AEU Women’s Conference 2017:                              She persisted – stand up, speak out, make change!

More than 70 women of the Australian Education Union (AEU) gathered in Melbourne on the weekend of the 7-8 October for the national Women’s Conference.

The conference opened with N’arweet Carolyn Briggs (Boon Wurrung Elder) welcoming us to country. We then were introduced to delegates from the AEU’s branches and associated bodies. Women were represented from pre-schools, early childhood, primary, secondary, special education and TAFE workplaces nationwide.

Harnessing the conference theme, ACTU secretary Sally McManus’s keynote speech addressed the growing inequality in Australian society, and the power to create change we have as the wider union movement. We seek this in the penalty rates campaign and the Change the Rules campaigns. Kara Keys (ACTU Campaign Coordinator) joined a panel of women later in the program, and ran workshops for the conference delegates, calling on us to support the national “We won’t wait” campaign to secure paid domestic violence leave as part of the national employment standards.

Olivia Brown was recently appointed as the AEU’s Federal Women’s Officer. Her keynote outlined her story and background as a gender equity officer in the Australian military. Engaged in positive discrimination recruitment practices and unconscious gender bias training, Olivia’s unique skill set and experiences will provide AEU women with fresh leadership and new perspectives.

AEU Senior Officer women hosted a panel – Our Union. Federal Secretary Susan Hopgood, Federal President Correna Haythorpe and AEU Federal TAFE Secretary / Deputy Federal Secretary Pat Forward inspired us with their national perspectives of our union, the ongoing funding campaigning and TAFE.

The second panel of the conference explored stories of contemporary feminism. Cassie-Ann Egan (TAFE and Trades, AMWU) shared her experiences as a young woman (and unionist) navigating male dominated industries. Lilly Van Dyk (teacher, Carlton Primary School) shared her personal account as a young LGBTIQ+ teacher in a binary focused workforce/community – and the ongoing hardships experienced as part of the marriage equality survey. Kara Keys passionately spoke about the national campaigns of the ACTU to address gender inequity (gender pay gap) and identify the hard truth – that racial and gender inequality intersects, and that unions don’t yet do intersectionality well. She implored us to speak out.

Dr Emma Felu (Director of The Equality Institute) opened day two of the conference with her keynote that shared her academic research within the AEU Victorian Branch, and through Victorian schools and internationally. With a focus on violence against women and domestic and family violence, Dr Felu has a strong message for governments and organisations. The root cause of gendered violence is gender inequality, and schools (and the AEU) can play a unique role in creating real social change.

The 2017 recipient of the Rosemary Richards Scholarship, Hannah Archer-Lawton, presented the findings of her review of gender inequality within the AEU membership and comparisons with other unions internationally (Finland and UK).

Over the two days of the conference, each state and territory branch, as well as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, LGBTIQ+ and TAFE caucuses, met and conferred over the conference statement. A big focus of the discussions centred on the AEU Five Year Gender Equity Plan. Each branch of the AEU will now analyse their individual branches and begin the development of a distinct plan to address gender inequity in union structures and workplaces.

This conference brings together women from across our nation, women who are passionate about public education and gender equity. It was inspiring, uniting and brings focus to the sometimes overwhelming work that is still to be done. Yet, she persisted!

Penny Spalding                                                                                                                  Assistant Secretary, Women and Social Welfare Issues

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 8, 3 November 2017, p23