Teachers’ Association: A General Body of Women, and a Board of 15 Men

December 27, 2016
نقابة المعلمين الأردنيين
غرفة عمليات الانتخابات الأخيرة في نادي المعلمين في عمان. عن موقع نقابة المعلمين الأردنيين.

Translated by Hani Al Barghouthi

This article first appeared on 7iber in Arabic  on July 14, 2016.

On the 28th of July 2010, teachers and many other citizens marched together from the Madaba bridge to Karak in solidarity with Adma Zureiqat and her colleagues, who had all been forced to take suspended retirement following a decision from the office of the Prime Minister due to their involvement in the movement calling for a teachers’ trade union.

Those marching were chanting and carrying slogans showing their solidarity with “our patriotic sister Adma Zureiqat” and when they entered into Karak, two days after they began marching, they had already overcome attempted blockades by gendarmerie and Badia forces as well as received support from various other movements and parties led by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Socialist Leftists (along with the Popular Unity Party they belong to).

Despite the popular and factious solidarity Zureiqat had behind her, and despite representing female teachers at the committee which advocated for a teachers’ union (where she was the only woman among 12 men), she did not manage to gain a seat on the Teachers’ Association’s branch bodies after losing in the Association’s first elections in 2012.

Zureiqat’s loss in those elections did not mean a complete absence of women from that particular board, but it did draw attention to the many hurdles facing women’s participation in the unionisation process, such as in the current board of the Teachers’ Association in which women are completely absent.

How were Teachers’ Association elections held?

The Association’s general body consists of teachers who have paid their membership dues and who, in turn, elect the central body, which then elects the board, its Director, Vice-Director, and the Secretary.

According to the most recent statistical report published by the Ministry of Education for the 2013-2014 academic year, 68% of teachers and 69.3% of school principals in Jordan are female. The number of members of the general body of the Association is around 150 thousand, of which women are the majority according to the Ady Nasr who is in charge of memberships at the Association. That majority in the field, however, was not reflected in the latest central body elections, the board, or even in voter turnout demographics.

Sources: General Statistical Department of MoE

The RASED Coalition, which belongs to the Hayat Centre of Social Development, clarified to 7iber that polling turnout in the latest elections was 79%, of which 46% were women.

Central body elections happen through mixed voting, meaning members vote for both individual seats and tickets. An individual seat is allocated for each 1000 teachers in a constituency, and the constituency as a whole is also given a seat. Each governorate is allocated a ticket made up of 12 candidates. A voter is then given two polling papers; on the first they vote for named candidates based on the allocated number of individual seats for the constituency, then on the second they vote for a ticket as a whole.

According to records 7iber obtained from the Association and RASED, 46 female teachers — out of a total of 691 candidates — ran for individual seats in all constituencies in the Kingdom; 19 won. Women fared better when running on tickets, through which 22 female teachers out of 42 candidates won, out of a total of 276 candidates who competed for 144 seats allocated to tickets.

Despite tickets contributing to increased representation for women in the central body compared to winners of individual seats, statistics with which RASED provided 7iber still showed that no women made it into the central body in Irbid, Ajloun, Tafileh, or Zarqa’. In those provinces, female teachers and principals make up 66%, 67%, 65%, and 67% of the general body respectively. Women are best represented in the central body in Amman, with 5.8% of the seats; they make up 72% of the capital’s academic body.

The numbers above might explain why no female members of the central body elections ran for the board of the Association, and in turn their lack of representation. The two preceding boards included teachers Huda Al-Otoum and Abeer Al-Akhras, who belong to the Islamic Movement, both present in the first and second boards.

Members of the current board did not note the absence of women until after it had been formed, according to Speaker Ahmad Al-Hajaya. “We did not notice that there were no women until after we were done. In any case, even the opposing Islamic Movement did not have any female candidates either”, says Al-Hajaya, who belongs to a coalition of candidates and independent tickets.

“The issue is not about the fear of allowing women’s issues in education to the board; rather, it is about representation of the field of education, in which women are the majority”, says former board member Huda Al-Otoum. “It is not about gender, it’s about a lack of actual representation for the field of education.”

