Regional Women’s Networks: Strengthening Solidarity and Equality

published 18 March 2024 updated 11 April 2024

The critical role of regional women’s networks in fostering solidarity and addressing gender issues within unions, the education sector, and society was underscored in a recent virtual event hosted by Education International (EI). Participants from across the globe convened to explore the joint efforts of EI members and regional offices in advancing gender equality and justice.

Empowering Women: The Heart of Regional Networks

Women’s networks play a pivotal role in amplifying the voices of female educators, union members, and activists. These networks serve as vital platforms for collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and collective action. During the EI meeting, the focus was squarely on understanding how these networks operate, their coordination mechanisms, and their impact on strengthening education unions.

The Long-Standing Legacy of Latin America and Africa Networks

Among the standout examples were the Latin America and Africa women’s networks, which have stood the test of time and established robust systems of cooperation within EI. In Latin America the networks bring together diverse organizations from 33 organisations in 16 countries in Latin America, fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose.

Gabriela Sancho, coordinator of the EI Women’s Network in Latin America, emphasized the strategic significance of these networks. “In our region, where the teaching profession is predominantly female,” she explained, “our women’s network serves as both a political and organizational strategy within our unions.”

International Cooperation: A Cornerstone of Success

Sancho highlighted the critical role of international cooperation. “Without political, strategic, financial, and union support,” she asserted, “the level of consolidation achieved by the women’s network in Latin America would not have been possible.” The network collaborates closely with sister union organizations worldwide, including the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), the Suomen Ammattiliittojen Solidaarisuuskeskus (SASK) of Finland, the Union of Education Norway (UEN), the Swedish Teachers' Union (STU), and the National Education Union (NEA) of the USA.

Addressing Structural Violence and Inequality

Sancho also drew attention to the persistent challenges faced by women. “Structural violence, rooted in historical and societal factors,” she stated, “contributes to an ongoing dynamic of inequality.” The urgency to organize and empower women remains paramount. “Our women’s network,” Sancho emphasized, “is our strategic response. We seek equality and explore alternative avenues for political engagement.”

Empowering African Women in Education: AWEN’s Journey

The African Women in Education Network (AWEN) has also been keen on empowerment, resilience, and progress for unionists, according to members involved in the network. Coordinated by Education International Africa (EIA), AWEN stands at the forefront of advancing gender equality within education unions across the African continent.

A Purpose-Driven Network

EI Africa (EIA) coordinator Anais Dayamba shared that since AWEN’s genesis in May 2008, when female union leaders came together with a shared vision: to elevate women’s participation in union activities and empower them to assume decision-making roles at all levels. Rooted in EI Congress resolutions, policies, and initiatives, AWEN has become a driving force for change.

Promoting Gender Equality: AWEN’s Mandate

At its core, AWEN seeks to promote gender equality within unions. By doing so, it contributes to the broader goal of enhancing the quality of education for all. Its multifaceted approach encompasses advocacy, capacity-building, and strategic collaboration.

A Network of Networks

AWEN operates through a well-structured framework. Here are the key components:

  1. Subregional and National Networks: AWEN spans 95 unions across 43 countries. These networks serve as localized hubs, fostering dialogue, sharing best practices, and amplifying the voices of women educators.
  2. Advisory Committee: Comprising representatives from subregional networks and the EIA office, the advisory committee provides strategic guidance and ensures alignment with AWEN’s mission.
  3. Funding and Cooperation: AWEN’s activities receive support from a consortium that includes Education International (EI), the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), the Union of Education Norway (UEN), and the Swedish Teachers’ Union (STU). An annual review meeting and planning sessions facilitate collaboration among stakeholders.

AWEN’s Impact: A Trail of Achievements

Despite formidable challenges, AWEN has achieved significant milestones:

  1. Constitutional Reforms: Many teacher unions in Africa have revised their constitutions to actively include women through affirmative action. This deliberate step ensures that women’s voices are heard and their contributions recognized.
  2. Increased Representation: Over the past decade, more women have ascended to decision-making positions within unions. AWEN’s advocacy has shattered glass ceilings and paved the way for equitable leadership.
  3. Combatting Gender-Based Violence: AWEN’s programs address school-related gender-based violence. By fostering safe and inclusive learning environments, the network champions the rights of students and educators alike.

Navigating Challenges: AWEN’s Resilience

AWEN faces persistent obstacles, including language barriers, connectivity issues, entrenched gender stereotypes, and political inertia. However, EIA and member organizations remain steadfast in their commitment. Through gender-balanced programs, focused meetings, and technical support, they champion AWEN’s cause.

As AWEN continues to empower African women educators, it exemplifies the transformative power of collective action. In classrooms, boardrooms, and communities, AWEN’s legacy reverberates—a testament to the indomitable spirit of those who believe in a more just and equal world.

As the global community continues to champion gender equality, the work of EI's regional women’s networks stands as a beacon of hope and progress. Through collaboration, advocacy, and resilience, these networks pave the way toward a more just and equitable world.