Thoughts on the Memorandum

The National Union of Teachers’ Conference will debate a proposal from the Executive Working party for the reorganisation of executive seats in relation to gender & geographical distribution.

Kensington & Chelsea NUT Divisional Secretary, Melissa Hind, argues why it should be supported.

While there may have been increases in female representation on the National Executive, currently only 10 of the 37 seats (excluding the equalities seats) are held by women.  Further to this, of the 27 regions making up the current executive 17 have only male executive members with another two regions having more male executive members than female. This is in comparison to 5 regions with only female executive members and 3 regions with equal numbers of both.  Overall the current Executive is 27% female (again excluding the equalities seats), which – given that 76% of the NUT’s membership are female – is woefully inadequate and certainly not representative.

The National Union of Teachers is a union that actively promotes equality and has been responsible for piloting programmes and creating resources that address inequality. The ‘Breaking the Mould‘ set of resources looks specifically at addressing gender inequality. It is a brilliant resource and one that is used as an example of how progressive we are with our teaching. However, the same enthusiasm is often lost – or silenced – when we start looking at the gender disparity within our own union’s internal structures.

There is a school of thought that suggests the disparity between the numbers of male versus female executive members can be attributed to the fact that women just don’t want to be on the Executive. If this is the case, then we should be asking ourselves why.

Reasons such as workload and raising a family spring to mind, but we are now in the 21st Century and isn’t it time that more men – from both within the NUT but also partners and friends of NUT members – start supporting their female counterparts (in a way that women have been supporting men for years); empowering those who have previously not felt able to run in the executive elections to stand?

Many candidates that stand in executive elections have the support of internal groups within the NUT. If these groups want to continue to have a voice, but do not have women from within that are prepared to stand, then clearly they need to be doing more to support women activists. Having an executive comprised of at least 50% women provides the incentive necessary for groups pushing a particular viewpoint to actively encourage female voice.

Certainly in the first few election cycles you might find that some of the female candidates don’t have the breadth of experience that their male counterparts do, but until they are given the opportunity to gain the experience this will continue to be the case. If you are looking to elect at least one female out of a pool of 20,000 members (of which approximately 15,000 will be women) it is not ok to suggest that there are no women in that region up to the job or who want to stand: it is simply a matter of engaging them so they do.

There will be people who oppose the Memorandum because of other reasons such as the sizes of regions, the lack of accountability associated with being represented by two members or using a voting system also used by Eurovision.  All of these concerns are valid. However, there is scope within the Memorandum to review these at a later point, in situ, if they do indeed cause problems.

We have already seen this issue deliberated over by the Executive for two years with no solution and, if we continue to wait for the “perfect” proposal to be put forward, we will never make the changes necessary to begin to address the massive gender inequality seen on our current Executive.  There will always be reasons to stop the promotion of equality but it is time to stop making excuses and take action.

Melissa Hind is a teacher and the Divisional Secretary of Kensington & Chelsea