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Civil society fights back following moves by conservative groups to eliminate gender equality from Peruvian education curriculum

CPDEGender equity in education is facing a serious setback in Peru following the intervention of conservative pressure groups in the approved new national curriculum, reports GCE’s natonal member coalition, Peruvian Campaign for the Right to Education (Campaña Peruana por el Derecho a la Educación – CPDE) as part of the Platform for the Right to Education and Equality

The new curriculum includes the teaching and achievement of gender equity as one of its principles and goals, yet despite it being proposed and approved by the Ministry of Education, the conservative group ‘Padres en Acción’ (Parents in Action) is trying to halt its implementation by taking the government to court. The group claims that parents and private schools were not consulted on the inclusion of the term ‘gender’ within the curriculum. In February 2017 they began actively campaigning against the curriculum, using slogans such as ‘Stay Away from My Kids’ and ‘Don’t Mess With My Kids’. At the same time, the group commenced legal proceedings to stop the implementation of the curriculum, and eliminate the word ‘gender’.

Despite the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights rejecting the claims, and requesting that the Supreme Court dismiss the claims, the Court has found in favour of the groups and a resolution will shortly be issued. Over 2.5 million students – 33% of those in basic education in Peru – are already being taught from the new curriculum.

The new National Curriculum for Basic Education was approved back in June 2016, for gradual implementation starting January 2017. As an expression of the right to quality education, it aims to achieve “comprehensive student education that provides [students] with the necessary tools to exercise [their] rights and duties, allows [them] to respond to the diverse demands of our time, such as sustainable development, and a citizenship that recognizes all human rights to live in an inclusive, non-discriminatory community based on democratic values.” It further states “The curriculum unifies criteria and establishes a route to achieve common outcomes that respect our social, cultural, biological and geographical diversity”.

The human rights approach is one which can already be found throughout the curriculum, as is evidenced in two of the profile features of a student at the end of his studies: “The student assumes intercultural relations, gender equity and inclusion as ways of coexistence for mutual enrichment” and “the student understands the transcendence of the spiritual and religious dimension in the moral, cultural and social life of all people. This allows him to reflect on the ultimate sense of his life, his ethical and existential commitment in the construction a fairer, solidarity and fraternal world.”

The sticking point for the conservative groups is that there is a ‘gender ideology’ present in the curriculum which threatens and goes against ‘family values’. This is a position they faithfully hold, and it seems to be one echoed by the Supreme Court. For example, in May 2016, the First Chamber of the Supreme Court failed to invite any institutions experienced in human rights and education (such as the Women's Ministry, Ombudsman's Office, UNESCO) to attend a hearing regarding the curriculum, selecting instead to invite the newly formed parents’ association, Padres en Acción, to present – the group which later sued the Ministry of Education.

Gender equity is already deeply ingrained in Peruvian legislation: it is part of the General Education Act (2003); it is recognised as a principle in the Equal Opportunities Act (2007); the National Plan against Gender Violence 2016-2021; and the National Plan for Gender Equality 2012-2017. Furthermore, the Peruvian State has committed itself to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015. SDG4 aims to achieve quality, inclusive and equitable education; SDG5 is aimed to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

The new curriculum is a fundamental device to generate structural change, to give children and new generations a future with better conditions, greater well-being, and stronger tools to protect against abuse, impunity and gender violence in their different expressions.

For all these reasons, Peruvian authorities must not allow any efforts to strengthen discrimination, or to violate the right to quality education which aims to prevent violence, to succeed. Indeed, doing so would violate the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Belém do Pará) and Convention on the Rights of the Child. All these international legal instruments have constitutional status in Peru.

Fortunately, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights have the chance to appeal the decision, since the ruling in favour of the conservative groups violates constitutional rights. However, a decision to do so has yet to be announced.

Civil society organisations, including GCE member CPDE, and the Platform for the Right to Education and Equality, back the curriculum and highlight that the gender equity approach progressively contributes to the eradication of discriminatory practices that violate women´s and LGBTQI people´s rights. Defending the curriculum, as well as the curriculum itself, is an essential condition to consolidate democracy and justice in Peruvian society. A high rate of teenage pregnancy, rape, femicides and persistent discrimination against girls and women call for urgent changes, starting at school level.

Civil society organisations urge authorities to disclaim discriminatory campaigns in order to avoid setbacks in the fight against discrimination; at the same time, they request the reinforcement and prioritisation of a gender equity approach in education policies such as the curriculum, thus reaffirming the State commitment to promote a truly democratic and egalitarian society.