This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Hundreds of female teachers throughout Philadelphia rallied in March to advocate for a teachers’ contract and for fair working conditions across all professions dominated by women.
The protests were part of a nationwide action called “A Day Without a Woman,” which highlighted the importance of women in society and protested gender inequality. Nearly 1,000 District teachers took the day off on March 8, which was also International Women’s Day, to protest a culture that lacks respect for female-dominated professions, including teaching.
Before the school day began, hundreds of female teachers assembled outside their school buildings for informational picketing. Many teachers then went to City Hall to lobby their representatives, petitioning members of City Council for additional funding for Philadelphia schools and advocating for a teachers’ contract.
Teachers and other school staff represented by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers haven’t had a contract since 2013. They’ve gone without raises since 2012. According to District data and PFT officials, about 75 percent of PFT members are female.
Pia Martin, a health and physical education teacher at Science Leadership Academy, said she participated in the action to demonstrate the power of women.
“I feel that I am morally obligated to participate in Day Without a Woman because my teachers taught me that teaching was an act of social justice, and my students deserve the same education,” Martin said.
“I am committed to the reality that women’s rights are human rights, and I stand for every woman who doesn’t have the resources and ability to strike. I am her feet on the pavement.”
Science Leadership Academy and Taylor Elementary were among several schools in the city where teachers participated in the action.
Melanie Manuel, a Spanish teacher at SLA, told Councilman Mark Squilla that “I would love to stay in Philly for as long as possible,” but the last four years spent without a contract are beginning to weigh down her optimism. Like most younger teachers in the District, she’s missed years of step raises for her accumulating experience.
Squilla, who met with six teachers who are thinking of leaving the District, said the time is right for a long-overdue contract.