The EIS celebrated International Women’s Day this year by holding an event to reflect on our past and look to the future of women’s union activism.

This year’s event for International Women’s Day provided an opportunity to consider and discuss how the EIS, and the wider trade union movement, can engage with, organise and ultimately inspire women activists, and how we can join our voices together for the future of the movement. The event also provided a platform to launch the EIS young members’ network, which will seek to engage with and embolden young, new activists.

Attendees were encouraged to look back at the achievements made by women in the EIS in past decades, and to reflect on how far we have come in the search for equality and the promotion of women’s issues, while taking into account how far we have still to go and how we can best reach our goals through the empowerment of women within trade unionism.

The event also provided a focus on the challenge of recruiting and retaining the next generation of young women and encouraged discussion on how best to support young people in joining their union.

The event began with a screening of ‘A Woman’s Place is in the Union’, a short film exploring EIS women’s activism in the ‘70s and ‘80s (the film is also available on the EIS website). The film shines a spotlight on many issues women faced in the workplace and in unionism during this time, including how schools perpetuated the misogyny and sexism of society through the curriculum, and the distorted representation in leadership roles within the union movement itself.

This was followed by an inspiring conversation with our panel speakers, reflecting on how we can grow women’s union activism, today. The discussion also touched on the importance of speaking about trade unionism in our schools and of bringing people together who have shared experiences, to ensure there is a united strength when raising and discussing important issues.

Towards the end of the event, attendees were encouraged to make their own activist posters with illustrator and facilitator Jules Scheele, who also created an illustration throughout the event inspired by the ongoing discussion.

Speakers for the event included Annie McCrae (EIS activist in ‘A Woman’s Place is in the Union’ film), Eve Livingston (author of ‘Make Bosses Pay: why we need unions’), Eireann McCauley (Equality and Policy Officer with the Scottish Trades Union Congress) and Nuzhat Uthmani (Acting PT and EIS Anti-Racist Sub-Committee Chair).

Thank you to everyone who came along to share their views and support women in trade unionism.

Nuzhat Uthmani

Nuzhat has been a school rep for over 4 years and is currently an acting PT in Glasgow. Nuzhat is also a member of the Glasgow Committee of Management and is Chair of EIS Glasgow’s BAME Network.

This year’s IWD event focussed on the historic involvement of women in the trade union movement and how we can continue to build on this moving forward.

As a speaker and EIS rep myself, I shared my experiences of building my knowledge and networks within the trade union. As a representative of the BAME network I hope to continue to be a role model to my colleagues and hope to keep raising their voices when it comes to better representation of minority ethnic educators especially at senior levels within our education system and across all sectors.

Eireann McCauley

Eireann is currently the Equality and Policy Officer at the Scottish Trade Union Congress supporting all of the STUCs equality strands and Committees, including young workers’. Eireann is a qualified Modern Studies and History Teacher and has been an active Trade Union Member since the age of 15.

This event was an opportunity to reflect on the past struggles and wins of women trade unionists and consider how we as young women can learn and be inspired by our herstory and the role of trade union women activism to build for our present and future.

The progress and weave of women trade unionists leading our movement in Scotland is inspiring, motivating and empowering for young women like us – but it is our job as young women to strengthen that. To keep growing our unions and ensuring that a diverse range of women are taking up space and being encouraged to do so. The world of work and society which we live in may have rapidly changed for young women – but some of the struggles, inequities, & battles that we face as young women remain the same. More than ever, young women need trade unions; but crucially trade unions need young women!

Annie McCrae

Annie McCrae is a writer and teacher and has worked both in secondary schools teaching English and in initial teacher education.

I was one of the women involved in “A Woman’s Place is in the Union” film attendees watched at the event. Making the film rekindled memories of teacher action in the 70’s and 80’s, and reminded me of the energy and commitment of many women, often young mothers like myself at that time who spent endless hours talking to others, on the phone, getting round members in schools at breaktime or in their lunch hour, preparing motions for meetings and speeches, writing leaflets and pamphlets. All to effect change not just for them but for their pupils, for their colleagues at the time and for a better future.

Being part of the film allowed some of us who’d been right in the heart of all those struggles the opportunity to reflect. Stand back for a moment and consider what we did, how we did it, how effective we were, how far we’ve come and how there’s so much more to do.

Our issues are maybe not precisely the issues of today, but organising as trade unionists continues to be the key to improving all our lives, young and old.

Eve Livingston

Eve Livingston is a Scotland-based freelance journalist specialising in politics, inequalities and industrial relations. In 2021 she published her first book, Make Bosses Pay: Why We Need Unions, about why young workers need unions and how the union movement needs to adapt to better meet their needs.

At the event, I chose to speak about how women have always been central to the union movement and its successes, yet their contributions have not always been recognised; how the union movement has started to recognise the need for equality and diversity but not yet for liberation; and how new thinking about union democracy and structures is key to all of this.