by madeleine kennedy macfoy, Education International and Francine Filion, Canadian Teachers' Federation
When winter storm Stella forced the United Nations to shut down its headquarters on March 12, the Education International (EI) delegation switched to an impromptu ‘Plan B’ and held a session in one of the hotel rooms where delegates were staying.
EI delegate Jalila al-Salman, vice-president of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA) described her challenging journey as a woman and union leader.
Jalila traced back the situation in Bahrain to 2011 at which time many of the union's leadership were arrested (including herself first, followed by all of BTA’s board members, and finally the president) after striking, and taking part in peaceful protests similar to the ones of the Arab Spring. Sentenced to prison by the military court, both BTA leaders were tortured in detention, as well as being verbally and psychologically abused. For example, at times, Jalila was not allowed to use the toilet, to sleep or to pray for 7 consecutive days whilst in solitary confinement.
Jalila described how the quality of public education seriously deteriorated after the Bahraini government hired thousands of unqualified volunteers to replace the striking teachers.
For more information on how EI and its Member affiliates have taken action in support of the BTA, check the EI Website : https://www.ei-ie.org/en/websections/content_detail/6411
When asked what we as individuals and collectives could do to support teachers in her country, Jalila asked that we raise the situation whenever possible with our governments or with the Bahrain consulates and embassies. Fully aware that she risks being arrested again for speaking out at the UNCSW, Jalila is not fearful.
As she wrapped up the two-hour session, EI Deputy Secretary General Haldis Holst emphasized the importance of raising the voices of Arabic female teachers, especially since the majority of teachers in many of those countries are women. She encouraged us to share their stories in solidarity which could raise awareness and hopefully, lead to progressive change.