Women urged to stand together in face of challenges

Public school teachers from across the state have gathered in Sydney today to attend Federation's annual Women's Conference and discuss the theme Women in Education: Leading the way.

During the morning session the union's Women's Coordinator Anna Uren spoke about the challenges facing women.

Attack on teachers’ pay and working conditions

Ms Uren said women teachers cannot stand idly by while the Department whips away provisions that were hard-fought for by Federation activists.

"Right now, in public education in NSW, progress made toward gender equality is under threat," she said.

"The Department is trying to implement policies which purport to be about accreditation or making it easier for schools to administer things locally, but in reality are an attack on teachers’ pay and working conditions — an attack to be borne disproportionately by women.

"The Interim Teacher Salary Review Procedure, introduced unilaterally by the Department in May and being applied retrospectively to January this year, and the proposed ‘leave simplification’ will have the combined effect of driving experienced teachers from the profession and driving down women’s average pay.

"Some of the most significant changes include no longer recognising full-time childrearing for salary purposes, sending experienced teachers back to the start of the pay scale because of a break in service, no longer combining casual and temporary service on permanent appointment."

"In negotiations, the Department has agreed to back down from some of the worst aspects of its proposals, including those that would have seen some teachers taking maternity leave losing more than a hundred thousand dollars. However, the attack remains and we must stand together in defence of women’s working conditions," Ms Uren said.

In the plenary session this afternoon delegates will debate a recommendation calling on Federation to continue to work with the Department and to take all appropriate action to ensure that any changes in policy or procedure do not disadvantage or discriminate against women, either directly or indirectly, and further drive the gender pay gap. "Should the Department attempt to push any of these matters into Award negotiations, the Federation will continue its resistance in ensuring that the pay and conditions of women are not traded off," the recommendation states.

The challenge for fair recognition and credit

Ms Uren also used her speech to lament that women often get the credit for their actions when they fail, but when they succeed, the world looks for the man who can be properly credited.

"Meanwhile, the opposite applies to men. When they succeed, of course they get the credit, but if something goes wrong, there must be some other explanation," she added.

Ms Uren used Olympics coverage and research on judiciary sentencing of domestic violence perpetrators to prove her point.

During the Rio Olympics Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu won gold and set a new world record. "The commentator credits her husband with being responsible, and media coverage focuses on him," Ms Uren said.

"From the American Olympic team, women have won almost twice as many gold medals as men, and yet media has focused on hair styles, meeting celebrities, husbands.

"Michael Phelps not winning is a bigger story than Katie Ledecky smashing a world record and being the first Olympian to win the 200, 400 and 800 metres since 1968."

Ms Uren commented on a study of judiciary sentencing in cases where men and women had murdered their partners in NSW and Victoria, reported this week in The Daily Life. "The researchers found that when sentencing the men, the judges almost always emphasised that the murderers were essentially good blokes who had made a mistake…Conversely, in sentencing the women — and there were far fewer of them — there was not one single positive evaluation of their characters nor any explanation of mitigating circumstances."

"I’m not in any way suggesting that intimate partner violence is a form of leadership in the community, but these two contrasting case studies demonstrate very clearly some of the challenges facing women when it comes to leadership."

Ms Uren said men’s leadership is acknowledged more readily than women’s. "In NSW public schools, women make up more than 70 percent of the teaching service, but hold only 57 percent of principal positions. In primary schools, the difference is starker. While we are 84 percent of classroom teachers, only 60 percent of principals, and only 44 percent in the largest primary schools, are women.

"The Department released a video in January promoting its $20 million investment in supporting, mentoring and rewarding principals, which featured not one single female principal," she also said.

"According to the most recent Annual Report from the Department, that’s a total of 1222 principals that can’t be found to be included.

"So deeply is this engrained in our psyches that even in professions dominated by women, even among judges who are paid big bucks and the highest honours to be neutral, even when there are twice as many women’s wins as men’s women still struggle to get the credit."

In closing, Ms Uren again urged women teachers to stand together to defend their working conditions and "take credit before it gravitates to somebody else".

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