AEU Women's Conference 2018: We are women, we are union
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 8, 2 November 2018, page no. 22
The AEU Federal Women’s Conference always provides a unique opportunity to bring women activists together from across the nation; to share, explore and ignite our passion for gender equality and public education. The conference theme this year was “We are Women, We are Union”.
Women from each state and territory gathered at the AEU Federal Office in Melbourne on 5 and 6 October for a full two-day program. We were welcomed by Federal Secretary Susan Hopgood and were provided with updates on the Fair Funding Now! campaign, TAFE (AEU President Correna Haythorpe), and early childhood education (Martel Menz). The ECE update was particularly uplifting given the announcement that federal Labor had made a commitment of $1.75 billion in funding and investment.
Sally McManus, ACTU Secretary (and first woman elected to this role), shared with delegates her personal tips for women in leadership and the priority areas for us as unionists if we are to experience equality. Inspiring as always, Sally spoke to the need to make parental leave more flexible, allowing partners to share in caring roles, and altering the value of this leave. She also highlighted the need to value “feminised” work, recognising we are among the most gender segregated workforces in the world, and how the rules must be changed - we can’t wait for equality, we need quotas and rule changes to bring about the changes we need to make Australia more just, for working women and Australian families.
Delegates were inspired and entertained by a panel of AEU leaders, who shared personal anecdotes and tips they’d picked up from their journeys to leadership. The panel included QTU Vice-President Sam Pidgeon, AEU Federal Secretary Susan Hopgood, NSWTF Deputy Secretary Maxine Sharkey and SA secretary Leah York.
Our LGBTIQ+, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and TAFE members were able to meet and caucus on day one, and the day finished with Olivia Brown, Federal AEU Women’s Officer, running a workshop exploring unconscious bias, while in another workshop delegates explored how to engage union women in campaigning. Entertainment at the conference dinner was from local Melbourne comedian Kirsty Webeck.
On day two, Robynne Murphy shared her exciting film project “Jobs for Women” with us. The film is an inspiring and important historical view of women’s union activism in Australia and will be an excellent resource.
Professor Raewyn Connell’s keynote was a brilliant analysis of the role and politics of gender in Australia since the 1970s, the interplay of funding dynamics and rise of the right in western culture. We have a long way to go on the path to “gender justice”. Professor Connell’s contribution to education and gender studies is remarkable, we look forward to the release of her forthcoming book “The Good University”.
The second day’s panel explored the intersection of feminism and unionism. Panellists were Polly Dunning, Van Badham, Kara Keys and Jess Mattar. Passionate, honest and personal stories explored privilege, Aboriginality, motherhood, homelessness, gender identity and transitioning during schooling. We heard of the power of public education, how we can make real change in our classrooms and the important lessons of labour history. It was a fabulous panel that really explored the power that union collectivism gives and keeps giving. We laughed and we cried, and we all felt much richer for the sharing of these wonderful, passionate and inspiring women.
It is a massive two days of collective sharing and learning. We were reminded that it is essential to be true to oneself, to be yourself. Supporting other women is essential, never undermine the sisterhood. Be a mentor for other women. You don’t need to hold positions of power to be a leader. Help others up the ladder, and, always bring a sister with you!