Dublin: Collective action, individual responsibility at heart of sustainable progress on gender equity
In an era of increased attacks on education unions and on public education, and when 100 million young women cannot read a single sentence, EI’s role as a trade union, a professional organisation, and an advocate for quality education has never been more important. These were the sentiments expressed by speakers at the last day of EI’s three-day Second World Women’s Conference being held in Dublin, Ireland, which ran from 7-9 April.
In terms of EI’s accomplishments and gender equity in its composition, “we are a role model for other organisations around the world”, said EI Founding President Mary Hatwood Futrell in her keynote speech at the conference, which had the theme, ‘Women in Trade Unions and in Education, From Words to Action’.
Benefits of education
The need for Education for All still exists, she said, given that 750 million people in the world are illiterate. “The best way to control someone is to deny them an education, the best way to free them is to educate them,” said Hatwood Futrell, who is a Professor at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development in the George Washington University in the US. She referred to an UNESCO study that shows that educating a woman, even at a basic level, increases her potential for participation in politics and society.
“As the 21st Century evolves, it has become obvious that countries that invest in education not just survive but thrive,” she said. “If we invest in quality education, communities become stronger. We need to ensure that people become more engaged in their communities and in civil society, that they are able to deal with inter-connected challenges and to understand the society in which they live.”
Understanding the different educational contexts and struggles in each country also informed the conference outcomes as outlined by EI Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst. “Structures alone cannot change anything,” she said. “It is about the people behind them. You have to empower those people, they have to believe in their goals and use the structures to achieve them.”
She urged delegates not just to stand on the shoulders of the women who had gone before them in their organisations but to make young female union members capable of standing on these delegates’ shoulders. This monitoring, mentoring, and provision of increased opportunities for female participation across EI’s activities and networks was a key outcome to emerge from the conference. Other outcomes will be compiled by EI’s Status of Women Committee and disseminated to EI affiliates.
Another theme running through the conference was the global relevance of EI’s Unite for Quality Education campaign. “Quality education is fundamental to the achievement of all other development goals, including gender equality, health, nutrition, and environmental sustainability,” said EI President Susan Hopgood. But this will not be achieved “without appropriate investment in teachers’ competences through training, continuous professional development, decent working conditions and salaries, and access to social dialogue matched by the appropriate tools and environments needed to facilitate teaching and learning”, she said. “The crisis is not in learning but in policy, commitment, and long term sustainable financing.”
Education a human right
This investment must be framed in the context of education as a human right, according to panellists in the Third Plenary Panel, ‘From Words to Action’. “Part of our task is to remind governments of their obligations around education as a human right,” said Dianne Woloschuk, President of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF-FCE). “It is important to ensure that policies reflect the human rights of children. It is also important for governments to resource public education and to pay teachers properly.”
But achieving that agenda for change takes innovative measures. Lily Eskelsen García, Vice President of the US’ National Education Association, called for EI and its affiliates to borrow from research showing the impact of women’s participation in corporate life. “One study has shown that as a corporate board got closer to 50 per cent of women and 50 per cent of men that profits went up,” she said. “Studies show that when you increase the number of women in areas that were all men, they come up with new ideas.”
That concept of women and men working together to achieve gender equity goals was also echoed by panellist Milagros Ogalinda, General Secretary of the Philippines’ National Alliance of Teachers and Office Workers (SMP) and moderator Yamile Socolovsky, Director of Argentina’s Federación Nacional de Docentes Universitarios (CONADU).
As delegates left Dublin for their home countries, they recalled Mary Hatwood Futrell’s words: “We speak as one voice for equity for all. We advocate for union rights, for the right to education, and for human rights for all. That voice is your voice.”
To find out more about EI’s successful Second World Women’s Conference, log on here: http://pages.ei-ie.org/women2014/index.php?lang=en
Unite for Quality Education is a campaign of Education International (EI), the voice of teachers and other education employees across the globe. Join the 30 million members EI represents (through its 400 affiliated organisations in more than 170 countries and territories) to demand that quality education for all remains at the top of the agenda for a sustainable, peaceful and prosperous future.