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Women’s leadership and holistic endeavour

Leadership and strategies for women to reach positions of power were debated by participants at Education International’s Third World Women’s Conference.

Lively debates on women’s leadership characterised the first day of Education International’s Third World Women’s Conference, “Finding a way through ‘the Labyrinth’: women, education, unions and leadership”, in Marrakesh, Morocco. The conference runs until 7 February and parallel sessions were conducted on 6 February.

Leaders are born not made

According to some participants, leaders are born, with the ability to create, innovate and be self-confident. However, others explained that people become leaders by working and listening to others. A person develops leadership skills which are not an intrinsic quality, and leadership must be understood within a certain space and time, as leadership is a power relationship in a given society.

Good leadership not the same as strong leadership

In the parallel session dedicated to the notions of good versus strong leadership, there was the view that strong leadership has a value component: it supports and encourages others. Defenders of good leadership stressed that, in a context of a macho world, so-called strong leadership can lead to bullying. A union, therefore, must work against this type of behaviour and involve its women members. Strong leadership also needs to be clearly defined.

Collaborative models

However, not all unions are ready to move to collaborative models of leadership, participants to this session found.

Pitfalls to collaborative leadership include encouragement of the status quo, and the fact that collaborative leadership is not dynamic and is time consuming. However, collaborative leadership improves people’s work-life balance and demonstrates shared values and trust. With strengths in both single and collaborative leadership styles, it would be wise to use some of both models, participants noted. 


Attendees were divided during this parallel session on the issue of quotas to address gaps in women’s leadership ratios. Those in favour of quotas in unions and society were adamant that quotas address systematic inequalities and reduce discrimination and unconscious bias. Quotas are required to change gender norms, they said.

However, those opposed to quotas argued that women need to support each other, and that it is the system that needs changing.

Young women in leadership

The parallel session on young women and leadership found that young women should have the ability to network with their peers. They should have a platform within the union dedicated to young teachers. Young and more experienced women should also have an exchange platform and mentoring of young women must be part of the regular union business, according to attendees.

In addition, unions must make themselves relevant to young teachers and provide professional training for young women. Unions, participants insisted, must define and address the issues faced by young women to be able to attract them to their organisation.

Men in support of women’s leadership

The issue of training for men and women in unions was also addressed, as it provides a space for difficult questions to be asked and answered, including, ‘How do we nurture good participation of both men and women?’ In addition, the lack of women leaders is a universal problem in all unions, participants underlined. There is an opportunity to make a difference in unions, participants heard, and with men helping women to achieve leadership roles, unions can achieve their objectives.

Preparing students for leadership

Participants in this session also voiced their desire to see younger women receive more support. This should be done via mentoring, as it encourages women’s empowerment. In addition, school textbooks must be amended in order to change the status quo. Social justice requires young and empowered women, the attendees agreed.

Networking and women’s leadership

Women’s empowerment also benefits from networks, where women learn from each other and share experiences. Training is important, but must not only focus on gender, but on all other aspects relevant to unions.

While gender equality leads to a just and fairer society, there is still a long way to go, said session’s participants. Indeed, it is sometimes hard to guarantee the continuity of the work already achieved in favour of gender parity. However, this work is crucial as gender equality touches on many aspects of people’s lives including politics and culture. Thus, policies to achieve gender equality should be developed and strengthened, along with co-operation with civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations.

Participants welcomed the conclusion of the reporter for this parallel session: “We need to transform our own organisations – we need to be more open, democratic and conscious of gender issues. Once we transform our organisations, we can move forward on gender issues”.


You can follow the plenary discussion live here!


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