Examples of the work done by Education International and its member organisations in different parts of the world since the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted in 1995, demonstrate the power of taking collective action to find collective solutions.
The Beijing Platform for Action identified twelve (12) ‘Critical Areas of Concern’ and highlighted ‘Strategic Objectives’ under each area ‘for the advancement of the rights of women and girls’. The Platform for Action also detailed the actions to be taken by key stakeholders for its provisions to be implemented. In effect, when the 189 Governments signed the Beijing Platform for Action, they pledged to take action themselves as governments and pledged that other key stakeholders, including trade unions, would also take action to implement the platform.
Education unions’ contributions towards the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action – at the national and international levels - can be highlighted with regard to the Strategic Objectives under the following Critical Areas of Concern, among others:
- Education and training of women;
- Women and the economy;
- Women in power and decision-making; and
- Violence against women.
As outlined below, examples of work done by education unions show the critical difference that collective bargaining has made to the advancement of women’s rights.
Strategic Objective B.3 of the Beijing Platform for Action is on education and highlights the need for: equal access to education at all levels, eradication of illiteracy among women and improvement in women’s access to vocational training, science, technology, inter alia.(Beijing Platform for Action, 1995: § 80-88). Education is recognised in the Platform for Action as a human right and an essential tool for achieving the goals of equality, development and peace .
2012-2015: EI and its member organisations advocated intensely at the national, regional and global levels for the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – that would replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – to include a stand-alone goal on education. SDG4 calls on UN member states to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.’
2018: The Danish National Federation of Early Childhood Teachers and Youth Educators (BUPL) secured enhanced recognition of the profession of early childhood educator, 90% of whom are women in Denmark.
2019: After close to two decades of negotiation and engagement with the national legislature, the Gambia Teachers’ Union succeeded in its bid for a Government review of the national budget for education, securing in the process an increase of one hundred and sixty million Gambian Dalasi (approximately three million US dollars) per annum.
The Jamaica Teachers’ Association secured a reclassification of the teaching service, which brought it into alignment with the civil service and the private sector.
Strategic Objective F.5 of the Beijing Platform for Action is on women and the economy and calls, inter alia, for the elimination of all forms of employment discrimination through: the application of the International Labour Organisation Convention 100 on equal pay and workers’ rights and the principle of equal pay for work of equal value, legal prohibition of gender-based discrimination in the world of work and in relation to employment; and recognition of collective bargaining rights as a key tool for improving women’s working conditions and eliminating the gender pay gap (Beijing Platform for Action, 1995 § 178).
1996: In Gabon, the Syndicat de l’Education Nationale (SENA), was successful in negotiating the integration of auxiliary teachers into the civil service.
1999: The Kenya National Union of Teachers mobilised its members and won the payment of a hardship allowance to teachers working in geographical areas in which they face specific hardships. In 2005, the union won a commuter allowance for all teachers according to their pay grade.
2002-2005: EI and Public Services International (PSI) undertook joint activities in a campaign on pay equity and EI launched the Pay Equity Now! campaign in 2009, in order to build the capacity of unions and their members, especially women, to fight for pay equity. Union experience shows that collective bargaining on levels of pay and on the operation of pay scales can make a positive difference towards closing the pay gap.
Equal pay for women and men is an issue that is closely monitored by the teachers’ unions in Sweden, including Lararforbundet, the Swedish Teachers’ Union, after each annual revision of teachers’ salaries. Subsequent to any salary revision, the union undertakes an investigative survey to detect any gender-based discrimination or discrimination against teachers who are or have been on parental leave. The union has successfully taken on the cases of members who have faced such discrimination.
Swedish teachers’ unions have also been successful in forcing employers to show salary statistics disaggregated by sex and age. This provides an irrefutable evidence-base from which the union can make a strong argument in cases of structural gender-based pay inequality.
2018: The West Virginia Education Association – an affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA), United States of America - won a 5% pay raise for teachers and education support professionals and secured a long-term revenue fix for public employees’ health insurance plan after a 9-day walkout in which more than 35000 members participated.
2018: The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) successfully pursued an industrial case for female members who faced gender and age-based discrimination in a promotional competition, which took place in 2008-2009. The case was finally successfully settled through local negotiation by IFUT with the employer in 2018. Other female employees who had suffered the same discrimination in the same promotional competition sought a remedy via the civil courts at great expense and personal hardship. They finally settled outside of court, subsequent to IFUT’s success through the industrial relations process; the union member bore no legal costs herself and benefitted from the full support of the union throughout the process.
The Secondary School Teachers’ Union of Zambia (SESTUZ) mobilized in collaboration with other unions in the sector – and were successful – in demanding a change of the law to ensure that the retirement age of women and men was the same.
2001: The Centrale des Syndicats de Quebec (CSQ) began to represent a group of early childhood education workers - predominantly women working independently - who sought to have their status as salaried workers recognisedby the government. After a battle at the Supreme Court of Québec and a complaint to the International Labour Organisation, the case was won, and the workers were able to negotiate their first collective agreement nearly ten years later.
2015: The impact of the increase of the state pension age for women born in the 1950s has led to additional hardship and pension poverty for many women. Starting in 2010, NASUWT, The Teachers’ Union, United Kingdom campaigned, organisedand took industrial action to protest the pension inequality that disproportionately affects women in the UK, including women teachers. After 5 years, a victory ensured that women born in the 1950s are protected from the increase in the teachers’ pension age and the end of the final salary teachers’ pension scheme.
