Education unions in France have reaffirmed that gender equality must be at the heart of learning, following the National Education Minister’s presentation of teaching materials on equality between girls and boys.
On 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, National Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem announced her wish to see a consensus on education on equality between girls and boys. She made this statement during her presentation of the plan that follows the testing of the “ABCD of Equality” programme launched in 2013 in 600 voluntary classes, which last year came under attack by the extreme right and opponents of same sex marriage.
“The best way of avoiding misunderstanding (…) and the sort of manipulation that we saw last year is to involve all the actors,” she said. “Once all the actors realise that learning about equality between girls and boys is the way to prevent violence against women, we will be able to ensure diversity in professions, a better school climate and, therefore, a guarantee of success in school, for everyone.”
also announced the launch of a website with teaching resources accessible to both teachers and parents. The plan also includes training in teacher training colleges and a three hour online module for working teachers.
UNSA Education: a comprehensive and cross-curricular approach
Education union UNSA welcomed the National Education Minister’s announcements. “Education has a key role to play in combating inequality between women and men, said Laurent Escure, General Secretary of UNSA Education and a member of Education International’s (EI) Executive Board. Vallaud-Belkacem comments were “eagerly awaited”, he said, “all the more so given that, since June, when the rolling out of the ‘ABCD of Equality’ was abandoned, there has been radio silence on the subject”.
He was also pleased to see that the plan for equality between girls and boys was not limited to a specific course but was part of a comprehensive and cross-curricular approach.
“UNSA Education hopes that this approach now becomes a practical reality, with supporting measures. Including it in initial training is a step in the right direction. This value must also have its rightful place in in-service training, must be at the heart of school life, and must be a common thread running through the daily education of schools and regions so that all education actors take ownership of it.”
SNES-FSU: support for deconstruction of gender stereotypes
Another EI affiliate, the Syndicat national des enseignements de second degré (SNES-FSU), has called for a real equality education policy to be put in place, both for students and as part of teachers’ initial and in-service training.
“All initiatives that, like the ‘ABCD of Equality’, aim to deconstruct gender stereotypes, must be supported,” said Aurélia Sarrasin, the SNES-FSU’s officer for Rights and Freedoms.
SNUipp-FSU: the importance of training teachers
The SNUipp-FSU was also in broad agreement with the new initiatives. “It seems the Minister has realised that the importance of equality education must be conveyed, loud and clear, to the whole education community,” said Sébastien Sihr, General Secretary of the SNUipp-FSU. The new site “is a step in the right direction, but will not be enough”, he said, because training for teachers on this subject is “very weak”.
Last year, when the ABCD was tested, teachers “were on the front line, left to cope on their own, and disparaged”. What was missing was the work to educate parents and explain to them what it was about, he stressed.
EI: the crucial role of unions in bringing gender equality to society through education
Working to achieve gender equality in the trade unions, in education, and in society has been a priority for EI ever since its founding congress in 1995, said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “That is why we fully support our French affiliates in their action to ensure equality between the sexes and its integration into all levels of education.”
Education has the power to transform people’s lives, he added. Promoting equality and encouraging diversity is at the heart of the education professions, by challenging gender stereotypes, and by offering opportunities to all through the creation of positive learning environments.