EI World Women's Conference: Surfing the wave of uprising for women’s rights globally

Women’s economic and political empowerment was at the heart of presentations by key speakers at the opening of Education International’s Third World Women’s Conference.

Claim your space

“We will not be silent anymore.” That is the rallying cry of women today, according to Ulrike Lunacek, former European Parliament Vice-President. She was delivering the keynote address at the first day of Education International’s Third World Women’s Conference, which is being held in Marrakech, Morocco, from 5-7 February. The conference, “Finding a way through ‘the Labyrinth’: women, education, unions and leadership”, is being attended by 300 participants.

Women need economic empowerment, because poverty excludes them from pursuing a career, she stressed.

Adding that women are needed in parliaments and as political leaders, because it is good for the individual lives of men and women, she detailed that, worldwide, women account for only 20 per cent of parliamentarians and on in ten ministers. Interestingly 47 per cent of heads of states are women, however this is due to the number of monarchs.

Courage

Women need men as allies, Lunacek also highlighted, but women also 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.”

She was adamant that being a leader is something women can enjoy, as “you can do things with the power you have; even if you risk defeat; but if you don’t try, you will never know what you could have achieved”

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

Finding their way through the ‘labyrinth’

Education International (EI) President Susan Hopgood also addressed attendees. “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’,” she said. “2017 showed us that, across the globe, women refuse to remain silent anymore!”

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

The conference will focus on the vexed question of why, in 2018, there continues to be so few women in the highest leadership and decision-making positions across sectors?

Glass ceiling

The ‘glass ceiling’ is a familiar metaphor used to refer to the barriers that prevent women from getting beyond a certain point in their career progression, she said. “In actual fact, many women are not held back because of a glass ceiling, but because of the cumulative effect of small or micro issues that they face on a daily basis, which slows them down in their professional progress, or just stops them from reaching the top leadership and decision-making positions.”

Complexities

That is why the conference theme refers 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.”

The fact that women do occupy leadership positions shows that there no absolute barrier to women’s professional advancement, she stressed. However, there are a number of institutional and societal barriers that form the labyrinth that women encounter throughout their careers and are forced to negotiate if they want to progress.

However, “this is the time to ensure the 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”.

Some success in Morocco

The representative of Morocco’s Education Ministry, Cadi Ayyad, insisted that women deserve systemic organisations, so that they can come to power.

He noted that, in Morocco, 54 per cent of girls are registered in universities, and 60 per cent of them succeed in obtaining a diploma.

However, he cited three elements preventing women from achieving: access to languages; digital literacy; and their economic situation.

More female leaders

“We must succeed in transcending girls’ financial and social situations,” he said. Noting that 60 per cent of jobs will change in their nature by 2030, providing a good opportunity to enhance women’s position in society, however, less than 20 per cent of leadership positions in universities are held by women.  Out of 12 public universities in Morocco, none has a female director, he said.

“Either we impose parity, or we create the means to allow women to reach these leadership positions, so our country can move forward,” he said.

Positive laws must be implemented

Fatima Echaabi, representing EI’s affiliates in Morocco, stressed that women’s rights are human rights. Gender equality is a project for the whole society, in education, or in other areas such as politics, she added. “How many girls achieve their dreams? How many women are in leadership positions?”

Morocco, she acknowledged, has made efforts so that girls can be enrolled in schools, even in remote areas. But obstacles to gender equality are multiple, and there is a ‘concrete wall’, a macho mentality, anchored in cultural and religious behaviours in Morocco.

The country does have liberal, modern laws concerning gender equality, fighting discrimination towards women, Echaabi told participants, but these need to be implemented.

“Only a society project grounded in gender equality, on the visibility of men and women’s competences will lead this society towards development and social justice,” she said.

Conference

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.

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