An equitable and quality education for all that nurtures critical thinking must be embedded in a broader struggle for social justice. That’s according to Mary Metcalfe, Chairperson of the Open Society Foundations’ Education Advisory Board. She was addressing the second day of EI’s three-day Second World Women’s Conference being held in Dublin, Ireland, from 7-9 April.
The conference, with the theme, ‘Women in Trade Unions and in Education, From Words to Action’, is being attended by almost 400 education trade union delegates from across the globe. It was also addressed by Mike Jennings, General Secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT), and Martin Rømer, European Director of the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE).
Context a critical consideration
All women’s struggles are not the same, said Metcalfe, in a personal reflection on education and moments that shaped her thinking and activism. Some women’s access to rights that others regard as universal depends on issues such as “youth, language, and time. Race, class, and status all conspire to position women very differently”, she said.
Understanding people’s different contexts has implications for strategy, mechanisms, and enablers, she said, adding that education can be a significant agent for social change.
That change – and EI’s goals – can only be achieved “if we mobilise civil society and government to support them”, Metcalfe said, adding that issues such as discrimination against boys in education is a growing issue which must be tackled along with poverty’s impact on parity of educational access and outcomes.
Equality a shared issue
In welcoming delegates to Europe, ETUCE European Director Martin Rømer highlighted disparities in a continent where more women work part-time than men, where women dominate the teaching profession but not union membership or union leadership, where women are paid less than men but account for nearly 60 per cent of all graduates.
“We need to promote a new attitude towards gender equality as a shared women/men issue,” he said, “and further the adoption of written trade union policies on gender equality”, along with training of teachers and trade unionists around equality.
The issue of gender equity as a shared issue was also underpinned by Ireland’s Mike Jennings. “This is our joint struggle, it is the struggle of all progressive people,” he said, adding that there can be no emancipation – for men or women – when half of the population is discriminated against in terms of their childhoods, adult lives, education, image, and economic circumstances.
Fight against complacency
In the second plenary panel on Equitable Education for an Equitable World, hosted by Monique Foulhoux, Chairperson of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), the participants addressed the tools and mechanisms necessary to achieve progress on gender disparity in education.
Everyone in education must take responsibility for gender stereotyping, said panellist Marina Milenkovic, President of the Gender Committee of the Teachers’ Union of Serbia (TUS). “Gender stereotyping is embedded in our society and teachers must promote gender equality in schools, so we need to train teachers in gender equality issues.” Gender perspectives must also be included in education materials and must be adopted by parents, pupils, municipal authorities, and teachers.
Also on the panel were Eva-Lis Sirén, EI Vice President and President of Swedish union Lärarförbundet, and Loretta Johnson, Secretary Treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Poverty is a huge issue in American schools, said Johnson, a paraprofessional who organised volunteers in her children’s school in Baltimore, Maryland, at the beginning of her union journey. “We have children who come to school from homeless shelters and with no food, yet public education is being attacked,” she said, acknowledging the struggles of public education and access to education being heard at the conference.
Gender issues must be mainstreamed, said Sirén. “We have to have sharp gender lenses and put those lenses on in relation to our own organisations and not take anything for granted. We have to keep on struggling.”
Part of that struggle is around pay. In Europe, women are still paid on average around 16 per cent less than men per hour. “In Sweden, teaching is dominated by women and is less well paid than other professions dominated by men. This is a challenge for us,” she said.
To find out more about EI’s Second World Women’s Conference, log on here: http://pages.ei-ie.org/women2014/index.php?lang=en