The regional meeting of the Education International Latin America (EILA) Women Education Workers’ Network, widely attended by women from almost every country in the region, took place in Recife, Brazil.
While the first day of the event focused on providing women with tools to strengthen the struggle for equality within their unions and their workplaces, the second day provided an opportunity for them to reflect on the current situation in the region, through presentations by women colleagues from a range of organisations.
On Sunday 18 September, the meeting began with recognition for the work of the Presidents and General Secretaries of organisations affiliated to EILA and represented at the event. Among them were Gilda Montero from ANDE (Costa Rica), Yorgina Alvarado from SEC (Costa Rica), Elbia Pereira from FUM-TEP (Uruguay), Aminta Rudas from MPU (Panama), Sonia Alesso from CTERA (Argentina), Yobana Salinas from Sindi2 (Chile) and several local women leaders.
The session provided an opportunity for reflection on the need to implement mechanisms that guarantee spaces for women and to keep up the struggle for equality within trade unions, including those where gains, such as a gender equality policy, have been secured.
Sandra Hernández, from Colprosumah (Honduras), spoke about the inequalities and violence that women have historically suffered in her country.
“We have a multi-ethnic country where 51% are women, yet it has the highest level of gender inequality in the region,” she said, while explaining that, despite the scope of the challenge, her organisation managed to approve its gender equality policy, a process that began at a meeting of the EILA Women Education Workers’ Network in 2019.
Gloria Arboleda of Aspu and María Eugenia Londoño of FECODE, both from Colombia, spoke of the new phase that their country has entered with the arrival of a leftist government: “Total peace is finally being sought, through dialogue with all sectors. It opens up new opportunities for Colombia and for the agenda of trade union organisations in a country that has never had a left-wing government,” explained Londoño.
Other organisations referred to the struggles they face in their country, such as Gloria Roque of Andes 21 de Junio (El Salvador), who spoke of the struggle to secure technological tools to help overcome the inequalities highlighted by the pandemic, or Paola Giménez of Otep-A (Paraguay), who told of her union’s struggle against the “educational transformation” agenda promoted by the World Bank in her country.
The representatives of CONADU (Argentina) spoke about the political persecution of the country’s Vice-President and the role of the trade unions because “we know that first they go after her, and then they’ll come after our rights”.
The participants agreed on the need for an education that recovers the history of the peoples of each country and the women who fought before us.
They also recognised that the new wave of leftist governments in Latin America is the time to secure new social gains as well as to strengthen grassroots organisation and women’s political participation.
Celebrating Paulo Freire with music and art
After the close of the Women Education Workers’ Network meeting, the participants went to Praia do Pina where a political-cultural event was being held to commemorate the close of the Paulo Freire centenary celebrations.
“Although the Brazilian government does not recognise Paulo Freire’s global importance, people from around the globe are mobilising to celebrate his centenary in the land where he was born,” said EI Vice-President, Roberto Leao, before introducing the many international guests attending the event.
Artists such as Silvério Pessoa, Chicho César, Lia de Itamaracá, Costa Rica’s Maf É Tulá and Brazilian group Bruta Flor shared their music and highlighted the importance of keeping Freire’s legacy alive.
“It is essential that we resist and say that Paulo Freire lives on with us. It is our duty to carry forward his work, which represents an essential vision for the freedom and emancipation of peoples,” said Chico César, who insisted that remembering Freire and his thinking is, in itself, a form of resistance.