ASEAN Women’s Network:

Echoes past struggles, takes new lead

Women around the globe are perceived and treated differently. While they all share the same nature – notwithstanding some degrees of differences in skin and colour, height and weight, looks and hair, women as objects and subjects of the past now take new roles in the family and society. Gone are the days that women are stereotyped as weak, home-based, and fragile. Today, they have taken an active role and meaningful stake of responsibility, command and power from their male counterparts – lest for conservative notion that the world is really a man’s world. In the Association of South East Asian Nations ASEAN Women’s Network (AWN), women leaders galvanise their ranks, clear the roadmap to success, and direct all efforts towards a gender-friendly ASEAN community. This is the concerted efforts and response of women leaders from Education International affiliates to challenges and demands of the changing time.

Over a decade or so, AWN has bolstered young union leaders with emphasis on women education, enlightenment and empowerment. In the words of Sis. Shashi Bala Singh, EI-Asia Pacific Chief Coordinator, “women leaders in ASEAN region, delighted I am to see, giving their best efforts to address the concerns included in EI Gender Equality Plan (GEAP).” (Bala, 2015; AWN Newsletter Volume 1 Issue 1). As orthodox as it may seem, women of the past were just confined in the four corners of their home; entrusting them the role of a homemaker. But ASEAN women are more than that; they can be a nation-builders and global leaders as well. It is in this spirit that AWN taps the leadership of each EI affiliate in the sub-region in beefing up women teachers and union members. AWN activities geared towards the inclusion of young women in the organization (Sagun, TOPPS-Phils., 2015). In Malaysia, the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) and Sarawak Teachers Union (STU-Sarawak) spearhead national and regional seminars on gender awareness, equality and progress, and girl child rights – all advocacies aligned with the AWN vision and mission. In the Philippines, the Teacher Organization of the Philippine Public Sector (TOPPS), Samahang Manggagawang Pilipino – National Alliance of Teachers and Office Workers (SMP-NATOW), Federation of Free Workers – Trade Federation 8 (FFW-TF8), and Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) distinctively but collectively approached women’s issues and advocacies multi-pronged. They conducted seminar-workshops, nationwide forum on Magna Carta of Women, instructional materials review on gender-bias, collective bargaining, and research and surveys. Meanwhile, women leaders in Indonesia particularly from Persatuan Guru Republik Indonesia (PGRI) have beefed up capacity and leadership skills through trainings, consultations, and dialogues. The same actions were also seen applicable by Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA), National Educators’ Association for Development (NEAD-KH), Private School Teachers’ Association of Thailand (PSTAT) and other EI affiliates in the sub-regional cluster.

Moving forward, AWN considers feminization, solidarity, and equality not only a matter of social experiment but more of social commitment. We chart our fate – for better or for worse. Whilst we are full of hope and words, we have to translate these to action and work how difficult it may be. While the biggest challenge we have includes cultural restriction, perception, prejudice, and limited budget (Mahsurahi, PGRI-Indonesia; 2015), nothing can stop us from soaring high. AWN leaders campaigned for higher budget to education in order to cover more girls and school-aged children. ACT-Philippines, to cite, had lobbied in the congress and streets in pressuring the government to invest more to education by allocating at least 6% of its gross domestic product (GDP). SMP-NATOW has leaped its foot forward when its Secretary General Sis. Milagros C. Ogalinda became member of the Technical Working Group which crafted the internal rules and regulations (IRR) of the Republic Act No. 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women. FFW-TF 8 and TOPPS had unity walks for gender equality and decent work. In fine, women have to play an important role in the workers’ unions especially in decision making at higher level (Datuk Lok, NUTP; 2016) (Z. BtRamli, TUSWP-Malaysia; 2016). We all worked together for the ratification of ILO convention 183 and ILO Recommendation 191 on maternity protection, pay gap, and pension rights. During those periods where AWN held grip to survival and expansion, development partners like Canadian Teachers Federation (CTF) and Lararforbundet (Swedish Teachers Union) did not hold back in assisting us.

Education and research are our tools to empower and enlighten. It has been said and proven time and again. On this, AWN leaders in the Philippines validated a popular notion that the migration of teachers, especially female teachers, exacerbates brain drain, creates more family problems, and contributes to the deterioration of education (Caraan, et. al., SMP-NATOW-Phils., 2013). Stressing further, when more experienced [female] teachers leave a country, the quality of education is open to threats. This only amplifies that women teachers and their leaders have pivot role in the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Nos. 4 (Education) and 5 (Gender Equality). Equality for women is progress for all. (NUTP, 2014). As teacher leaders, we regard education as the greatest social equalizer. It lifts a poor to where the rich is; it makes the weak strong; brings out the best in a girl; and makes a woman celebrate her uniqueness. We [union members] have to give real contributions for educational development. (U. Rosyidi, PGRI-Indonesia; 2016)

No matter what happened before, AWN leaders will never forget their lessons of the past. The struggles that each woman had in the hands and eyes of men-dominated society are reminders of success in the end. Every time we fail or failed by others, our being and values we hold dear will at all times serve as our compass. We are lights of this world. We will later be replaced by other leaders but [AWN] should remain alive and responsive to the union members (P. Krishnan, EI-APRO; 2015). A march is on for the glory! Be proud, you are a WOMAN!