Why are women absent from their association’s board?

Somewhere amidst electoral battles in the Association, an unsupportive environment for women, with regulation that does not guarantee minimal representation on the board, and an aversion to participation by women, female representation on the Teachers’ Association board diminishes or completely disappears, according to both the female and male members with whom 7iber spoke.

Ahmad Abu Zaid, teacher and member of Amman Al Hurra, a committee which has formed coalitions with many tickets and candidates from independent movements, says that the majority gained by independent candidates in winning this election against the Islamists overshadowed many issues, including female representation, which is “a result of a lack of an ideological movement that unifies the independent movements behind common goals” aside from defeating the Islamists.

Abu Zaid clarifies that the two preceding boards which had an Islamic majority included two female teachers within the Islamic Movement, and that is because the Islamic Movement is organised and has clearly defined choices. “Whether or not we support it, the Islamic Movement has a unified ideology and agenda, and that was the reason women were represented in previous boards; they set their (clearly defined and planned) tickets before elections began, which helped the two teachers to get elected to the board.”

In order to be elected to the board, members of the central body run for a seat or for the position of Director. This is usually preceded by internal alliances, according to Al-Otoum.

Al-Hajaya explained that the independent movement that successfully ran for the Association’s current board had requested that each governorate nominate its own representative on the board. These governorates chose to nominate men as their representatives, and on that ticket the movement ran in the elections and won. “Each governorate chose, and we realised later that they were all men, but our main concern was that all governorates were represented, because the previous board marginalised many of them,” says Al-Hajaya.

Amal Abu Tahoun, principal of the Ruqayya Bint Al-Rasoul High School in Amman, told 7iber that she could not get the internal consensus needed from her colleagues to allow her to run for the capital’s section of the Association’s board. “To run for the Amman seat, I needed to have obtained the first four spots in the internal vote; I received fifth with a difference of one or two votes.” This is despite having received the highest number of votes any individual candidate received in the central body elections in the Kingdom with a margin of 1814 votes.

Ina’am Al-Isha, a consultant for the Association of Women’s Solidarity, further explains the obstacles faced by women, accusing the state’s institutions of exclusion and placing part of the blame on the media and a culture that is hostile towards women, and the present mentality that women are not fit to work, along with the lack of factors to facilitate women’s paths to the board, placing many hurdles in their way instead.

Are they avoiding trying?

Abu Zaid says his committee exhausted many efforts to convince female teachers to run for the board after they had won sectional elections, but their “hesitation and fears” of running and competing were what led to their absences, according to him.

Speaker Al-Hajaya saw that female teachers preferred not to run, and voted for male candidates instead, because of the difficulty and intricacy of the phase through which the Association is going, according to him. “Many female teachers place more faith in men’s performance than in women’s, seeing as it is a formative period for the Association and taking into consideration clashes with the government and strikes.” But Al-Hajaya does not support this perception some female teachers have; in his view, “women are strong” and can play an effective role “even in tough and difficult stages.”

Al-Otoum, Secretary of the second board and Vice-Secretary of the first, clarifies that gaining her seat on the boards demanded a lot of time and great effort, to the extent that she would often stay at the Association’s headquarters in Amman past midnight before returning to her house in Jerash.

“We used to meet at least twice weekly, in Amman. If a meeting ended early, the next few would last until dawn; we were essentially founding the Association, and most of what we did was regulatory and legislative”, says Al-Otoum.

The distance and inconvenience of the trip from the other governorates to the capital are further reasons for women’s reluctance to participate according to Abu Zaid, who thinks that the bi-weekly meetings, in which board members have to take part are a big part of this hesitation, especially for women who live in governorates other than the capital.

Al-Otoum, mother of seven, cites a supportive environment at home which allowed her to undertake the time- and effort-consuming union work. She also points to women’s role in “perpetuating a culture” that impedes their own participation; a culture that claims “women belong to their homes, they want to rest after work by taking care of their children and seeing to their homes, but they need to be content with their roles in society, which in turn allows them to compete and prove themselves appropriately.”

