Education International
Education International

A ‘woman’s place’ is…in her union for economic justice and empowerment!

published 8 March 2017 updated 9 March 2017

As the international community celebrates International Women’s Day, this year, Education International and its affiliates reaffirm that trade unions are key actors in advancing women economic empowerment.

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Fulfilling the full spectrum of women’s human rights

“As we celebrate International Women’s Day once again, we join with others in recognising the that women’s and girls’ rights to education and economic empowerment urgently need to be fulfilled, not just because of gains in efficiency or productivity, or positive returns to investment, but because women’s rights are human rights,” stresses Education International (EI) General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen in this year’s EI International Women’s Day Statement, acknowledging that “education trade unions are key actors in advancing those rights”.

The statement affirms that “human rights are indivisible; unless all of the human rights of girls’ and women’s are robustly promoted and defended, their right to education can never be fully realised, and vice versa. When girls and women can access and fully participate in quality equitable and inclusive education, their options for earning a living that is not restricted to poorly paid, casual jobs on the margins of the labour market are vastly improved, and must be made a reality”.

The statement further notes that more than 20 years after the adoption of the most far-reaching internationally agreed instrument on women’s rights to date – the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action –global commitment to achieving gender equality has never been greater. For the first time ever, governments have set a deadline for ending gender inequality, including in education.

In 2015, world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), placing gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Achievement of the goals, which include ending poverty (SDG1), ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning (SDG4), achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls (SDG5), promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth (SDG8), and reducing inequalities within and between countries (SDG10), which depends to a large extent on unlocking the full potential of women in the world of work.

Fewer jobs and lower pay for women

In 2016 only half of women and girls over the age of 15 were in paid employment, compared to three quarters of men; women continue to do as much as three times more unpaid work than men; and 700 million fewer women than men of working age were in paid employment. This is the reality one decade into the twenty-first century despite the fact that, in many countries, more women than men complete tertiary education, often outperforming their male counterparts.

When women do find paid employment, and perform the same jobs as men, or perform jobs of equal value, on average, they are paid less than men. This is the case even in professions like teaching where women are usually in the majority, but the gender pay gap persists. Notwithstanding variations in the size of the gap in different regions, there is not a single country where the gender pay gap has been closed.

Recognising the centrality of women’s economic empowerment to the 2030 agenda, the then UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, established a High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment in 2016, which “seeks to corral energy, commitment and action to accelerate the economic empowerment of women across the world”.

An important role for trade unions

With more than 1.3 billion women currently employed in the global economy and more than 70 million women organised in trade unions today, it is clear that their economic empowerment depends on also securing their right to education, as well as their labour rights, including the right to work, the right to assemble, organise and form trade unions as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and in a number of International Labour Organisation’s agreements.

As education unions, EI member organisations are uniquely positioned to highlight the links between fulfilling the right to education for women and girls, and ensuring that education leads to real advancements in their economic empowerment. The SDG4 in the 2030 agenda must be fully implemented by governments to ensure that over and beyond their right to education, girls’ and women’s rights within education are also fulfilled.


As, for example, in Argentina, Canada, France,or the UK, many EI affiliates have already taken action and/or will organise activities around 8 March to highlight the importance of education for securing women’s economic empowerment.

More than 130 trade union representing the Global Union Federations (GUFs) - EI, the International Trade Union Confederation, Public Services International, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation - from all regions will attend the first week of the 61st Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York, USA; the EI delegation will include 18 delegates from 12 countries. The official joint GUFs’ written statement on the theme of this year’s CSW is entitled “A Woman’s Place is in her Union! Unions are Central to Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work”.