The pre-World Women’s Conference meetings of the regional women’s networks’ generated passionate discussions on relevant issues which will be followed up over the next three days in sessions of the Conference.
Representatives from Africa said Education for All cannot be achieved without gender equality. They believe that in Africa, more lobbying and empirical research could help convince union leaders to accept and promote women in unions. In the Asian-Pacific region, participants identified strategies to achieve gender equality: better communication among women, through printed and electronic communications; better training for women and nurturing of young women leaders; maternity protection; and an enhanced exchange of ideas between strong and weaker unions. They also recommended research on priority issues, such as government spending on education and migration of teachers. Asian women leaders also deplored violence against women at work and at home, decreased public spending on education, and the high drop-out rate for girls, especially in South Asia. For European participants, making gender equality a real rather than a rhetorical priority is the critical issue and, in that context, ensuring that the education sector plays its part is the key responsibility of educators. Female teachers, they said, have been hit badly by the political and economic situation on the continent. Unionism must be made attractive to women and young people. The effects of teacher migration on women teachers must be taken into account, as well as the cuts in public spending on education which reduce the number of teaching positions, which in turn affects primarily women. The balance between work and personal life must also be promoted. In Latin America, the three women currently holding the highest national public posts in Argentina, Brazil and Costa Rica testify to progress made towards gender equality. Governments in this region have made social dialogue possible, and allocated more resources to education. Teacher unions and civil society still have to persuade governments to implement socially responsible policies. The regional women’s network aims to empower women members to make proposals to their unions, to be leaders in their unions, and to be agents for social change. It encouraged EI to convene this Conference in each World Congress year. For the women from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), three approaches to gender equality exist. Firstly, an existing campaign to increase women’s participation in union leadership to a quota of 30 per cent must be expanded, secondly, all MENA countries must ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women without reservation, and, thirdly, women’s skills in trade union activities, like negotiations and conducting campaigns, must be enhanced. Participants from North America/Caribbean discussed the history of the Women Educators Movement in the Caribbean and the significant progress which has been made over nearly twenty years to ensure that women may now be found in all union leadership roles. In the subsequent plenary session, women leaders from all over the world engaged in a debate on three key questions: the purpose of the networks, the relationship of the networks to the unions, and the key issues that unite all women.