On Saturday, I had the very great pleasure and privilege of hosting the Reps for Change event where reps from across our union came together to share their victories and learn from each other. What was noticeable, though not surprising, is that the vast majority of those in attendance, both participants and speakers, were women.
Women make up the backbone of our union and our profession: 74% of full time teachers are women, and in primary this rises to 85%. The overwhelming majority of support staff are women. And more than this, when I look at any NEU meeting – of members, of reps, of local officers – it is above all women, black and white, who have led us through this pandemic, who have listened to their members and have negotiated with sometimes unhelpful school leadership. Of the 4500 new reps who have emerged over the past year over 70% are women. Their confidence and conviction are inspiring.
Yet women have borne the brunt of the pandemic and continue to experience discrimination at work and at home, both in education and beyond. Women, especially black women, are more likely to experience poverty and we know that women, including the parents of the children we teach, have been at the sharp end of cuts in public service, jobs and benefits. We also know they have experienced rising levels of domestic violence and assault.
In school, while there are many women in higher positions, we know that women and black and LGBT+ members, experience sexual harassment and discrimination over promotion and pay. Women who have been told they can’t do a job part-time, and asked to give up their TLR. Women who have been told pregnancy and family responsibilities mean they should think about stepping down. Women – like black members – who have been denied progression on the upper pay spine for lack of ‘evidence’.
The union has produced excellent resources for challenging sexism – both in the classroom and beyond – in schools, and has good policies for challenging discrimination at school, including guidelines on challenging harassment and bullying and supporting members. I want to continue to work with our reps and members to build confidence to challenge these practices, and to step up our fight against discrimination, in the workplace and in wider society.