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Education unionists speak up against sexual violence and harassment

The Education International’s third World Women’s Conference concluded with moving contributions from panellists on the last plenary panel, which focused on the #MeToo social media campaign.

#MeToo: Voices from the education union movement

The final day of the 3rd Education International (EI) World Women’s Conference, held from 5-7 February, in Marrakech, Morocco, opened with a panel discussion on the #MeToo social media campaign. #MeToo was initiated in 2006 by African-American women’s rights activist Tarana Burke, as a way for women to speak publicly about their experiences of sexual violence and other types of gender-based violence. The campaign went viral in October 2017, when Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to use it in order to demonstrate how widely prevalent women’s experiences of sexual abuse and harassment are all over the world.

This was in light of the revelations of sexual abuse, harassment and rape perpetrated by powerful men in the entertainment in the United States. During autumn 2017, as Hollywood actresses began to level accusations against fellow actors, film directors and producers, women working in other industries also began to speak publicly about their own experiences of sexual abuse and misconduct in the work place, triggering several revelations by women working in other industries and sectors in the US and beyond. In a matter of weeks, #MeToo became a viral global campaign on social media, as women across the world began to speak up and break their silence about sexual violence in the workplace.

The last plenary panel on the final day of the 3rd World Women’s Conference proved to be deeply moving, as two of the panellists testified about their personal experiences of sexual violence.

The panellists, from EI member organisations in Belize, Botswana, Bulgaria, the Philippines and Sweden, also spoke about the extent to which the #MeToo campaign had had an impact in their countries, and highlighted related and un-related measures taken by their unions to address gender-based violence in the workplace.

Women’s leadership and key EI priorities

The last set of conference breakout sessions addressed women’s leadership in relation to EI’s global campaign on privatisation and commercialisation in and of education, the joint EI/UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) initiative on school-related gender-based violence, and trade union renewal. In addition, trainers from the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM) ran one breakout session, introducing the well-respected Leading to Choices Manual, which is a leadership training handbook for women developed by the Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights Development and Peace.

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: firstly, to be conscious of what they are doing, as they exercise leadership at whatever level. Participants should make a conscious decision to lead in ways that advance gender equality in their unions and in education.

Secondly, Hopgood called on participants to mentor someone and also to find a mentor for themselves. 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”, she said.

Thirdly, Hopgood asked participants to be, and to convince others to be activists.

Lastly, she highlighted the need to focus on ensuring a balance between work and other areas of life. “If you work yourself to the ground, you will be in no position to make change happen”, she cautioned. “The work we do is serious work: it demands focus, commitment and willingness to work hard, very hard”. It is, therefore, important to lead by example, and make a concerted effort to balance work and other aspects of life, Hopgood highlighted.

Find more information about this conference here.

Watch plenary stream on YouTube:

The new EI@25 podcast episode on EI’s women leaders, past and present:


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