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EI World Women’s Conference focuses on women claiming their space within their own unions and in society

| Gender equity, Teaching profession, Unionization

Over 300 participants — including a small delegation of Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) teacher leaders — discussed the vexed question of why, in 2018, there continues to be so few women in the highest leadership and decision-making positions across sectors, at Education International’s quadrennial World Women’s Conference in Marrakech, Morocco, February 5–7, 2018.

Speaking on the theme, “Finding a way through ‘the Labyrinth’: women, education, unions and leadership”, EI President Susan Hopgood remarked: “What a time to be having our third EI World Women’s Conference when we have just left behind a year that many are calling
‘a year of uprising for women’s rights around the world’. 2017 showed us that, across the globe, women refuse to remain silent anymore!”

She explained why the conference theme referred to ‘the labyrinth’: “Because when we think of the path to leadership as a labyrinth that women have to work out (rather than as a glass ceiling they have to smash through), then we can see more clearly the complexities and challenges that women face in trying to progress in their careers.”

“Achieving gender equality in the workplace,” she noted, “means both women and men will have equal opportunities for professional advancement, for realizing their full human rights, and for contributing to, and benefiting from economic, social, cultural, and political development.”

“This is the time to ensure winds of change continue to sweep across the world unabated, and that women are fully represented in leadership and decision-making positions in unions, in education and in society,” added Hopgood.

Claim your space

According to Ulrike Lunacek, former European Parliament Vice-President, the expression “We will not be silent anymore,” is today’s rallying cry of women. “Women need economic empowerment, because poverty excludes them from pursuing a career,” she stressed. Adding that women are needed as political leaders, she detailed that women account for only 20% of parliamentarians and one in ten ministers worldwide. Interestingly, 47% of heads of states are women, largely because of the number of monarchs.

Ulrike Lunacek, former European Parliament Vice-President

“Women need men as allies,” Lunacek added, “and they need their own space to strengthen themselves, elaborate strategies, and move ahead.” But “claiming space requires courage,” she said.

“Society and unions also need structures to support women – and quotas are also needed,” she said. “To the women who say they don’t want to be a quota woman, I say, ‘How many men are in their positions just because they are men, not because they are the best?’ We need quotas to get women into leadership positions and keep them there, and so girls can see role models and we can change things.”

“By craving, claiming, and owning space, with that space, we women can make the world a better place for everyone,” she concluded.

Watch both presentations by Hopgood and Lunacek on YouTube.

Gender, Power and Leadership Panel

During an inspiring panel discussion, EI Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst invited panelists to share their stories of how they became powerful leaders, as well as provide insights of how they exercise power with the aim of transforming gender inequalities, both in education and in society at large.

EI Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst

EI president Susan Hopgood shared her experiences as a trade union leader, and stressed that “power in the union movement is a collective effort that derives from the membership itself and works towards achieving a common purpose.”

Nora Fyles, Head of Secretariat of the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (and a Canadian), spoke about the different aspects of power such as social or political power, and “the need to identify how we can best use power to foster change to overcome gender inequalities. Mastering the labyrinth of leadership and power also includes learning how to work within organizations and exercise invisible power to achieve a common agenda,” she said.

Panelists Zohra Lhioui, member of SNESuP; Nora Fyles, UN Girls’ Education Initiative; and Katja Iverson, Women Deliver

The importance of collaboration and the benefits of using power to unite movements for the common good was emphasized by Katja Iverson, President/CEO of Women Deliver.

Zohra Lhioui, Professor at Moulay Ismail University and member of SNESuP, Morocco, encouraged women in positions of power to share their experiences with other women and mentor younger generations.

#MeToo: Voices from the education union movement

The conference’s last plenary panel was moderated by former CTF President Dianne Woloschuk who is chair of the EI Status of Women Committee. Woloschuk spoke about the #MeToo movement and situated Canada and the US in the broader context. The session proved to be deeply moving with two of the panelists revealing their personal experiences of sexual violence. The panelists, from EI member organisations in Belize, Botswana, Bulgaria, the Philippines and Sweden, spoke about the extent to which the #MeToo campaign had had an impact in their countries, and highlighted measures taken by their unions to address gender-based violence in the workplace.

