Women in the Teachers’ Movement: A Lesson in Resistance

Published on America’s Program, by Laura Carlsen, Sept 13, 2013.

Mexican teachers have hit the streets in protests against education reforms that threaten their livelihoods and the quality and accessibility of public education in the country.

Among thousands of protesters who have set up a make-shift tent city in the downtown blocks of Mexico City, women make up the less visible core of the movement. More than a million women teachers–61 percent of the education labor force–work in ill-equipped classrooms across the nation, often at wages of only several hundred dollars a month.  

The rank-and-file democratic movement, known by its Spanish initials as the CNTE, has called teachers out to reject constitutional reforms that pin jobs and salary levels to the results of a standardized test and establish “operating autonomy” for schools to do their own fundraising, among other provisions. The teachers say this will destroy diversity, erode job security and lead to privatization of schools.

The media has whipped up public opinion against the teachers’ walkout, repeating ad nauseum that they are lazy and obstruct traffic. Many of the women and men here have traveled hundreds of miles from home to live under a tarp that scarcely provides protection from the torrential downpours of Mexico’s rainy season. They have to put up with little food, nowhere to wash clothes, grueling marches and the constant threat of eviction and repression.

Why do they do it?

The women of the teachers’ movement answered our questions simply and eloquently. Their responses reflect an education system in crisis—not because of incompetent teachers, but because of years of neglect and indifference and the harsh conditions of poverty that mark the lives of millions of their students throughout the country.

Women’s voices in the fight for work with dignity and quality education: … //

… What should be evaluated? … //

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… Women transforming their reality:

Monica Amador, 28, teaches fourth, fifth and sixth graders in Cozoaltepec, near Puerto Escondido, in a school with only one other teacher. She makes about $320 a month. She says some of the students in her group have disabilities and she has learned to teach in sign language. When it’s coffee harvest, her students don’t attend classes because they’re out helping their families bring in the crop.

In her classroom, she has her 26 students gather around in a half-moon figure, “with my desk behind us not in front,” to break down classroom hierarchies.

Mexico’s women teachers are responsible for molding a new generation, a generation they hope will be capable to reduce the injustice and inequality of their world. They also hope to shepherd a new generation of women who will stand up and take their rightful place in the movement for change and in the better world they seek to create.

For this, being a union member is not enough.

“In the last years my understanding has broadened and now I’m here as a woman too, because I realized over time that women play an important role in the grassroots movement and we women are the ones who have been on the front lines. That’s why we think that we need to stop living in a sexist context, and that’s something else we have to fight for.

“I used to think about other people all the time, but now I also think about us–the women. I remember that before we said ‘we the teachers’ (in masculine form). Now I say “we the teachers” (in feminine form) are here too. With all our experience, with our fears, with our desires, our dreams–all that we bring to transform this reality.

“I’m here because I have this awareness that if we don’t change things for women too, in every grassroots movement, we won’t change anything in general. As members of this movement, we have the responsibility to give our vision of the world and make our participation in the social movement visible.”

(full long text and links to more informations).

(Laura Carlsen is director of America’s Program. Alfredo Acedo is a journalist and director of communications for UNORCA …  Published by CIP Americas Program.org. Photos and interviews: Alfredo Acedo and the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Mexico).

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