Zureiqat explains this reluctance as part of what she considers a systematic ideology. She says,  “women are isolated and refuse to participate in public work, and even when a woman runs her campaign is tailored to men’s stances.” Abu Zaid, alternatively, sees deliberate marginalisation and exclusion that cannot only be solved by the law, as “no matter how wonderful a law is, nothing will change as long as culture, stereotyping, and patriarchal thinking remain the same. Women must have the courage to participate.”

Zureiqat’s campaign for election and formation of the Association differed from her male counterparts’, according to her, in that she had to face a “patriarchal society” and therefore make many “sacrifices”, but eventually failed nevertheless.

Zureiqat has this to say about the reasons for her defeat in the first elections: “I, as a woman, belong to a party, and approached public work fully self-aware and having been vouched for by everyone. I consider myself one of the driving forces in the teachers’ movement, but when I ran for election I was called an apostate, and it was like wildfire. It did not matter how much I had sacrificed, I was the weakest link; a Christian woman.” She did not run in any subsequent elections in order to, she says, give other teachers (male or female) the opportunity to lead.

Is a quota the answer?

Abu Zaid, Zureiqat, and previous president of the Association Mustapha Al-Rawashdeh both oppose a women’s quota, stating that the problem is “part of a societal mentality which a quota cannot fix”. Al-Isha, on the other hand, believes it to be necessary in the effort to change behaviour, cultural understanding, and view of women, and that it would allow them to compete later on.

Al-Otoum thinks a quota would signify weakness in women, who “must convince others of their achievements and prove themselves in order to compete with men”, stressing the importance of “competence” on the path to the board.

Al-Rashdeh opposes the concept of a quota and prefers to work instead on changing ubiquitous mentalities to form one that supports women. Abu Zaid agrees with this, stressing the importance of changing the way society thinks.

Zureiqat resorts to solutions that are far from the quota she opposes, and blames what she deems absent organisation within the civil society. “There are no margins for female development, and women’s work has become an issue of class that is very isolated. This is in addition to the absence of cumulative public awareness and individuality and a reluctance to join parties.”

Al-Isha disagrees with those who oppose the quota, because “if the process is to be subjected to pre-existent difficulties, a woman will never make it on the board”, which is a due to the fact that women “already face general discrimination, so they need some help to get to the board.”

She compares the Association’s quota with the quota that exists in parliamentary elections, shedding light on the fact that the quota paved the way for many influential and powerful women to Parliament, along with some inactive women which put them on par with many male MPs who were also inactive in previous sessions.

Al-Otoum, who was elected by popular vote, receiving the highest number of votes for an individual candidate during the last round of elections, and made it to the board because of the alliances constituencies and governorates made on her behalf. That is what she sees as a woman’s ability to compete and prove herself.

So far, there have not been any suggested amendments to the electoral system and the idea of a quota has not been presented at meetings of the new board. This is because, according to Al-Hajaya, the board has still been busy dealing with certain other priorities. He also confirms that any such change to the system would need to be approved by a majority vote of the central body.

What does the absence of women from the board mean?

Regardless of the fact that Al-Otoum and Abu Tahoun do not think the absence of women will diminish the importance women’s issues will be given, this does not mean, according to Al-Otoum, accepting things for what they are. The current board finds that “the presence of women on the board is not necessary, but there is nothing to stop it”, according to Al-Hajaya. “We will proceed without discrimination. Women would not offer more if they were on the board, we defend our teachers both male and female, but their presence is important because they are the majority.”

Al-Isha finds that the flaw in representation of education as a field to which Al-Otoum refers signifies that women are not being taken seriously in public work, and justifies their reluctance. Zureiqat, on the other hand, thinks that representation for women in politics generally depends on there being certain quotas and away from actual positions of power and active political participation.

With only a few months left before parliamentary elections (which allocate 15 seats to women through a quota), what the Association’s board elections have revealed about women might reflect in parliamentary elections. From a general body of which 70% are women, not a single woman ran for a board of 15 members. Whether female teachers could not find a woman who would be capable of winning to support , or they did not want to support one in the first place, education’s majority failed to find representatives who would truly reflect the general body in the board.