On 17 July 2012, fifty women teacher trade unionists from 11 countries (Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia, and Yemen) met in Amaan, Jordan. They were meeting to decide whether they wanted to launch a regional women network under the auspices of Education International, a global trade union federation covering 30 million workers. They decided that they did.
Explaining their hopes, they articulated a bold and determined vision for attracting more women teachers into unions and union leadership. As expected, much of the discussion over the two days focused on the political context in different countries and on newly formed governments in some. The word activist was translated from the Arabic for Western listeners as “struggler’’.
Personal and political stories of struggle were recounted and shared. Women praised other women in their countries who had inspired them and urged them to get involved in their teacher union. Monumental commitment to education was a value held in common.
‘The travel to come here is a burden but we bear it because we find friendship here’ remarked one woman from Morocco. Another from Algeria said ‘we are seeking a network that brings us together to unite over a vision – how can we maintain our gains for women, how can we define our priorities?’
Many issues discussed were the same as the themes discussed in Europe- including the fact that ‘feminisation’ of the teaching profession does not automatically lead to women taking on proportionate numbers of school leadership positions, or in teacher unions.
Consensus was achieved that the network must focus on building capacity within trade unions to recruit and represent women teachers; and on educating women teachers about why they should join a union and why they should seek power and election within union structures.
‘Just bringing this out in the open is so important, I have been honoured to be at this first meeting of the network’ said a woman from Lebanon.
This was the launch of a new and historic regional women’s network.