Towards Inclusive Education Systems
FRIDAY FILE: Latin America is preparing to fight sexist education by utilising the concept of non-discrimination. The United Nations will soon be receiving petitions from different countries asking governments to eliminate discrimination in the education system. Since June, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women's Rights (CLADEM), and a dozen networks and organizations, have been driving the Campaign for a Non-Sexist and Anti-discriminatory Education to eradicate sexism in school classrooms across the continent. AWID spoke with sociologist Moriana Hernández, who is overseeing the Campaign.
By Guidaí Luxemburgo
Translation by Karen Murray
The sister regions of Latin America and the Caribbean are amongst the most unequal regions in the world. Education, particularly for women, is one of the areas where there are inequalities. The Campaign was launched in order to sensitize decision-makers,civil society and teachers and has been integrated into the work of organisations such as REPEM, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, ICAE,CEAAL, Ação Educativa, ECOS, and within the CLADEM network.
In addition, after the “Education: Beyond the Goals” conference, that took place last October in Lima, Peru, the Network of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Women (Red de Mujeres Afrolatinoamericanas y Caribeñas) and the Central American Initiative Network (Red Iniciativa Centroamericana) incorporated this as part of their monitoring of the Beijing Platform for Action. Other institutions participated in this event as well, such as The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights of the OAS. Sessions and workshops were held by prominent people such as Rosa Cobo, Vernor Muñoz, Mercy Adjabeng, of Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF), Esther Beulah Azariah of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) and Rima Athar of Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), amongst others.
The Campaign is now in a full out expansion phase. Moriana Hernández, a Uruguayan feminist, and co-founder of the Commission of Women, a member of the Workers Inter-Union Plenary in her country, the PIT-CNT (Plenario Intersindical de Trabajadores (PIT) y Convención Nacional Trabajadores(CNT), spoke with AWID about the Campaign.
AWID: What is the Campaign for a Non-Sexist and Anti-discriminatory Education?
MorianaHernández: The Campaign encompasses the goals of networks in 15 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, working towards an education that contextualizes the different ways that people live. We are encouraging educators, activists and governments to participate in the development of education systems that not only refrain from reproducing stereotypes perpetuated by deeply rooted patriarchal, homophobic and racist structures, but that also actively fight these stereotypes in the political arena with concrete actions. We need public policies and the actions of educators on our continent to be guided by a human rights approach that integrates, for example, sexual and reproductive rights from a gender-aware perspective. This perspective needs to be integrated into the ‘nice' politically correct statements that are so often made, into laws, constitutions,regulations, bylaws, and above all into practice.
Schools must deconstruct the ideological frameworks that perpetuate violence against women, young women and girls, the Afro-American population, people who express their sexuality in diverse ways, the disabled or differently-abled, Indigenous peoples, and also men who are suffocated by such constructions. .
Education is a fundamental human right, but there are currently three million children who are not receiving an education. The education that others receive is far from being optimal as it does not incorporate a rights based ideology. Many children have difficulty staying in school, and the effect is that for many people, little is gained at the conclusion of formal education. In some rural areas, girls' participation in the education system is even lower. Often, girls are forced to drop out of school as a result of a variety of exclusionary situations such as poverty, mistreatment, abuse, family care responsibilities, and early pregnancy, amongst many other difficulties.
The road is long, but we must begin to intervene in these situations that are legitimised as a normal component of the landscape of material and/or spiritual poverty. There is significant political will and a number of changes have recently been made in the continent, but there is much more to be done.
AWID: In mid-October 2010, the Campaign organised the “Education: Beyond the Goals” International Conference.What was the outcome of this?
Moriana Hernández: The discussion process was very fruitful. Firstly, bringing Latin America networks together enabled further synergies around the diverse activities that arose from the Campaign and other organisations.
Another result that stands out is the representation of African and Asian networks, and of the Network of Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) at the Conference. This gave us the possibility of extending the Campaign to other continents. WLUML was created, not only to support women who live in Islamic countries, but also Muslim women who live in other countries,such as Rima Athar, a Pakistani woman who lives and works in Canada. It was really an international conference that brought together actors from the developing nations. European Cooperation Agencies were also present. The geographic diversity present at the conference demonstrated that the educational issues in Latin America transcend beyond the continent.
AWID: What themes did the Conference focus on?
Moriana Hernández:There were several themes. One was the need for comprehensive sexual education programmes which respond to the violence expressed in educational and societal spheres. Violence in many cases is perpetuated via mass media, video games or through pop music. We must take these means of communication into consideration in our conversations and actions around education. We aspire to an education system that incorporates human rights.We must demand the right to a life free of violence and not only to formalise this right within educational institutions, but also in other aspects of society’s structures that educate positively or influence negatively. We want to be able to influence the mass media. In this sense we are concerned with the world-wide and regional monopolies that have control over the media. We want new laws that will allow us to re-invent communication so that it is sensitive to the structures that promote inequality, and so that it promotes human rights.
The second important theme was the reconceptualisation of citizen security from the perspective of women. The worn-out subject of security and insecurity, is approached from an absolutely andocentric point of view, and we must reformulate that. Security measures for citizens must also combat gender based violence. There is no security if there is no recognition of the right to a life free of violence for women. This has to do with not only formal education, but also with the education that takes place over the course of a lifetime, such as through the media.
