Education International
Education International

European trade unionists want equality added to quality in education

published 25 October 2013 updated 31 October 2013

The Standing Committee for Equality of EI’s European region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), has met in Brussels, Belgium. From 21-22 October, education unionists highlighted the need for and activities organised to achieve equality in education.

“This is an opportunity to get together, work together and hopefully create a basis for further networking,” said EI Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst addressing the 47participants from 24countries. “Networking is at the heart of what unions are all about – a belief that, collectively, we can achieve more than on our own. We must do more than merely define and understand the barriers and challenges, we must share the successes and the downturns, we must cooperate and join forces, we must revitalise and make visible the plans that will move us towards real equality for women and men, girls and boys. In society. In trade unions and in education. In the European region as well as the rest of the world.”

That’s why EI has established regional and sub-regional women’s networks as tools for progress towards gender equality, she explained. “We have 11 functioning networks. They are all important and have, in different ways, contributed fundamentally to promote women’s empowerment and leadership.”

EI Gender Equality Action Plan: a key tool

Holst went on to underline the importance of the EI Gender Equality Action Plan (GEAP), a framework designed to enable EI and its affiliates to translate education unions’ policies, rhetoric and activities relating to gender equality into action.

EI’s GEAP highlights three main priorities in the run-up to 2015:

·         Promoting gender equality within unions

·         Securing girls’ access to and participation in quality public education

·         Promoting and securing women’s economic empowerment

Holst also presented EI’s one-year Unite for Quality Education initiative, launched on 4 October, which will promote equal opportunities.

Kounka Damianova, Chair of the Standing Committee for Equality, further stressed that “the quality of education is closely linked to equality. During this meeting, we will debate on how to best add equality to quality in education”.

Damianova was re-elected Chair of the Committee. The elected Vice-chair is Rossella Benedetti from UIL Scuola/Italy.

Eleven union representatives put their names forward to become a member of the Equality Working Group, an advisory body to the ETUCE Standing Committee for Equality. This advisory body meets once or twice a year.

ETUCE Coordinator Susan Flocken then gave an overview of the ETUCE Equality Programme 2013–2016, i.e. priorities, objectives, plan of action and methods on the basis of the EI 2011 Congress recommendations and the Women’s Caucus discussion, as well as updates on EI and ETUCE equality programmes.

NEA/USA: increasing women’s presence in trade unions

Princess Moss from the National Education Association (NEA)/USA also presented to the meeting during a thematic discussion on ‘Implementing an equality programme: successes and challenges’.

She reminded participants of the words of women's equality activist Lilly Ledbetter at the NEA’s 2013 Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women: “There is so much to do, and so little time”.

Her words were more than just powerful and fitting for the moment, Moss said. “They were a clarion call to us all who choose courage when defending and promoting gender equity over those who choose the comfort of the status quo.”

The story of Lilly Ledbetter proves that gender inequality in employment remains a great barrier to the full expression of human rights around the world, she said.

Moss added: “In our unions, women are an increasing proportion of union membership, thanks to their higher labour force participation and strong unionisation rates in the jobs they dominate, such as nursing, teaching, and clerical jobs. In the United States, 44 per cent of union members are women and the majority of new workers organised in unions over the past two decades have been women. In some unions, particularly in the service industries, women already comprise 50 per cent or more of membership. Yet, women are not proportionally represented within union leadership. In the US, women are about 21 per cent of lead union organisers and they hold relatively few top union positions, even in unions with strong female membership.”

Women in union leadership

Just as we need a pipeline of girls and women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers, so, too, do we need a pipeline of girls and women into all aspects of leadership – public, political, philanthropic, corporate, educational, and non-government organisations (NGOs), Moss said.

Unions can and have the power to create a space to cultivate women’s leadership by providing women-specific training programmes, conferences, women’s committees, and networks at the local, regional and national levels.

This is also a men’s issue - men play an important role in the balance of power, whether in unions or schools.

Unions can only succeed if they listen and respond to the concerns of both genders. If unions more consistently and visibility address women’s concerns, they are more likely to inspire long-term, active involvement by women.

Moss underlined the success achieved through the NEA Women’s Leadership programme that “has impacted the nature of leadership within the union at the local, state and national levels. This programme was conceived more than four decades ago – as you can imagine, we have built in many changes but have stayed steady in our vision of full engagement of women in every aspect of union life.”

There are four modules, she detailed: campaigning to win, skills for emerging leaders, developing your leadership skills, and strategic leadership.

Moss also acknowledged the crucial role played by the NEA women’s issues committee. This committee is responsible for: proposing policies and programmes related to issues of particular concern to women – including efforts to achieve equal rights under the law for women; and reviewing NEA programmes affecting women, and advising the union on their implementation.

“It has been said that the great moral challenge of the 19th Century was slavery and in the 20th Century it was totalitarianism – and the great moral challenge of the 21th Century is the challenge of addressing the needs of girls and women around the world,” Moss said. “There is plenty of evidence, however – and this is the good news – that the education and empowerment of women would transform this world of ours.”

She finally indicated: “Through we have yet to make the mark for the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals that are focused on 2015, I am heartened by the UN Secretary General’s new report, which proposes recommendations for the 2015-2030 period. Gender equity and education is the second and third of 12 goals. Our nations – with input from the civil society and Education International – will be further defining what is ahead.”

Examples of initiatives taken by EI/ETUCE affiliates were also presented, such as the Declaration of intent on Global Equality in Education for Women and Girls published by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers/UK, and the activities of the Teachers Union of Serbia.

Afterwards, breakout groups were held on the following themes: economic empowerment of women teachers: combating pay inequities and budget cuts; overcoming gender stereotypes in and through education; and reconciliation of work and family life.

ETUCE guidelines

Participants also developed guidelines for the implementation of the 2011/2012 recommendations. These guidelines are intended for teachers and education staff in general, and cover the following themes: Women Teachers’ Economic Empowerment; Reconciliation of work and family life; and overcoming gender stereotypes in and through education. They were accepted by the ETUCE Committee, the ETUCE decision-making body, at its meeting on 23-24 October 2013.

Participants were also updated about the Second EI World Women’s Conference to be held in Dublin, Ireland, from 7-9 April 2014.

Pictures taken at the ETUCE Standing Committee for Equality are available here