International Women’s Day: Choose to Challenge
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 2, 12 March 2021, page no. 23
On March 8, we celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD), but in the midst of a global pandemic it was commemorated in vastly different ways across Queensland, our nation and globally.
But COVID-19 can’t stop us reflecting on the purpose of IWD – to remind us to stop and reflect on women’s achievements, the health and economic status of women and girls, and the genuine gender equity we are yet to achieve.
Each year across the state QTU, members coordinate events in their schools and workplaces, for staff and students. I have enjoyed visiting school-based events, and by far the most exciting and energising are those led by the students themselves.
The QTU has also established a tradition of holding an IWD event at the end of the annual Union Reps Conference and an acknowledgement at our first State Council each year.
And, of course, for the first time in our history, our feminised union is being led by women; Kate Ruttiman is the first woman to hold the position of General Secretary and Cresta Richardson is only the fourth woman to hold the position of President. Further, never before has the presidential team comprised three women, with Leah Olsson as Vice-President and Jenny Swadling our Honorary Vice-President.
But IWD is also an opportunity to broadcast the many, many challenges we as society need to address; the continued wage gap, the appalling incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, gender-based violence in all its forms, the lack of representation of women with a disability, the additional discrimination and erasure in media and texts of women of colour, the overt misogyny displayed through mainstream news channels and politics, the lack of affordable childcare, and period poverty.
At the time of writing, our nation was reeling from reports of sexual assaults in our nation’s Parliament building. As the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work report clearly demonstrates, sexual harassment and managing gendered-based violence is a reality for most of the girls we teach, our colleagues, friends and family and occurs at alarming rates within workplaces, including schools. There is still much to be done to invest in genuine preventative measures such as a genuine schoolwide approach to respectful relationships education (that actually has funds attached and isn’t just a further impost on schools). Watch this space for the QTU’s #ExpectRespect campaign, which seeks to address gendered-based violence in TAFE and schools.
However, no change occurs without those bold and brave enough to challenge. The 2021 theme of IWD, #choosetochallenge, encourages us all to find our voice. Calling out gendered actions or assumptions, challenging gender stereotypes, challenging leaders to be more inclusive and challenging ourselves to find our voice.
There is much work to be done – educating about gender equity can be exciting and inspiring. Celebrating great achievements of inspiring women and girls is a great way to start. We have a unique opportunity; to inspire, to give a platform and space, to educate, and to listen. The next generation is watching and learning.
As teachers, we hold a space that is crucial in terms of role-modelling and questioning and enquiring. Ensuring our pedagogical practices include gender diverse resources, our narratives include the voices of all women, and when we look to historical texts that we ensure we include the analysis of whose history is being told and whose voices were not permitted.
So, this year I would encourage QTU women and activists to continue to “choose to challenge”, whether it be workload, our work/life balance, the sexist uncle you’ve always been polite to, or the inequitable decision at your workplace!