Fiji: education unionists seek inclusive schools that are a safe environments for all

The Education International’s Asia-Pacific office and the Council of Pacific Education (COPE) organised in Fiji a professional development workshop, “Teachers unions for inclusion: embracing diversity and promoting safe schools”.

The workshop, held from 3-4 December in Suva, Fiji, organised by Education International’s Asia-Pacific regional office (EIAP) and the Council of Pacific Education (COPE) brought together union leaders – many of them school leaders – from the Association of the University of the South Pacific Staff (AUSPS), the Fiji Teachers’ Union (FTU) and the Fijian Teachers’ Association (FTA).

Participants were informed about policies and existing legislation on specific protection from unfair discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression (SOGIE) and ways to identify and challenge the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, harassment and bullying in education facilities.

Participants highlighted the need to develop mechanisms to review the education methods and educational materials, and discussed the role of education stakeholders, including teachers and their trade unions in upholding and protecting the human rights of all teachers and learners.

Background

LGBTI people face discrimination and violence throughout the Pacific region. Discrimination and human rights violations by state actors and non-state actors (including in homes, schools, and churches). Verbal attacks and related incidents happen too often but they are rarely reported to the police.

The workshop also conducted an in-depth analysis of legal provisions, or of the lack thereof, within Fiji’s legal framework, and of necessary and/or available educational and pedagogical tools.

Free and equal

Besides helping to make progress in recognising and respecting LGBTI rights in Fiji, education unions can help change mindsets, biases or prejudices against those who are different. “We are all born free and equal in dignity and rights, EIAP Chief Coordinator ’s Anand Singh reiterated. “It was fairly challenging for workshop moderators, due to strong culturally sensitive diverse views where religious beliefs were cited in opposition or in justification of one’s views,” he noted, adding that “the sharing of real life experiences and testimonies of LGBTI people present in the workshop however compelled participants to face reality and accept the human rights of all”.

Safe and supporting learning and teaching environments

Education unions have a role to play in preventing discrimination, promoting safe and supporting environments for all; teachers and students. Participants outlined a draft national action plan aiming to increase awareness and prevent discrimination and bullying in the education sector. Singh called upon teachers’ unions in Fiji to uphold human rights to education for all and unite around a free and inclusive quality education for all.

The EIAP Regional Office and UNESCO Bangkok joined forces on the “Teachers’ Unions for Inclusion: Embracing diversity and promoting safe schools” project, and previously organised similar union activities in Nepal and the Philippines.  This sessions follow-up on the EI Resolution on LGBTI Rights (2015) and EIAP Resolution on Advancing LGBTI Rights (2017).