Development cooperation backs up Arab education unions’ actions for democracy, gender equality and quality education

published 17 February 2023 updated 20 March 2024

Many development cooperation (DC) partners participated in the Education International (EI) Café at the EI Arab Countries Cross-Regional Structure (ACCRS). They received information on recent challenges and progress of education unions in the region.

EI Coordinator Dalila El Barhmi took the floor to highlight activities undertaken in and planned for member organisations in Arab countries, which correspond with EI strategic directions:

  • Rights and democracy.
  • Union renewal.
  • Status of the teaching profession.
  • Promoting and protecting equitable, inclusive free quality public education for all.
  • Partnerships.
  • Internal and external communication.

6th Biennial Conference of the EI ACCRS

Reporting on the 6th Biennial Conference of the EI ACCRS, held from 14 to 15 December in Amman, Jordan, she highlighted that it was preceded by pre-conference events, including the Equity Caucus, a session on Education in Emergencies in the Arab region and the Higher Education Caucus.

The Conference adopted a framing Resolution on transforming unions to transform education.

This document describes conditions that have damaged education systems, the teaching profession, and education unions, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic and social crises, austerity programmes with budget cuts and the failure to have fair taxation.

It highlighted the additional burden on education systems of the influx of refugee and migrant children. The document also discusses the attacks on democracy and human rights in the region, including worker rights.

The resolution goes on:

  • Urging governments to protect human rights and respect international labour standards.
  • Recognising the value of education to sustainable development and to building decent, prosperous, and fair societies.
  • Asking education unions and governments to participate in and contribute to UN efforts to transform education.
  • Calling on governments to fully fund quality public education, improve the status of teachers and ensure that there is quality teacher training and professional development.
  • Calling on governments to ensure that teachers and the education community are involved in policy making.

Focus on gender equality

Citing the gender equality caucus held at the 6th Biennial Conference of the EI ACCRS, El Barhmi said caucus participants reflected on results of a survey to understand the level of women’s participation in in leadership in Education International member organisations.

They addressed questions such as:

  • Where do we stand as education unions in the ACCRS region regarding gender equality work?
  • What are the main challenges related to gender equality and education at national and sub-regional levels?
  • What are the priorities and recommendations of education unions on gender equality/equity?

The caucus also stressed the need to advance the promotion of women’s participation and leadership in education unions, women’s economic empowerment, ratification by Arab countries of the International Labour Organization’s Convention 190, and girls’ access to quality public education.

El Barhmi was emphatic that “building the relationships with union leadership- still very much male-dominated - is crucial for DC work in that area. Only then will we open the door to women as DC partners. Without dialogue and trust, this work will be met with resistance and looked upon as part of funding and women-only issues.”

The EI coordinator went on to welcome the election of Manal Hdaife from the Public Primary Schools Teachers League in Lebanon as the first women chairperson of the EI ACCRS.

Regional DC work

El Barhmi said that DC projects on social and policy dialogue in education are being undertaken in Morocco and Tunisia and should be expanded.

DC activities are also being organised in Palestine, where a small union in the early childhood education sector is under development and needs to recruit more members. “They need support to build their union and have the right structures. The project was agreed and must now be kicked-off, despite setbacks encountered with COVID and the change of leadership. We are planning the next workshops activities,” El Barhmi noted.

She added that the General Union of Palestinian Teachers is involved in DC activities on transforming the union through gender equality and the use of IT and professional development. Phase one of the project is over, and the programme was adopted by the Ministry of Education, she said.

“The Higher Education Caucus held during the ACCRS conference has convinced us that we need more unions in the higher education sector as part of union renewal, and they are ready to engage in DC work. A large union from Algeria with many young people joined Education International at Education International’s most recent Executive Board meeting, and an Egyptian higher education union is in a good position to be accepted as an Education International’s affiliate at the next Executive Board meeting.”

Education in emergency situations

El Barhmi reported that, especially In Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, teachers are doing their outmost to provide education in crisis situations, something that was clear in the session on Education in Emergencies in the Arab region organised at the ACCRS conference.

During a mission to Lebanon, El Barhmi recalled, EI expressed solidarity with educators and students who face extreme conditions which deny children their right to education and impact teachers and their unions.

In Lebanon, teachers work with refugees, and they need to work more with UN agencies like UNICEF, and build alliances at national and regional levels, she said, also recognising that in Yemen, teachers have not received their salaries for three years, “but they are still extremely committed, because they do not want to lose future generations for their country”.

Status of the teaching profession

El Barhmi also reported on progress achieved on the status of the teaching profession, as shown in Morocco, where social dialogue has led to the signing of an agreement between the Moroccan government and education unions on issues such as a unified employment status for national education employees. This new status will replace all pre-existing employment arrangements, which means a fresh start for all, contract teachers included, based on new foundations.

Joining the Go Public! campaign

Some unions already showed interest in participating in the new Education International campaign, Go Public! Fund Education during the Conference. This is the case of Lebanese unions, focusing on fighting the privatisation of education, on reversing the narrative and on policies of international financing institutions.

The campaign is an urgent call for governments to invest in public education, a fundamental human right and public good, and to invest more in teachers, the single most important factor in achieving quality education.