Dianne Woloschuk, CTF representative on the EI Executive Board and Chair of the EI Status of Women Committee and panelists who shared their #MeToo moments

Four key take-aways

In her closing remarks, EI President Susan Hopgood urged participants to keep four things in mind as they prepared to leave Marrakech:

  • Make a conscious decision to lead in ways that advance gender equality in your unions and in education;
  • Mentor someone and also find a mentor for yourselves. Mentoring is a critical aspect of making sure that women not only get into leadership positions, but that they stay in them, are well supported, and the pipeline of future women leaders is supplied at all times;
  • Be and convince others to be activists;
  • Ensure a work life balance. If you work yourself to the ground, you will be in no position to make change happen.

CTF teacher leaders who attended the Conference: (from l. to r.) Nancy Lawler, Dianne Woloschuk, Miranda Field, Francine LeBlanc-Lebel, Teri Mooring, Bethany MacLeod, and Liz Stuart.

Find more information about this conference here.

The above article is an abridged version of the following three articles:

Parts of the conference were live streamed and are featured on the EI YouTube Channel.

Take aways

Francine LeBlanc-Lebel, CTF Vice-President and Chair of the CTF Advisory Committee on the Status of Women
Fantastic! Those women radiated such energy in solidarity addressing educational and equity issues faced by women across the globe. Engaged speakers shared various leadership experiences. I particularly enjoyed the sharing of tips for women in leadership roles. We must continue our efforts to take our stand. I retain that women are to use their POWER as a positive tool to make a difference. A lot of change is needed to move global women issues. I have also made new world-wide acquaintances.

Bethany MacLeod, President, Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation and CTF Vice-President
The Conference definitely shifted my perspectives about how we need to work harder to help advance more women in leadership positions. The speakers were engaging and informative and the sessions provided an opportunity to hear different examples of women in leadership. There are amazing, inspiring women very deserving of leadership positions, but often they are discouraged by others or may feel intimidated. In order to address gender equity, our organizations need to establish designated positions for women.

Liz Stuart, President, Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and member of the CTF Advisory Committee on the Status of Women
This Conference was an amazing opportunity to speak with women from all over the world and develop a much better understanding of the experiences of these sisters. The most impactful session was the panel with respect to the #MeToo movement. It further solidified my belief that as unions we need to take action and that action starts with internal measures. We cannot hold others to standards if we don’t insist on them in our own organizations. The other important message was that women need to work together and support one another rather than viewing each other as competition, we need to claim our space and as EI President Susan Hopgood said “each one teach one: mentor someone and find someone to mentor you”!

Nancy Lawler, Vice-President, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and member of the CTF Advisory Committee on the Status of Women
The take-aways for me were:

  • Let us be conscious about what we are doing and lead in a way that advances equality;
  • Advancing gender equality is all of our responsibilities;
  • Mentor someone and find someone to mentor you, it’s a collective power;
  • Be, and convince others, to be activists; and
  • Focus on balance: if you work too much, you can’t help others.

Attending an event such as this makes me realize just how fortunate I am to be part of ETFO, and that ETFO should be proud of the work we do to advance women’s leadership and equality. I also recognize how fortunate I am to be a woman in Canada, and how we must never take this for granted.

Teri Mooring, First Vice-President, British Columbia Teachers’ Federation
It was a rare opportunity and an incredible privilege to attend this conference and have conversations with women from around the globe about leadership, empowerment and the #MeToo movement. Participants spoke of the vast need to address gender inequity, sexual harassment and violence if we are to support more women moving into leadership roles. It was inspiring to hear about the proactive work teacher unions and some governments are engaging in, to achieve more equitable school systems and societies.

Miranda Field, member of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation and of the CTF Advisory Committee on the Status of Women
The Conference allowed women of all ages to engage in genuine dialogue on what is, what it means, and how to navigate leadership as a woman. These conversations reinforced that there is not ‘right way’ engage in leadership but to continue to use your skills and abilities in ways that work for you and for your family. Knowing that you are not alone on this journey and now having the opportunity to meet and work with strong and intelligent women is just the encouragement some of us needed. The knowledge gained and relationships made provide and build upon a solid foundation for leadership within education.

EI World Women’s Conference focuses on women claiming their space within their own unions and in society