Chair of the ETUCE Status of Women Committee: “We as women empower ourselves to defend our rights” 


Following the latest meeting of the ETUCE Status of Women Committee linked to the March meeting of the ETUCE Committee, we have interviewed Lies Van Rompaey, the Chair of the Status of Women Committee since 2021,  to shed more light of the important work of this advisory body. Lies Van Rompaey is also a member of the executive staff within her regional union, Belgian trade union Christelijk Onderwijzersverbond (COV). 

Can you explain the role of the ETUCE Status of Women Committee? 

Lies Van Rompaey: The Status of Women Committee is a meeting which gathers all the women who are members of the ETUCE committee. The meeting takes place just before the meeting of the ETUCE committee. We look at the agenda of the committee and discuss whether or not certain issues need more attention from a gender equality perspective. Afterwards, during the ETUCE committee meeting, the point of views of the women, and the arguments that were put forward can enrich the discussion. This aims to ensure that ETUCE’s policy views are in line with and respectful of women’s rights and concerns. 

In your opinion as a Chair of this Committee, what is the importance it has on ETUCE policies and work? 

Lies Van Rompaey: The last thing we wish to do is to create polarization, a sense of “we” (the women) and “they” (the men), in the ETUCE committee. I believe that a sense of community is an important condition for any committee that wants to deliver good work. 

Nevertheless, we cannot deny that in our European society there is still a dominance of men in power, even in a highly feminized profession as education. In some sectors and in some countries, there is still a long way to go before reaching equal pay for work of equal value. Moreover, issues such as gender stereotypes and gender-based harassment still hinder women’s careers and lives. That is why, in the ETUCE Status of Women committee, we want to create a safe place for all women members to debate and discuss items that could be important for them. ETUCE Secretariat helps to prepare the meeting, always searching for ways to build a real culture of debate. I appreciate that very much! 

I have the impression and the conviction that through the discussions we have during the meeting, we as women empower ourselves to defend our rights. It is sometimes an eyeopener too. It allows us to look beyond our own borders and to gain knowledge of the situation of women in education, throughout Europe. 

It is not always easy to convince colleagues of the importance of the Status of Women committee. But I really want to encourage every woman member of the committee to come and join us and enrich the meeting with their presence and expertise. 

What topics and issues of gender equality are the most relevant for ETUCE member organisations at the moment? Could you share some good practices that members of the Status of Women Committee presented at the last meeting? 

Lies Van Rompaey: Despite the efforts made to progress in terms of gender equality in education and wider society, many issues and topics must still be discussed. Topics such as gendered violence and harassment at the workplace are amongst the most relevant issues to Committee members, and numerous women in the Committee presented actions and campaigns led by their trade unions on this topic. For example, the Italian trade union UIL-Scuola is launching a health and safety training which includes the subject of gender violence at work, while the British National Education Union (NEU) has created the “It’s Not OK: Preventing sexism and sexual harassment in schools” campaign toolkit to help NEU members take the steps needed to prevent sexism and sexual harassment.  

Gender-biased terminology in the Polish labour market (where professions with a higher social status and pay have typically masculine-formed names) is addressed by the Polish trade union Zwiazek Nauczycielstwa Polskiego (ZNP) through a campaign to avoid using them in the education system. Moreover, British trade union NASUWT has launched a campaign “Period dignity, period poverty” aiming to help all women to access period products (teachers included) and to remove the shame surrounding periods. 

The organisation of these initiatives and their sharing are crucial in order to tackle gender inequalities in education, and to spark discussions and ideas within the ETUCE Status of Women Committee.