STF celebrates Women’s History Month

Sask Bulletin
October 19, 2021

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation is recognizing the work of women in education this October as Canadians honour Women’s History Month, a month-long celebration of the outstanding achievements of women throughout Canadian history.

When the United Nations declared 1975 International Women’s Year, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation recognized the pivotal moment for women’s rights and took the initiative to support its female members. The Federation began growing the role of women in education at the 1975 Spring Council. Two resolutions were passed, which gave a higher priority to activities supporting the involvement of women in education and set up a committee of 10 teachers to secure funding, determine leadership programs and select women participants.

The early groundwork laid by the women in education movement did much to advance the roles women held in Saskatchewan. STF Senior Manager, Research and Records, Jane Macleod joined the STF’s Women in Education Committee in the late 1970s. Macleod says those involved were quite “forward thinking.”

“We used to go out in pairs on a Friday after school, out to small communities and do workshops from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday evening and again on Saturday, helping our members understand how to use their voices to advocate for women in education,” explained Macleod. “It was quite revolutionary. We probably didn’t make a lot of friends with the more traditional thinkers. We basically covered the province for two to three years. It was really an exciting time; we met a lot of amazing women, had a lot of wonderful conversations. It was a really good time to be talking about these issues.”

In the decade that followed, the WIE Advisory Committee became part of the professional development program at the Federation. Workshops were delivered on teacher awareness of stereotyping in the classroom, WIE liaisons were established in local associations and Council passed a policy against discrimination against women in education. The STF and the Ministry of Education also co-sponsored a provincial women’s conference. Local associations were asked to elect WIE committees to liaise with the provincial committee and the STF budgeted funds for leadership development opportunities for women.

Kirsten Fritsch is a Grade 4 teacher at Creighton Community School, an STF Executive member and a current member of the WIE Implementation Committee.

“I think of these early members as trailblazers in the most real sense.

“Women piling into vans and traveling from community to community to community across the province. All of a sudden the women in town are walking a little taller and speaking a little more confidently,” said Fritsch.

Over a 10-year period, the representation of women on the STF Executive increased from zero to 30 percent, administrative staff rose from zero to 17 percent, advisory committee members went from 16 percent to
55 percent local councillors increased from 22 percent to 31 percent and local association presidents increased from 19 percent to 27 percent.

While these changes were encouraging, A History of Women in Education 1988 reported that “it was far easier to win specific opportunities and safeguards for women than it was to affect the attitudes that were perpetuating sexual inequality.”

In 1987-88, the average salary of a male teacher was still 11.7 percent higher than for female teachers. Women made up 15 percent of principals, 2.3  percent of directors and 2.7 percent of superintendents.

At the 1991 STF Spring Council, resolutions were passed calling the STF to deliberate a wider support of gender equity issues in the educational system in Saskatchewan. Gender equity is defined as “women and men being equally empowered and equally valued.” The STF also registered with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission as an affirmative action employer.

Eventually, the WIE programs moved towards larger concerns such as sexual harassment, pornography, child abuse, peace education, day care and affirmative action.

“If we thought our work was done, in the last few years we have realized that there’s still more to be done to support a teaching population that’s largely female,” said Fritsch.

At the STF’s 2015 Annual Meeting of Council, a resolution was passed that the STF Executive consider creating a committee of Executive members and councillors to determine barriers that might keep teachers from running for Council or Executive and make recommendations about how those barriers might be overcome.

In response, the Women in Education Working Committee was created in 2019.

“There are still definite barriers to women becoming involved in leadership roles. It didn’t surprise us given that the profession has 70 percent women but makes up only 30 percent of leaders,” explained Fritsch. “One thing we came up with is that women need to be asked more frequently. I’ve learned to shoulder tap and make sure that I support mentoring other women.”

Fritsch says even things that may seem small, like how we speak to and about young women, can spur change and empower the next generation.

“I think it took me until I was 27 to realize that I had leadership qualities. I had been told I was bossy, but I had never been told I was a leader. If I had had that reframed, I would have been able to harness that power sooner. If you have a strong female in your school or life, remind them of the qualities you appreciate about them.”

The theme for this year’s National Women’s History Month is Make an Impact, in honour of the courageous women and girls who have made a lasting impact as pioneers in their fields.

“I hope that women members hold their heads up and be proud of an organization that has pushed for equity and social justice. It’s something to be celebrated.

“There were not only amazing women, but also men who stood up for the women in our  profession as well because they were committed to the goals of the profession,” said Macleod.

“This October I hope we acknowledge the hard work that all of my colleagues across the province have put in on this issue over the last several decades,” said Fritsch. “We are making history every day when we empower the students in our classrooms wherever they fall in the spectrum. We’re still trailblazing.”

This fall, a new Women in Leadership Event Series will begin. The first event, Follow Your Heart, will be held online October 26.