A record number of women education unionists came together online for the 4th Education International World Women’s Conference held from the 13 to 16th of June. Bringing together a profession largely dominated by women in many parts of the world, the Conference focused on mobilising and using women’s power for change.
Education union power is women’s power
In her opening speech, Susan Hopgood, Education International President, called on women education unionists everywhere to take action in order to counter the alarming developments of the last few years. From worsening gender inequalities caused by the pandemic, to sexual violence used as a weapon of war against women in Ukraine or the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the alarming rates of femicide in parts of Central and Latin America, the world is backsliding when it comes to women’s rights and gender equality.
“As trade unionists, we recognise the importance of collective power: we build solidarity between workers so we can mobilise, organise and harness our collective power to defend and promote our rights. As education unions, we also defend and promote the rights of our students. In this Conference, as we think about and discuss what it means to refer to ‘women’s power’, let us not forget that we are a profession that is largely dominated by women in most regions. So, in fact, in many of the places where we are joining the Conference from, education union power is women’s power,” Hopgood highlighted.
Using women’s power for change
During the four Conference days, participants explored a wide range of topics and had the opportunity to hear from a variety of women leaders, from those occupying formal positions of power in governments and unions, to the young women who are leading the global movement for climate justice.
The first day of the Conference focused on women in leadership in government and education unions. High-level political leaders from Uganda, Jamaica, Morocco and New Zealand and the women who lead Education International as members of its Executive Board, shared their personal and professional journeys into leadership, the kinds of opportunities and barriers they encountered along the way, and personal stories that prepared them for a journey into leadership. Speakers also shared their views on the nature of power: how it’s used, how it should be used and its gendered dimensions.
The second day of the Conference explored insights from recent research into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women in unions and in education. The day also featured a storytelling session about the ways in which power operates in relation to gender, race, caste, socio-economic status, etc.
On the third day of the Conference, participants turned their attention to education union efforts to address and eradicate gender-based violence. Speakers from EI member organisations across regions discussed why eradicating gender-based violence in and around educational settings, in unions, and in society is a top union priority. Speakers also shared examples of how their unions are working to effect change on this critical issue. Education unions in Ukraine and Afghanistan whose members are currently experiencing the horrors of war or are trying to pick up the pieces in post conflict settings shared powerful experiences. The day closed with a panel featuring experts from different regions, who are bravely facing anti-gender, anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-critical race theory backlash in education.
The final day of the Conference was dedicated the future. The day featured an inspiring panel of young women leading the struggle for climate justice and for transformative climate action. In a discussion moderated by NASUWT’s Michelle Codrington-Rogers, Mitzi Jonelle Tan from the Philippines, Vanessa Nakate from Uganda, Phoebe Hanson from the UK, and Laura Verónica Muñoz from Colombia, talked about what it takes to challenge traditional/structural power as a young woman in the context of a planetary emergency. Watch their conversation below.
Unions are our homes
In her closing remarks, Susan Hopgood encouraged women unionists to treat their unions as their homes. “Our unions must be models for what inclusive, sustainable, and values-led movements ought to look like, behave like, and feel like. Every time we approach the bargaining table, the media, the podium, or the streets, we dig deep into the foundation of our homes - our values,”she stated. “We must ensure that the structures of our homes, whether it is informal networks, committees, professional development programmes, or our leadership boards, do not limit women to one floor, but enable them to reach every floor in the house.”