Discrimination talk turns to gender imbalance in union


EQUALITY:A LIVELY discussion about gender discrimination branched into a wider debate about gender imbalance in the ASTI itself, at the union’s convention in Galway.

Leading on from a discussion about the lack of female head teachers in the country – just 20 per cent of co-educational schools have a female principal – attention quickly turned to the union. Deirdre Healy, a Dublin delegate, said: “There must be obstacles blocking women from operating in our union at a senior level,” citing the fact that out of 18 standing committee regions, just seven are represented by women.

Galway delegate Maura Greaney pointed to the male dominance at the conference top table. Sixty-eight per cent of ASTI membership was female, she said, “but for the last three years the candidates for the ASTI presidency have been all male . . . It is vitally important that women pursue key decision-making positions.”

Pat Deery, a Monaghan delegate, responded saying: “Three of our presidents in the past number of years have been female in case you didn’t notice,” he said.

“I didn’t see any men objecting to that. There is nothing stopping women from going for these positions. It’s not the mens’ fault if they’re not coming forward.”

“Pat has missed the point,” said Carmel Heneghan (Tuam). “The Equal Opportunities Committee is not satisfied to say, ‘ah sure it’s their own fault they don’t apply’.”

The debate was part of a broader presentation of a report by the ASTI Equal Opportunities Committee. Ageism, disability and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights were also discussed. “Unions have a crucial role in properly establishing the rights of gay and lesbian teachers,” said Mary Ohle, president of the committee.

Sections of the Employment Equality Act which allow schools to openly discriminate against lesbian, gay and bisexual teachers should be removed and, “consigned to the dustbin,” speaker Tony McKernan (Limerick South) told delegates.

He said while the Act itself was, “wonderful,” Section 37.1 allows schools to “openly discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teachers,” where it is judged that employing them would undermine the religious ethos of a particular school.

Schools must have policies recognising the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual teachers and students, he said. Mr McKernan warned that teachers must be vigilant as suicide was a real risk for these students.