Women’s Quest for Justice and Equality, and Education International’s Leadership Role

By Dianne Woloschuk
June 13, 2014

For millennia, it is women who have kept the fires burning in their homes and in their communities. It is women who have tended the hearth and created those special places of warmth and light at the center of our lives. As I reflect about the intersections between this reality in the lives of women and the role of Education International (EI), certain images come to mind.

The first image is that of a campfire. We can easily imagine ourselves outside, maybe under the stars, sitting or standing in a circle around the campfire. If someone else comes along, the circle just gets bigger. We share stories around that fire, we laugh, maybe we cry, maybe we sing songs. Certainly, we connect with one another, refresh old friendships and often forge new ones. One of EI’s important roles is that gathering, that bringing together from around the world. These connections move us to stand in solidarity with one another—to reach across boundaries and oceans, to lend courage and support, to bridge time and distance in a shared vision for a truly democratic, just world.

Fire generates heat and energy. Teacher activists have a fire burning within them for justice—justice and equality for their sisters, mothers and daughters, and justice for all oppressed peoples, whoever and wherever they may be, whatever the reason. This fire burning in our hearts and minds moves us to action.

In this light, a second role for EI is to help focus and direct these energies. In our external advocacy, EI initiatives, such as the Unite for Quality Education campaign, enable us to give voice to the urgent need for publicly funded public education to be supported by governments the world over. But we need good information, and EI is well-positioned to provide it—research, talking points, perspectives on global trends. Internally, EI’s advice and information can help us to hone our advocacy at home and broaden the discourse about public education among our teacher organization members and more broadly in our national education communities. Additionally, EI’s role is to help us see how we can work together more effectively and ultimately bring about the transformation we seek.

In this work, at this time, as women, as teachers, as leaders, and as upholders of democracy, we are under few illusions about the magnitude of the challenges we face. It seems that we are surrounded by mist and fog, navigating through perils all around: the Global Education Reform Movement; attacks on teacher organizations and unions that are meant to exhaust us, exhaust our resources, and exhaust our resolve. The push to privatize public education is but one part of a larger plan driven by moneyed interests to put power, control and wealth into the hands of those who are already powerful, controlling and wealthy, while the rest of us scramble to survive.

When we are at sea, nearing the coast, but enveloped in mist and fog, what we need is a lighthouse. This is my final image for EI—a lighthouse whose beams pierce through the gloom and the shadows. EI provides leadership that enables us together to be purposeful, consistent, and relentless in the goals we are pursuing—education for all and an economically and socially just society—and to challenge the forces at play that seek to push us even further towards an inequitable, unjust world.

Of course, along a stormy coast, one lighthouse is not enough. EI does not have endless resources. Each of our organizations must be a lighthouse to others. Each of our organizations, in our own context, must work to advance the principles of women’s equality, equitable learning for all children, inclusive schools, and the responsibility of governments to act in support of the common good.

The question of sustainability has come up repeatedly. So how do we extend this work? Well, we need to tend our own fires, be resolute and patient, and keep the fires burning.

Dianne Woloschuk is the President of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

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