gender equality in Sri Lanka. In the Buddhist religion the women’s clergyhood was established during the time of the Lord Buddha. Though various cultural practices and the influences of other cultures suppressed the women not allowing her to enjoy the full freedom as of men, the embedded Buddhist ideology always accepted the principle of gender equity. Sri Lanka has claimed the honour of electing the first woman prime minister in the world in 1960 – Mrs Srima Bandaranayake. This landmark came in the wake of a long-established principle of equity in Buddhist culture, further backed by three decades of electing women politicians to the parliament. To date, Mrs Bandaranayake has been the longest serving Prime Minister in Sri Lanka.


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