We also touched on the subject of the necessity to promote multiculturalism in education in Latin America. We need an inclusive education that safeguards cultural differences, a concept that goes beyond respect. In this regard, the presence of Rosa Cobos at the Conference was invaluable. Advances in multiculturalism have been made in Europe, Muslim countries and Latin America, but they are generally insufficient. Cobos is one of the most experienced feminists working at the international level on education. Her presentation greatly contributed to a theoretical conceptualisation that weaves education and feminism together.Education is important for feminism and the quest for gender equality.
Finally, another theme of the Conference was the push for our States to sign the Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which provides civil society an avenue for redress within the United Nations system if violations of economic, social and cultural rights, including education, have occurred.
AWID: What is the significance of signing the ICESCR Protocol for the States and the Campaign?
Moriana Hernández: Signing the ICESCR Protocol is an objective that is outside of, but related to the Campaign. The Protocol establishes social, economic and cultural rights, such as work, health, housing and education, amongst others. States have the obligation to fulfill these rights to the best of their economic capabilities. Quite a challenge for States! The government would have to demonstrate that its spending on education is at the maximum level possible given its monetary resources and budget allocation options, such as the option of reducing military spending. For this reason,signing the Protocol is a battle that goes beyond the mandate of the Campaign because it is not only about education but concerns the fulfillment of broader economic,social and cultural rights.
At the Conference, participation and commitments in this direction were deepened.For the Campaign, this is only one of the focal points that we are working on, but signing the Protocol is a central objective of the Inter-American Platform for Human Rights, one that the Campaign contributes to through management and mobilisation in cooperation with the international network DESC.
AWID: Briefly summarised, what you are looking to do is to make the justiciability of education more effective. Is this correct?
Moriana Hernández:Yes. The justiciability principle stems from article 13 of the ICESCR. This also establishes the prohibition of discrimination within education, which need not be gradual but can be immediate. It does not have to be tied to the State's availability of material resources. It also indicates that all bases of discrimination should be tackled, and eliminated. Naturally, the ICESCR is not the only avenue that provides protection of the fundamental human right to education,and so we will explore other possibilities though international, Inter-American and national mechanisms.
We are working towards making education justiciable through the Latin American Campaign to the Right to Education (CLADE) and with other organizations. Our network collaborates with the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (CLADEM), which for over 20 years has worked from a socio-juridical perspective in the defence of human rights.
AWID: The Conference brought together feminist networks but also international agencies like CEPAL and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIHR) of the OAS. What is the importance of these institutions to the Campaign?
Moriana Hernández:I believe that these networks and institutions provide insights into the magnitude of this subject, the global importance of non-sexist education and the principle of anti-discrimination. CEPAL’s presentation was very interesting because it highlighted the limitations of the Millennium Development Goal indicators, which do not take into account contexts such as the permanence of educational institutions, or the age of male and female students at the time of graduation or when moving into a higher classes`. These examples make us think about the need to evaluate, using other development indicators, given the various undetected challenges of the Millennium Development Goals. In the case of the IIHR, we need to think of a series of joint projects to further inform this work.
AWID: At the conference you also presented the book “La Piedra y el Viento” (The Stone and the Wind) on the right to comprehensive sexual education. What can you tell us about the book?
Moriana Hernández:Indeed, we had the pleasure of having Vernor Muñoz, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, present his book, which discusses his report on the right to comprehensive sexual education, presented to the UN General Assembly.
The Campaign has published the book in Spanish, Portuguese, and English to support Muñoz’ work, share it with our allies in other regions, and widely disseminate the book. It is the first book of a series of publications that the Campaign has produced.
The report is very important as it approaches the right to education from a human rights perspective, a subject of great importance in the lives women, girls and also boys. The absence of a real sexual education contributes to the growth of the HIV-AIDS pandemic, unwanted pregnancies, gender based violence and above all a dysfunctional approach to sexuality. For us this study was a success, but conservative groups immediately criticised Muñoz’ observations and recommendations.
AWID: Why is there a need for comprehensive sexual education? Is the current model not enough?
Moriana Hernández:No, it is not enough. As the Rapporteur has indicated, in some cases, sexual education takes a biological approach and what is emphasized in his report is the need for a sexual education that also discusses the social and ethical aspects of sexuality. Sexual education is a necessary tool that allows women and men to be the true owners of our bodies.
The development of a comprehensive sexual education is not a unique idea of the Rapporteur, but one that already takes examples from Argentine national law, and is currently part of the curricula of many countries around the world.
AWID:Going forward, besides actions at the national level, what actions are you planning?
Moriana Hernández:The dissemination of the Report on the right to a comprehensive sexual education by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education is an activity that will be taken up by the Campaign and all organisations that participated in the conference, including our sisters in Africa, Asia and in Muslim countries.
The Global Action Week for Education 2011will be dedicated to the education of the girls and women, and will allow us to carry out our Campaign activities, reinforced by other activities across the continent,given the understanding we have with the Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education, a major driver of this issue on our continent.
There are many other significant events planned. Updates and information can be found in our weekly bulletins on our website: http://educacion-nosexista.org