In 1976, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation published “The Effects of Sexism on the Career Development of Teachers”. The report was generated by the work of the Task Force on Women created by the Provincial Executive. The Task Force’s mandate was to examine the persistent under-representation of women in positions of responsibility despite the significant increase in the numbers of women teaching at the secondary level, and to recommend remedial actions. The research also provided information about women members and their representation in OSSTF leadership roles.
The creation of the Task Force arose not only in response to the growing numbers of women entering secondary teaching, which had traditionally been a largely male preserve. It also reflected the rise in feminist awareness and activism emerging through the late 1960s and into the 1970s. There was growing recognition of gender inequality in our schools, both as learning institutions and as workplaces.
By 1981 the Federation had established a provincial Status of Women Committee charged with addressing “equality of opportunity” for women members. A provincial conference soon followed, and district SW committees grew in numbers and activity. By 1982, at the urging of the SWC, childcare was made available at the Annual Assembly. Over the next few years, delegates to the Annual Assembly passed policies on affirmative action, childcare, paid maternity leave, superannuation, pornography, and non-sexist language. In 1983, it approved a by-law dealing with sexual harassment within the Federation. And in 1985, support was given to carry out a large follow up survey of members to evaluate what changes had taken place for women in secondary education during the ten years since the 1976 report. This initiative also provided some data on women’s participation in OSSTF, as well as attitudes towards male and female students.
Outside the Federation, OSSTF became part of the Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare, submitted briefs to the provincial government on equal pay legislation, and participated in the Ontario Federation of Labour Campaign on Women and Affirmative Action, which held public forums across the province to raise awareness of discrimination against women in the workforce. OSSTF members were encouraged to make local submissions. These can be read in the OFL brief “Making Up the Difference”, which reported on what it heard from women and made recommendations.
The provincial OSSTF Status of Women Committee and local SW committees played an important role during the 1980s in ensuring issues such as paid maternity leave, child-related emergency leave, and seniority were taken up in collective bargaining as part of Negotiating Towards Equality. The need to name and take action against sexual harassment in the workplace was identified. Numerous articles were written, and pamphlets and informational materials produced, to support these concerns becoming priorities for the Federation to address.
Status of Women was also a driving force in winning OSSTF support for implementing Board of Education Affirmative Action programs. And in the mid-80s OSSTF set up an internal affirmative action project to look at its own practices as an employer.
The early focus of the SWC was women in secondary teaching. This shifted after OSSTF changed its Letters Patent and began organizing others working in education. Many of these newly organized members were women working in a wide range of job classifications. Equal pay for work of equal value and other concerns emerged as new challenges to take up.