Women educators unite across Europe
All those who share the belief in education as an intrinsic human right also share the responsibility of promoting non-discrimination in our unions, our schools and our societies.
With that, EI Deputy General Secretary Janice Eastman welcomed more than 60 delegates from 20 countries to the first-ever Pan-European Round Table of Women Education Workers, held in Budapest, September 25-26, 2006. Educators who believe in quality can never ignore equality, said Veronica Rankin, chair of the Pan-European Equality Committee. And teacher trade unions must confront the increasing violence against women in the education sector, she said. Rankin told of a teacher who was subjected to threats of violence, including rape, by a student. The headmaster simply shrugged it off, saying she was young and good-looking. In another case, a teacher was severely harrassed by a man who even attempted to burn down her house. Again, the employer dismissed it as merely a personal matter. Judith Wirth, chair of the Hungarian section of the European Women’s Lobby, said that violence against women is committed on a vast scale worldwide. However, she said, Hungary can be seen as “a case study for worst practice” in dealing with the problem. The World Heath Organization estimates that as many as 3 million women are killed annually in gender-based crime, Wirth said. Such violence takes many forms: domestic abuse, sexual harrassment, stalking, rape, incest, prostitution, trafficking in women and children, an array of “traditional” practices including infanticide, female genital mutilation, honour-killing and dowry deaths, as well as violations of sexual and reproductive rights such as forced pregnancy or abortion, and involuntary sterilization. Wirth encouraged teachers to raise the issues in their schools and work with all their students, especially girls. After lively discussions, working groups recommended a variety of solutions including: • De-stigmatize violence against women and get unions to act on it • Lobby Ministries of Education to include gender issues in teacher training • Take an international approach to human trafficking and immigration concerns • Increase awareness of problems due to new technologies, such as internet bullying • Expand services of school psychologists and teacher-cousellors • Work with parents, as violent behavior is often learned in the home. Elaine Fultz, of the International Labour Organization’s regional office in Budapest, reported on a comprehensive study of pension reforms and their impact on women in Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. ILO researchers found that the move toward gender equality actually made things worse for women. The losses were most severe in Poland, but women in all three countries fared worse after reform of their pension systems than under state socialism. Fultz urged broad labour market responses to promote gender equity, including a gender lobby, affirmative action programs, more public education and stronger protections against discrimination. Luigina de Santis, General Secretary of the European Federation of Retired and Older People, explained how men’s and women’s different work patterns (shorter careers due to maternity leaves, more part-time work, etc.) coupled with salary discrimination against female workers, have created large gender gaps in pension income. In Spain, for example, pensions for men are 37% higher than for women, while in France they are 42% higher. Clearly, women are at much higher risk of poverty in retirement than are men, de Santis said. She called on delegates to organize women’s structures within their unions to resist all such forms of discrimination. One of the conference goals was to launch a dynamic network of women educators and activists across Europe. To that end, EI consultant Marta Scarpato offered a fascinating analysis of networking as a strategy long used by women in cultures around the world. Participants left Budapest inspired to continue the dialogue, build their relationships and work together towards authentic gender equity in our unions, our schools, and our societies.