Wayne Education Association President Wins Elizabeth A. Allen Women in Education Award

Photo credits: New Jersey Education Association (NJEA)

By Steve Sears

Current Wayne Education Association President, Eda Ferrante, was recently awarded the Elizabeth A. Allen Women in Education Award by the New Jersey Education Association.

The award is important to the Wayne Valley High School Social Studies teacher for a variety of reasons. “Elizabeth Allen fought for the rights of educators and the rights of women when the culture in the United States was not so welcoming to strong assertive women,” says Ferrante. “I think it would be naive to say that many of these challenges don’t still exist today. Women still need to overcome many of these same roadblocks.” Allen was also the first female president of the NJEA. “She (Allen) was able the promote her vision of equality, when so few others were willing to do so.” 

Ferrante is the second recipient of the award and was honored for addressing issues that affect women in public education, and those in leadership roles. She elaborates. “Empowering women is a passion. I rarely pass up the chance to promote the women in my life and those that have come before me. As a history teacher, I’ve always made sure to highlight the accomplishments of women in history so that girls were inspired, and boys were exposed to their achievements to help change the narrative in society. Unfortunately, women still deal with the perception that they are somehow less deserving than their male counterparts.” She cites the Statehouse in Trenton as an example. “We see that they have provided superior benefits to police and fire fighters, two occupations dominated by males. They have been less than willing to provide these equal benefits to women. And we are all aware that women are paid only about 80% of what a man makes for the same job. So, we still have a way to go in the struggle for real social and economic treatment and justice but, in order to change this perception, we need to educate our children from an early age.”

Per Ferrante, who feels there is an endless list of issues that affect women in the workplace, a healthy workplace environment is a basic need. “However,” she says, “that need is not always met, and women especially do not always bring their concerns forward. If concerns were brought forward, they were not necessarily given the time and attention that they deserve. As one of the ways to address this issue, I have worked with the district and my union to create a district Health and Safety Committee to address these concerns.” As a local leader, the union she heads hosts events and has established activities to educate and empower women, one such workshop addressing the nuances of maternity and family leave specific to her district. “I am also mindful of the need for more women in leadership roles and have personally reached out to women to empower them with the confidence to take on roles on NJEA committees and in Passaic County Education Associations’ and Wayne Education Association leadership.”

Ferrante also “lives” daily the challenge of having a career while being a single mom to her daughter, Liliana, whom she has been honored to raise and watch grow up. “I strive to be mindful of the women around me, who are sometimes struggling with parenting too, to make integrating being a mom and a career woman a “norm” and worked to break the silent barrier that was holding some women from becoming involved in the association, childcare. I have publicly welcomed mothers who would have otherwise had to skip meetings due to a lack of childcare to bring their children to the meetings.”

For Ferrante, the battle now for women is for equal treatment in the workplace and under the law: being willing to advocate for themselves without fear of reprisal, attaining equal status, and continuing to ensure that women’s health is a priority,  especially surrounding pregnancy and proper breast-feeding accommodations. “More importantly,” she says, “the next step is advocating for women to find balance in their personal and professional lives. When 45% of the women had never been married, compared to 22% of the men and 64% of women had never had a child, compared to 40% of the men there is something inherently wrong with our society. My goal is to even the playing field and push for women to be held to the same standard as men in society.”

 

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