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25 March 2021

Session covered: Feminist Leadership: Steering a course for gender equality in and through education

Rita Allen, SI Ballymena

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities within our societies. This has been experienced by members of our families and friends when the burden of juggling working from home and home schooling their children as well as cooking and other household tasks has  overwhelmingly fallen to women. Leadership of organisations including educational establishments is rooted in patriarchal and social norms which can be disempowering for girls. Women should be encouraged to participate in all aspects of society and government. Speakers did acknowledge that some men are Feminist leaders, they don’t see women’s leadership as a threat. One speaker spoke of how her father positioned himself between his daughter and forced marriage and FGM.

Inequality in Academia
Women often have lower status positions. They may experience more barriers to publishing research. Men are four times more likely to have a spouse at home to take care of childcare and the running of the household. There is a need for role models and mentors for women. HR, faculty members and all students should be made aware of inequalities.

Education is the key for change
There is a need to change the mindset. Mentors are needed to inspire women to realise their potential. Technology can exacerbate inequalities due to limited access to electricity and the internet.

Violence and harassment in the Education system.
Violence is a weapon for those who hold power to stifle dissent and instill compliance. Schools are slow to change. There was discussion on how to ‘Build back Better’. Should we be dismantling the patriarchy. It is said it will take 99 years to change the gender gap. Gender violence is often not talked about in schools, it is essential to discuss topics such as consent. Governments must become involved in these issues and decisions should be made in consultation with young people.

COVID has turned a spotlight on what we value
Lessons learned:

  • The crisis is a moment of hope, it offers the opportunity to Care for people and Care for the planet. We have a collective future and are interdependent.
  • At a recent UN conference on Inequalities it was concluded that Care is not just a women’s issue.
  • Some dynamics in the educational systems have outlived their purpose and this is an opportunity to break with the past and dismantle some of the norms.