2008: The Italian Government attempted to reduce elementary school attendance to 24 hours per week, a measure that would have forced many mothers to give up work and would have caused a massive loss of jobs for teachers and other education personnel. After a strike called by education unions, among which EI affiliates UIL-Scuola, FLC-CGIL and CISL-Scuola, which had massive public support, the measure was withdrawn.
Through a 5-year ongoing campaign - ‘JA 13: Because Primary School Teachers Deserve It’ - the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (GEW) has strongly lobbied and advocated for primary school teachers (the vast majority of whom are women in Germany) to receive the same standard of salary as secondary school teachers. This has been achieved in a number of regional States, with negotiations ongoing in others. The union has also successfully fought for and won equal length of training for primary school teachers, as compared to their peers in the secondary sector – an acknowledgement that the profession is equally complex in both sectors, which is an important prerequisite for equal professional status and equal pay.
Strategic objective F.6 of the Beijing Platform for Action calls for, inter alia, the harmonisation of work and family responsibilities for women and men through the adoption of measures to enable women to take temporary leave from employment, have transferable employment and retirement benefits and make arrangements to modify work hours without sacrificing their prospects for development and advancement at work and in their careers, as well as the development of educational programmes, media campaigns and school and community education programmes to raise awareness on gender equality and non-stereotyped gender roles of women and men within the family (Beijing Platform for Action, 1995 §180).
2002: The Graduate Employees Organization at the University of Michigan – an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers - secured the first-ever funding for childcare stipends for employees of a US university in a collective bargaining agreement.
2015: The Federación Nacional de Docentes Universitarios(CONADU – National Federation of University Teachers, Argentina) secured the inclusion in the National Collective Agreement for university teachers, of a special clause on special leave for the birth or adoption of a child (Licencias por Nacimiento o Adoption): 180 days can be shared between the two parents, irrespective of their gender identity or whether they are in a same-sex relationship.
In Norway, the Union of Education Norway (UEN) has been involved in securing important wins over the last twenty years with regard to parental leave. In 1999 fathers were entitled to a total of six weeks of parental leave after the birth of a child. Today parental leave is shared between parents in three equal parts, and parents are free to decide whether the third part is taken by the mother or father. Mothers and fathers are obliged to take the third allocated to them or risk losing it. Although this approach has met with some strong criticism, the Norwegian authorities felt this was the best solution to ensure women could retain their pension and job promotion rights, by not being forced to remain away from the job market because only they and not the fathers could take a longer period of parental leave.
The Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), negotiated for women to be paid full salary during maternity leave, and the national Employment (Amendment) Act of 2010, which established a minimum pay of half salary for women on maternity leave was consequently amended.
Leading By Example
Strategic objective D.1 of the Beijing Platform for Action is on violence against women and calls on Governments, employers, trade unions, community and youth organizations and non-governmental organizations to take action and introduce integrated measures to prevent and eliminate violence against women. This includes ‘programmes and procedures to eliminate sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women in all educational institutions, workplaces and elsewhere’.
2016-2019: In a collaboration between EI and the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), the Teachers Take Action to End School-related Gender-based Violence (SRGBV) programme included nine (9) EI member organisations in seven (7) countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The programme took aparticipatory approach, which allowed enabled union members, officials and leaders to deepen their understanding of the nature of gender inequality and gender-based violence in their context.
2019: The 8th EI World Congress adopted a resolution on ‘Eliminating All Forms of Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment in Education Unions’.
Strategic objective G.1 of the Beijing Platform for Action is on women in power and decision-making, and calls for the adoption of measures to ensure women’s equal access to, and full participation in power structures and decision-making, including within trade unions, inter alia, through: taking action to build a critical mass of women leaders in strategic decision-making positions; ensuring criteria for recruitment and appointment to advisory and decision-making bodies do not discriminate against women; encouraging the efforts of trade unions to achieve equality between women and men in their ranks, including equal participation in their decision-making bodies and in negotiations in all areas and at all levels(Beijing Platform for Action, 1995 §190 & §192).
As mandated by the provisions of its Constitution and since it was founded in 1993, EI has created spaces and opportunities for women’s participation, representation and leadership at all levels of its internal structures.
The representation of women within EI’s decision-making and leadership structures has continued to increase over the last 25 years. The current EI Executive Board is the first one in EI’s history on which women outnumber men: 15 women to 12 men. This was achieved after an amendment to the EI Constitution was adopted by the 8th EI World Congress (July 2019), introducing a quota system that requires at least half of the Open seats on the Executive Board to be held by women.
Although there is much to celebrate in the contributions that education unions have made to the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action over the last twenty-five years, there is still some way to go.
EI and its member organisations all over the world are committed to going the distance, because the struggle for gender equality is a marathon, and EI and its member organisations are confident that we are equal to the task.
"Until we ensure that women join our unions in proportion to their employment, until women are participating in our unions at all levels — at the grassroots level right through to the governance or leadership level — we cannot have an organisation which will meet our aims and objectives. So, it’s not just a matter if women are there, women need to be there if we’re going to be the sort of organisation that we need to be, and want to be, to ensure that we achieve our full objectives."
(EI President, Susan Hopgood)
2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action(BPfA) at the 4th United Nations World Women's Conference held in Beijing in 1995. The BPfA remains the most progressive blueprint for achieving women's rights ever agreed by Governments at the global level. In commemoration of this important milestone, this is the first in a special EI Beijing +25 Blog Series on Worlds of Education; the last blog in the series will be published on International Human Rights Day (10 December 2020). Click here to access the other blogs.
 Beijing Platform for Action, paragraph 69.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.