EI held its first World Women’s Conference, in Bangkok, Thailand, from 20-23 January 2011. The successful event allowed teacher unionists to engage in passionate debates and assess the progress made on gender equality around the world.
The main conference was preceded by EI’s Women’s Network meetings which were a unique opportunity for regional and sub-regional networks to meet globally to share and exchange information and strategies on moving unions towards significant gender equality. The aim of connecting the networks and global advocacy with regional and national issues were well met and it was clear that when the relationship between networks and unions is valued, complementary action ensues, with a capacity to move the agenda and strengthen the union in the process.
On 20 January, Thailand’s Minister of Education, the Hon. Chinnaworn Bunyakiat, joined EI’s President, Susan Hopgood, and General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, and the National Thai Teachers’ Union leader, Dr. Boopun Sanbho, to welcome the diverse group of 368 participants –
324 women and 44 men – representing 131 EI affiliates across 91 countries.EI members were also joined by representatives of Global Unions, UNESCO and ILO.
We can and will do more
The structure of the conference enabled keynote speakers and panellists to stimulate, inform, provoke and engage plenary participants. The stocktaking theme of day one starkly exposed the gap between legal rights and daily lives. Participants reiterated that implementation of equality policies must remain a key focus for action in unions, across the education sector and within society.
Susan Hopgood’s words resonated with attendees when she stated: “We are in a position to stimulate change, to achieve transformation. We are in the right area of work – education – and we are in the right organisational framework – trade unions.”
The moderator, Sylvia Borren, challenged panellists and participants to probe what more each person could do. Participants agreed that issues of gender equality and empowerment of women should not be confined to equality departments, they must be integrated into every area of union work.
On 21 January, UNESCO’s Equality Director, Saniye Gulser Corat, focussed her keynote speech to press the case for high quality education for all children. This was echoed by other panellists, including EI Africa’s Chief Regional Coordinator, Assibi Napoe, and the UN Girl’s Education Initiative speaker, Maki Hayashikawa. The contribution from Carolyn Hannan painted a vivid picture of barriers faced by girls, while addressing the increasing phenomenon of under-achieving boys. The moderator, EI Deputy General Secretary, Monique Fouilhoux, drew in participants to the discussion to generate experience-based dialogue.
Such participation and interaction characterised the tone of the conference throughout, most notably in the 40 workshops which were largely led by EI member organisations, and ran the gamut of broad-focus, big-picture issues such as closing the equality gap, maternity protection and benefits, to more specific issues such as education, not child labour, and teaching for diversity.
Outcomes reflected in EI World Congress resolution
The conference was designed to revitalise and renew EI’s commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Another aim was to validate the networks. Both goals were comfortably accomplished. Voices from diverse regions; economic, social and cultural background were heard over and again, in plenary sessions, workshops and informal discussions. The synergy and dynamism of ideas and experiences was palpable.
EI Executive Board member and General Secretary of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union, Teopista Birungi, reported to the conference on 23 January in the third plenary. Respondents from Colombia, the Philippines and USA were joined by interventions from women and men, on perspectives and self-reflections, and with suggestions for actions and next steps.
An amazing array of views and lived experiences came together at this conference, from different cultures, different regions and different perspectives. Important as it is to appreciate differences and enormous diversity within and among groups, shared commonalities came through clearly.
EI President, Susan Hopgood, concluded the conference by stating: “We will take heed of your suggestions and let me assure you all that we will put them into our plans, in action at all levels, including Congress; but we need you to reflect on these experiences back home and in your commitment for action.”To loud applause she asserted: “We are on the Move for Equality!”
Outcomes from the conference to ensure a strong focus on women’s participation and empowerment will be reflected in a resolution to the EI World Congress.
More information is available at: www.ei-ie.org/women2011/en
By Jan Eastman, Education International