Bringing gender equality closer to reality in the daily lives of women, including through their participation in education unions, is a key principle of EI. With the current crises in¬ food security, climate change and economic recession, this goal of gender equality demands greater effort if it is to be achieved.
EI’s regional women’s networks The women’s networks established by EI in developing and developed countries of Africa, Asia-Pacific, the Caribbean, Europe and Latin America alike have been instrumental in addressing the problems women face worldwide: equal protection of their labour rights, decent work and safe workplaces free of harassment and violence, well-funded and reliable public services and social benefits (including maternity/parental protection benefits) and quality public education for all. The networks have contributed to enabling teacher organisations to put equality at the heart of their policies and into their action plans. Declining public funding for education, cuts in teaching positions and decreasing teacher salaries are worrying trends documented in all regions. Women often find themselves in more vulnerable economic situations, such as temporary work and a lack of job security. These factors put in doubt the adequacy of pension revenues, as documented by the 2009 EI Pan-European study on pension reforms and their impact on women. Women workers are typically paid less than male colleagues because of the gender pay gap. Women are also more vulnerable to cuts in public services as can be seen in the education sector: many women are employed in public services and they rely on those services as primary caregivers. One step forward, two steps back? The recent EI Asia Pacific Women’s Caucus, held in Bangkok, Thailand and attended by a record number of participants, addressed the impact of the financial crisis on gender equality. “The multiple crises exacerbate inequality practices or undo some of the positive work through the cessation of constructive programs,” the Caucus Report stated. “Regression is looming and teacher unions are challenged to realize the achievement of gender equality for women and girls.” In Latin America, specific commitments to consolidate the Women’s Education Workers’ Network are seen as a strategic element in strengthening the unions. New commitments were made to engage in union alliances to urge governments to fulfil their commitments on equal opportunities at the 7th Latin American Women’s Round Table, held in Sao Paulo, Brazil in September 2009. The delegates identified the following areas of inequity between men and women: • Sexual and reproductive rights: many countries still lack the political will to put in place policies that guarantee such rights; • The significant wage gap between men and women, on average 30%; • Violence against women: existing policies do not guarantee full protection; • Labour laws: 60% of women continue to work without any social protection; • Low participation of women in unions, especially in positions to shape political decision-making, less than 30%. Participation quotas exist in many countries. • Wealth distribution: in Latin America, 70% of the poor are women. The challenges have proven difficult in Africa: drought, food crisis, high prevalence of HIV and AIDS, Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for the 47% out of school children worldwide, debt burden and a decline in foreign assistance. In December, the Africa Women’s Education Network (AWEN) will develop its strategic plan for the years to come. In Europe, the ageing of the teaching profession and persistent violence against women are high on the equality agenda. Teachers’ organisations have collected data on the impact of pension reforms on female teachers with a view to drawing a strategic trade union approach. Regarding violence against women, good practice is collected and many teacher organisations have campaigned on the issue. An eye-catching presentation on the issue is to take place on 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, at the Pan-European conference in Warsaw. Education Opportunities for Girls Worldwide, education makes a real difference, and empowers both girls and boys. Education of, and investment in, women and girls is one of the most effective means of breaking the cycle of poverty. Early childhood and primary education can play an essential role in changing patterns. Education increases job opportunities and income especially for girls, which ultimately benefits families and communities. Accelerating the efforts for achieving gender equality in education will be one theme addressed at EI’s conference “On the Move for Equality,” to be held in Bangkok in May 2010. The conference will be structured around three main themes: • Connecting and strengthening the women’s networks: By bringing together all of EI’s regional networks, activists will better be able to share information, analyse contextual challenges, celebrate successes and plan joint actions. • Taking stock of the status of women in today’s world: What is the participation of women in unions? What are the successes achieved so far for women at work? How can education unions contribute to equality for men and women, boys and girls? • Advancing girls and women through education: What are the means of increasing access to quality education in order to contribute to overcoming gender barriers through education? Women in teachers’ unions consistently play a pivotal role in realizing the achievements of equality. Quality education for girls and boys enables people to live their lives with hope and dignity, and to participate as citizens to the development and wellbeing of democratic societies. For more info on the conference go to: www.ei-ie.org/gender. To learn more about good practices on violence against women, go to: www.un.org/esa/vawdatabase. By Rebeca Sevilla.
This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 32, December 2009.