Women's education rights need guarding

Malala Yousafzai, advocate for girls' education, when she spoke at the United Nations.

The conservative backlash to women’s education has been harsh and public — from the shooting of schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai and the killing of teacher Shahnaz Bibi in Pakistan, to the recent abduction of some 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria – so that the need to stand up for equal education rights for all is critical, General Secretary Jenny Diamond told Federation’s Women’s Conference.

Such abuses were a matter of universal concern and in particular to the union’s predominantly female membership. “Accordingly, as teachers and, I hope, activists (even if you haven’t realised it yet), we have the responsibility to take up the challenge to ensure a fair and decent society,” Ms Diamond said.

She related some of the highlights of last month’s Education International Second World Women’s Conference, attended by 400 unionists from around the world. AEU Federal Secretary Susan Hopgood gave the opening address, telling delegates that more than two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults were women.

Federation Life Member and President of the International Confederation of Trade Unions Sharan Burrow said that women in education had power and should always use it in partnership, to build alliances and take on the challenges of an unequal and unfair world.

Ms Diamond said that while girls in Australia who seek a quality education did not experience the extreme difficulties experienced elsewhere, “we cannot relax and take for granted that students … do not experience sex-based and other forms of violence and harassment. It is our responsibility to advocate daily for those rights to be honoured.”