Elaine Butler of WAVE Australia reflects on the ASPBAE-Azad workshop on Gender, Education, Skills, and Work

By Elaine Butler
WAVE – Women and Adult and Vocational Education Inc.

World leaders gathered at the United Nations last month to adopt a new set of global development goals that aim to end extreme poverty, promote inclusive economic growth, and protect the planet. The result is an ambitious yet achievable agenda for the 21st century, if we harness 21st century development practices….

We are in a new era of development that recognizes the need for fresh approaches and engagement from all sectors. These lessons can help the international community move beyond traditional models and strengthen public-private partnerships so we can translate our next set of global goals from words to lasting change.[1]

While world leaders met in various locations following the formal acceptance of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2015-2030, educator/‘leaders’ from 18 countries in the diverse, densely populated, and very large area that is broadly categorised as ‘Asia South Pacific’, joined by colleagues from UNESCO, also met at a Regional Workshop in Delhi to discuss trends, issues, and futures (global, regional, local) with a focus on gender, education, skills, and work.  While these areas underpin and cut across the 17 new SDGs, and poverty alleviation has been high on the agenda, the main focus rests on Goals 4 and 5 – gender and education. Of key concern is continuing access to relevant quality affordable education and training in the post school environment – a human right – that will provide opportunities for marginalised individuals and communities through providing learning opportunities that can link them with the worlds of paid employment and decent work.

Elaine Butler, WAVE Australia

As this workshop was auspiced by Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE), in collaboration with Azad Foundation, in the best tradition of lifelong learning (LLL) was participative, collaborative, and simultaneously highly educative and educating.  The programme was divided into cascading and interlinking segments to inform, share issues, debate, and identify shared topics of concern for advocacy and action –

  • Reading the reality – the global and regional context of gender, education, and lifelong learning, decent work, and sustainable development;
  • Frameworks for understanding gender, work, and skills;
    • Policy frameworks
  • Sub regional contexts (South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, South East Asia, South Pacific);
  • Gender and work in the real world (narratives from migrant workers, marginalised youth, the informal sector, and women’s labour organisations)
  • Country context on gender, skills, and work, including site visits, with a focus on India;
  • Examples of successful programmes and practices (from Azad, India; PEKKA Indonesia, Friend Fiji, and work through the Dhaka Ahsania Mission);
  • Financing and provisioning;
  • Planning for the way forward.

Continuing themes and cross county/region issues emerged – culture and religion; access to resources; location  and climate change: the prevalence of gender based violence and lack of safety; impact of global economic change, neoliberalism and mobile capitalism – the marketisation and commercialisation of education/learning including the ever increasing domination of TVET, privatisation of training; decreasing availability of secure paid work and increasing gap between rich and poor; and, above all, the glacial change in relation to gender and the associated normative frameworks and the need to make visible and address issues related to human rights and the complexity of gender and intersectionality.

I came to this ASPBAE workshop with two main thought tracks – deep concerns relating to post-school education and training and access to decent work for women and girls, along with the capacity of civil society organisations (CSOs) to impact and shape national/regional policies, implementation, resourcing and positive outcomes in Goals 4 and 5, and delight at the opportunity to listen, learn, share perspectives, to network and strategise with regional professional colleagues about ongoing advocacy.

The complexity of the new SDG agenda is compounded by inadequate support for the full implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda following the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) on Financing for Development in relation to the needs of adults, gender equity, and access to lifelong learning for all. The AAAA failed to address tax justice and tax equity, while also lacking in commitment to address the responsibilities of trade regimes and traditional donors. This, in a climate of ever increasing rhetoric about involvement of the private sector in the growing area of aid capitalism – ‘social good and profitability’ and the so called lack of capacity of governments to be able to meet the needs of their citizens, let alone the marginalised. This new Agenda is highly political and firmly focused on economic outcomes – growth and prosperity. Our challenge is to enhance its potential to transform the lives of the marginalised and vulnerable, especially women and girls.

The aims of the workshop have addressed the challenges that confront us perfectly – to equip CSOs with understanding and analysis on gender, skills, and TVET to influence emergent government plans and programmes by contextualising the new education agenda 2030 including the ASEAN 2015 plans; deepening our understanding of gender issues, especially as they relate to women and the global/regional/national policy environments in which we work. The workshop indeed provided a platform for learning, exchange, and shared decision-making that will influence practice and advocacy as a collective within ASPBAE and in our own countries and organisations. The potential of strategic relationships and shared endeavour that crosses national boundaries, languages, cultures, economies, and politics within our region (and globalising world) will continue to inform and enhance our advocacy work at many levels, from grass roots to global.  I left this workshop after four intensive days feeling better informed, humbled, inspired, re-energised, and very grateful for all that ASPBAE is and does.


[1] UN Wire United Nations Foundation 28th October 2015  Cited/sourced from http://allafrica.com/stories/201510271866.html

Elaine Butler of WAVE Australia reflects on the ASPBAE-Azad workshop on Gender, Education, Skills, and Work