Education International
Education International

Women unionists take stock of the status of women in today's world

published 21 January 2011 updated 21 January 2011

The EI World Women's Conference began with a stock-taking of the status of women in the world 30 years after the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and 15 years after the Beijing Platform for Action.

EI Vice President Irene Adanusa welcomed the participants. She thanked them for coming together in Bangkok for this conference, which marks an important step in moving towards one of EI's main goals – achieving gender equality.

EI President Susan Hopgood gave the keynote address, highlighting the milestones made in the enhancement of women's status in society, but also outlining the present challenges confronting women across the world.

“We are in a position to stimulate change, to achieve transformation,” she said. “We are in the right area of work: Education; and we are in the right organisational framework: trade unions. It is our mission to fight for the quality of our education systems in policy and practice, for the strength of our unions – and for gender justice within education for all.”

Chairing the panel discussions that followed was Sylvia Borren, Co-Chairperson of the Global Campaign Against Poverty (GCAP). She introduced the first panelist, Christine Nathan from the International Labour Organisation's office in Bangkok. Nathan shared with the participants how gender equality in rights and at work go hand in hand as well as how the ILO Decent Work agenda promotes the implementation of key gender standards.

The next panellist to speak was Fatima Da Silva, Vice President of EI regional committee in Latin America who hails from the teacher union CNTE in Brazil. Addressing “Women Power and Politics”, Da Silva elaborated on how women should play an increasing leadership role.

The third panellist was Gemma Adaba, former representative of the International Trade Union Confederation to the United Nations. Adaba looked at the question of financing the gender equality agenda, and the importance of women unionists to be at the forefront of those discussions. The only way to achieve that agenda is to connect the global to the local and holding governments accountable.

EI Deputy General Secretary Jan Eastman next introduced the key findings of EI's survey on the status of women in education unions. To be presented to the forthcoming World Congress in July, the survey received the highest rate of response compared to its predecessors. Eastman highlighted the correlation between the scope of legal framework and the presence of union policy on gender equality, and the big gap between legal provision and actual implementation of gender policies, including imbalance of women leadership when they make up to 50-80% of union membership.

Last but not least, experienced teacher unionist Joyce Powell, a Member of the Executive Board of the National Education Association (NEA) in the United States addressed the participants. She traced the NEA's century-long work on progressing the rights of women and showcased the various women who made it to leadership positions today, who include the present EI President Susan Hopgood and the founding EI President and former NEA President Mary Hatwood Futrell. “Our collective action as union members can play a crucial role in improving the lives of women,” she said.

All panellists engaged in vivid discussions with the floor on a wide variety of issues relating to the status of women in today's world. A common consensus was that unions can do more by building on achievements and it is essential to include men in the fight. Traditions, religion and culture were mentioned frequently as main barriers to gender equality. Also raised was the important role of families is not to perpetuate gender stereotypes in the home and daily life.

Participants communicated both energy and dynamism to continue the struggle to achieve gender equality.

The World Women's Conference which gathered 380 teacher unionists from EI member organisations around the world will continue until 23 January.

All photos of the event are available on our Flickr site.

For further information, please visit: www.ei-ie.org/women2011.

Read our latest newsletter here.