To mark International Women’s Day, 8 March, Worlds of Education asked women trade unionists one key question: What is the most positive development you see on the road to gender equality? Here are some of their thoughts.
Susan Hopgood Federal Secretary, AEU, Australia President, Education International I have seen tremendous changes for women teachers including paid maternity leave and longer periods of family leave; permanent part-time work; improved access to pensions; recognition of sexual harassment and its impact and introduction of procedures for complaint; promotion on the basis of merit rather than seniority, which worked against women because of time taken for family, childrearing, etc. As a result, we have seen much improvement in terms of women in school leadership positions, although we still have a way to go in Australia. The greatest change in our union is a cultural one: gender representation at all levels is now a matter of course. Irene Duncan Adanusa General Secretary, GNAT, Ghana EI Vice-President In my union, GNAT, there has been a remarkable surge – a more than 30% increase – since 2006 in the numbers of female teachers of all ages who are pursuing higher education programmes through distance education to improve themselves academically and professionally. This has been mainly as a result of the advocacy and capacity-building programs undertaken by our Gender and Development Department. There is also a special science programme for women teachers in rural areas, an innovation of our Professional Development Division. Whatever I have achieved for the GNAT in the role of General Secretary has not been handed to me on a “silver platter.” Women leaders should know which battles to fight, when and where to fight, and who to fight. Haldis Holst UEN, Norway EI Vice-President I see important developments that give great hope both internationally and in Norway. The new Network of Men Leaders, launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 24 November 2009, represents an important step in combating violence against women and girls. I believe these male world leaders, including our own Minister of Justice, and their commitment to breaking the silence, will make a difference. Another major development in Norway is linked to the work of The Equal Pay Commission in 2008. The Commission’s report has strengthened the political debate and equal pay is now anticipated to be the major issue in the collective bargaining processes this year. I actually now dare hope for an historical step towards pay equity. Juçara Dutra Vieira CNTE, Brazil EI Vice-President In Brazil, gender issues were institutionalised in 2003 with the creation of the National Women’s Secretariat, which serves as liaison between the Presidency of the Republic and unions, women´s networks, NGOs and civil society. The main positive steps were passage of Maria da Penha´s Law, which criminalizes domestic violence; legal recognition of woman as heads of the household (previously the Civil Code attributed this prerogative only to men); and the extension of retirement benefits to women working in agriculture and as domestic servants. Within unions and political parties, gender quotas can be fixed by laws and statutes. In the education sector, there is pay equity. However, many cultural challenges remain, like access to positions of power and leadership in the world of work. Teopista Birungi Mayanja General Secretary, UNATU, Uganda EI Executive Board member In 2004, UNATU developed a project in 2004 called Teachers’ Action for Girls (TAG). It has now been transformed into a programme which aims to support teachers in acting as lead agents in the creation of gender-sensitive school environments that support both girls and boys to access, complete and achieve in education. It has attracted many partnerships, with government and non-state actors alike. This being a teacher-led intervention, we see it as a very positive development. Salimata Doumbia General Secretary, General Workers' Union of the Ivory Coast EI Executive Board Member The most positive sign is that in more and more countries there is a political will to achieve gender equity, and more women are holding positions of leadership. I’ve been Secretary General of a union with only 20% female membership, and I’m also Secretary General of the largest union federation in Ivory Coast. More and more women hold the job of general secretary in the member unions. In 2005, there were only five women secretaries general out of 160 unions; in 2009 there are 18. For my country, that is real progress. Eva-Lis Sirén President, Lärarförbundet, Sweden EI Executive Board Member A positive development in Sweden is that men are increasingly taking a responsibility for their children and for the unpaid work at home. Parents can be off work with parental benefit for long continuous periods, single days or parts of days. During 2009, men took 22% of the total number of parental leave days, an increase of 10% in ten years. This is obviously not enough, but we have taken a few more steps on the long road to gender equality. Antoinette Corr General Secretary, GTU, Gambia Whether it is a developed or developing country like the Gambia, women everywhere are struggling to break the shackles of the patriarchal society that has divided the sphere of action into private and public. Today, women who have been acted upon as objects of development plans and policies are now initiators of change. Empowering women is an indispensable tool for advancing development and reducing poverty. For this reason, intensifying programmes that raise awareness amongst women and girls are of paramount importance. GTU is working closely with other social partners through its Women’s Wing to conduct training on the African Charter and Protocol and other legal instruments affecting women, conduct programmes on life skills and offer career counselling services to discourage subject stereotypes as road map to gender equality in the Gambia.
This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 33, March 2010.