A wonderful opportunity presented itself a couple of years ago when I applied to take part in Project Overseas.
Working Together for Social Justice and Equity (Equity and Women's Services)
ETFO is unique among Canadian teacher federations in having a service area devoted to Equity and Women’s Services, demonstrating our commitment to women’s equality and social justice.
When ETFO was founded in 1998, its constitution included this objective: “to foster a climate of social justice in Ontario and continue a leadership role in such areas as antipoverty, nonviolence, and equity.” There is also a specific constitutional commitment to provide and fund programs for women.
Developing equity policies
Intense policy development work during ETFO’s first few years sought to clarify the beliefs informing these constitutional provisions and to understand how they could be put into effect. In 1999 the ETFO executive adopted this definition of equity:
ETFO recognizes that we live in a society characterized by individual and systemic discriminationagainst particular groups. Within this context, ETFO defines equity as fairness achieved throughproactive measures that result in equality for all.
Strategic planning and consultation with members and locals led to the development of ETFO’s Statement on Social Justice and Equity, which the executive approved in 2002. It identified eight organizational goals as part of an ongoing, long-range equity implementation plan (etfo.ca>Advocacyan dAction>SocialJusticeandEquity). Delegates to the 2003 annual meeting passed ETFO’s Policy on Equity and Social Justice (etfo.ca>AboutETFO>Governance>PolicyStatements). These foundation documents guide the work of staff in Equity and Women’s Services.
Policy development continues as our understanding grows. ETFO has adopted policies on Discrimination (1998); Antiracism and Ethnocultural Equity, Employment Equity, Harassment, and Religious Rights (2000); Aboriginal Education and Native Languages (2001); Equity and Social Justice (2003); ETFO Representation (2004); and Disability Issues (2006).
Programs to meet our members’ needs
EWS staff, working with staff in ETFO’s other service areas, are responsible for a broad range of programs that include initiatives for members who face subtle and overt discrimination: women; racialized and Aboriginal members; members with a disability; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) members. Programs also address social class and poverty issues.
Our role is to educate, stimulate, and support the transformation of ETFO and its locals into organizations that are more responsive to the needs of a diverse membership and that exert a positive influence for change in society. Ontario educators now work with a more diverse student population than ever before and in an increasingly complex world. They need the support of their union to counter discrimination and to advocate for social justice.
Our programs and services include conferences and workshops, curriculum resources, support for locals’ equity and women’s programs, and advocacy and partnerships with other organizations.
Conferences and workshops
…and Still We Rise was first held in 2000 and over the years has drawn many members into active participation in their union. The combination of provocative keynote speakers (including Rosemary Brown, Naomi Klein, Sally Armstrong, Roberta Jamieson, Monia Mazigh, Judy Rebick, trey anthony, Shari Graydon, and Catherine Frazee), leadership workshops, personal growth opportunities, and arts and cultural activities (featuring Faith Nolan in celebration of Black History Month) has proved popular over the years.
In 2009, this conference is going national. With the theme “Connecting Caring Citizens in Schools and Communities,” the conference will feature dynamic plenary speakers such as Rona Maynard and Margaret Trudeau and celebrate black history month with performances by Kellylee Evans and the Collective of Black Artists (COBA). Workshops will offer a variety of leadership topics such as social justice advocacy, health and well-being, curriculum, and strategies for success.
Leaders for Tomorrow began in 2004–2005, and built on the success of two earlier programs: Aboriginal and Racialized Women’s Leadership Course and Building Coalitions. It provides women members from all designated groups with an intensive, year-long leadership development program that includes workshops and experiences that relate directly to leadership roles within ETFO, locally and provincially. Participants must put their learning into practice throughout the year. Graduates have demonstrated their growth and development by participating in union leadership both provincially and locally.
Diversity in Leadership, which began in 2006, provides members from designated groups, both male and female, an opportunity to discuss such leadership issues as barriers, bias, and privilege. They build new knowledge and network with others with similar interests. Guest speakers, including Didi Khayatt, Patrick Solomon, and Shakil Choudhury, have used current research to engage members in broad discus- sions of educational and leadership issues.
Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) were introduced last year as a way to build members’ capacity for social justice and equity work. Women members took part in PLCs on white privilege and the experiences of immigrant educators. This year, an additional PLC for women members will focus on “Learning How to Change Your Self-Talk.” Two new PLCs for both men and women will also be held.
Visions has been a popular leadership event for members in their first five years particularly interested in union leadership.
EWS has developed a wide range of curriculum-based resources, with topics and issues that were determined by members’ needs. Because effective implementation of curriculum requires support, hands-on workshops presented by trained members accompany our resources. We’re ErasingPrejudice for Good is a good example. Based on the understanding that chil- dren’s literature provides an ideal entry point for teachers who want to develop inclusive classrooms, the kit includes lesson plans for SK to grade 8 classrooms, with the message that we love and respect one another in all of our won- derful diversity. Members researched and wrote the resource and subsequently presented the material in workshops across the province. First introduced in 1999, We’re Erasing Prejudice forGood has been continually updated: in 2002 we produced a supplement, Respect- ing Cultures andHonouring Differences, and in 2006 a French-language supplement, Effaçons les préjugés pour de bon. This year we are undertaking a comprehensive revision to produce the next-generation kit, SocialJustice Begins with Me.
Since the inception of EWS, the breadth, depth, and volume of the resources have expanded enormously, paralleling the evolution of ETFO’s investment in equity and social justice. The longevity of our resources attests to their quality and ongoing relevance. The former is a result of our members’ commitment to a vision of equity and social justice; the latter is a reminder of our need to continuously challenge our own prejudices and privileges.
Support for locals
EWS staff work directly with local equity and status of women committees to plan events, build knowledge and, in some locals, to establish new committees. Each fall the chairs of local committees come together for professional development at ETFO’s leadership training.
ETFO also provides funding and incentives to locals for equity work that includes support for women’s programs, for work countering homophobia and heterosexism, and for community partnerships around disability and other equity issues.
Partnerships and advocacy
EWS has supported the work of many social justice organizations by undertaking joint initiatives, providing financial support, and sharing resources and expertise.
ETFO’s 10-year history of advocating for women’s rights, supporting activism to end violence against women, and encouraging women to pur- sue leadership opportunities has included involvement with:
- The Women’s Future Fund (WFF), celebrating Equality Day
- The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), provid- ing financial support for Charter litigation to defend and further women’s equality rights
- The Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA), supporting research and activism around gender-sensitive budgeting by the federal government.
ETFO works to eliminate the violence against women that pervades our society so that women can live without fear and feel safe in their homes, workplaces, and communities. ETFO has provided training for members, as well as human, financial and material resources to a number of programs:
- Springtide Resources has partnered with us for many years in making available to members the anti-violence workshops Breaking the Silence and Woman Abuse Affects Our Children. ETFO makes an annual donation to support their newsletter.
- Step It Up! End Violence Against Women is a campaign launched by a provincial coalition in 2006.
- Take Back the Night raises awareness of safety issues for women and children.
- ETFO makes annual donations to women’s crisis centres and shelters all over the province.
ETFO has worked tirelessly to fight homophobia and heterosexism by educating members about the histories, cultures and experiences of LGBT people and members. The federation has shown leadership in providing anti-homophobia training, workshops, funding, and print materials for locals and members. In 1999 ETFO distributed its first anti-homophobia pamphlet to schools. We participated in the campaign for legal recognition of same-sex marriages and, more recently, supported an Ontario private member’s bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. ETFO’s Rainbow Visions Award, created in 2003, recognizes materials created by members that include LGBT realities. Since 2001, ETFO has participated in Pride Day in Toronto and provided funding and materials for locals that participate in Pride activities in their own communities.
ETFO helps fund and is on the steering committee of the Ontario Coalition for Social Justice, which promotes social and economic justice in Ontario. ETFO has also endorsed the Make Poverty HistoryCampaign, and supports it by purchasing its white wristbands, promoting the campaign to locals and members, and linking to its website.
ETFO EWS resources and programs have received national recognition. We were honoured that We’re Erasing Prejudice for Good (2001) and The Power of Story (2003) were finalists in the Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s Award of Excellence. In 2005, Leaders for Tomorrow received honourable mention in the category of leadership training.
As I walked out of the Edinburgh airport on July 30, 2013 and felt the Scottish wind on my face, my dream of doing a teaching exchange beca