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Finding a way through the labyrinth

Tools and strategies to help women reach leadership positions in the different educational sectors were the focus on the second day of Education International’s third World Women’s Conference.

In this morning’s address, Education International (EI) General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen addressed the conference stressing the important role of education unions in promotinggender equality in a “volatile, polarised and deeply unequal world”.  “EI has for 25 years been advocating for gender equality and this EI conference is another very promising step for putting words into action and fostering transformative leadership in education,” he concluded.

‘Gender, Power and Leadership’ Panel

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

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 (UNGEI), reminded the conference of 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 organisations and exercise invisible power to achieve a common agenda”, she said

The importance of collaboration and the benefits of using power to unite movements for the common good, was emphasised 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. “Power also means that you must be available, be in touch with other women, work collaboratively and be able to make urgent decisions in a thoughtful manner”, she said.

Key tools for leadership

Professional development opportunities for union leaders also featured on the conference agenda on day 2. In a number of interactive workshops, current and upcoming union women leaders had the opportunity to sharpen their skills for transformative and powerful leadership. The sessions provided tips on mentoring, implicit bias, voice and public speaking, communications and media, as well as on how lead by example for a healthy work-life balance.

Closing the gap – empower to lead

Participants examined gender-related barriers to “thriving and surviving” in leadership roles in different education sectors – from early childhood education to further and higher education. The workshops concluded that it is important to foster gender equality within union structures and to be cognisant of the different challenges professional female teachers, educators and education support personnel face.

The meeting concluded with a lively report back session where the rapporteurs presented their newly achieved skills, and provided examples of how union leaders can improve their leadership and support others in becoming leaders.


The EI Third World Women’s Conference, “Finding a way through ‘the Labyrinth’: women, education, unions and leadership”, is being held in Marrakesh, Morocco, from 5-7 February.

You can follow the plenary discussion live here!

Education International’s podcast on the organisation’s efforts advance gender equality in education unions, in education and in society over the last 25 years is available here


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