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LATIN AMERICA: And Now For Non-Sexist Education

Milagros Salazar

LIMA, Oct 19 2010 (IPS) - Women in Latin America have broken down barriers in education, and in several countries have more years of education than men. But the task now is to make sure that education reduces, rather than fuels, inequality between men and women.

Moriana Hernández at the seminar on Education: Beyond the Goals  Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Moriana Hernández at the seminar on Education: Beyond the Goals Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Representatives of women’s organisations and human rights groups from more than 20 countries, mostly in the Latin American region, met in Lima to discuss how to achieve non-discriminatory education that does not reproduce stereotypes inside and outside schools.

“To say that education is sexist and discriminatory is not an ideological statement, but a fact based on scientific evidence,” Moriana Hernández of the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (CLADEM) told an audience of 60 participants from 14 countries of the region and delegates from Africa and Asia.

“Educación: Más allá de las Metas” (Education: Beyond the Goals), an international seminar held Oct. 14-16 in the Peruvian capital, brought into question the second and third Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are to achieve universal primary education by 2015, and to promote gender equality and empower women, respectively.

Agreed by the U.N. member states in 2000, the eight MDGs also aim to reduce poverty, hunger, child and maternal mortality, fight HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and build environmental sustainability and a global partnership for development by 2015.

“Access to schools is one thing, but completing primary and secondary education is quite another,” Hernández, who is in charge of CLADEM’s Campaign for Non-Sexist, Non-Discriminatory Education, launched this year in several countries in the region, told IPS.


“Furthermore, education must be relevant, and help people think critically and independently. These things can be measured by examining statistics and the school curricula,” she said.

In numerical terms, Latin America has progressed on average 90 percent of the way toward the target of universal primary school enrolment, and countries like Argentina, Cuba, Mexico and Peru have already attained the goal. But the region has advanced much less in the field of secondary education.

Globally, the most optimistic projections indicate meeting the MDG of primary school completion for all children in the world will take a decade longer than the 2015 deadline.

By 2015 there will still be 47 million children not attending school, and 47 countries will fail to meet the target, according to Vernor Muñoz of Costa Rica, a former U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to education.

Meanwhile, the gap between girls and boys is closing slowly. Fifty-six percent of the world’s school-age population lives in countries that have not attained gender parity in primary schools, and 87 percent live in nations without parity in secondary education. Only 92 out of 149 states have eliminated gender disparity in primary and secondary schools.

“The MDGs are reductionist, and in Latin America, where some countries have already met the goals, they can have a negative effect because they do not pay attention to other key issues, such as educational content, teaching practices and equal opportunities,” Muñoz told IPS.

He said the educational system is “patriarchal” because it reproduces the idea that men have more rights than women, and it excludes indigenous people and those with physical disabilities.

Muñoz said these asymmetries in education reflect what is happening in the political, social and economic spheres in Latin America, which is considered the world’s most unequal region.

“Never before has patriarchy been so indispensable to the neo-liberal economic system because, among other things, it converts women into providers of free services,” Hernández said.

Camila Crosso of Brazil, the coordinator of the Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (CLADE), said that from a purely economic point of view, education is seen today as an investment that will pay dividends, rather than as a human right.

From a feminist perspective, Spanish expert Rosa Cobo said teachers impart a hidden gender curriculum to pupils, based on stereotyped sex roles.

“In every country of the world, men have ‘extra’ rights and women have too few. Men have public spaces reserved for them, while women are confined to domestic spheres. Schools reproduce these ideas,” she said.

In Cobo’s view, now is the time for women’s organisations to work for non-sexist education, as they have taken the first step of ensuring that more women get an education.

“It’s time to ask ourselves, ‘What kind of education do we want?’ and to work for an education system that breaks down hierarchies,” Cobo said.

Muñoz, for his part, said it is vital to create education that is useful and that boosts self-esteem, while respecting students’ traditions and cultures.

Tarcila Rivera of Peru, coordinator of the Continental Network of Indigenous Women, said bilingual education is not a sufficient guarantee of respect for indigenous people.

“The poor are still receiving a poor education,” Muñoz added.

There is also a lack of sex education in schools. In Latin America and the Caribbean, only Argentina, Brazil and Costa Rica have comprehensive legislation dealing specifically with sex education, according to Muñoz, who said such education could contribute to reducing unwanted pregnancies and preventing HIV/AIDS, which means training on the subject for teachers is essential.

CLADE’s Crosso said that this is more feasible in secular states, where the churches do not interfere.

However, some progress has been made. Argentina passed a law in 2006 providing for a comprehensive programme of sex education in all public and private schools.

Brazil has established scholarships for students of African descent to attend university.

Mexico has introduced incentives to encourage rural families to send their daughters to school, and in Colombia the Constitutional Court ordered the state to consider making education free, as it is the only country in the region where free education is not guaranteed under the constitution.

In Ecuador, women’s organisations have participated in reviewing and revising text books.

CLADEM’s Campaign for Non-Sexist, Non-Discriminatory Education is taking on the current challenges with a number of international and domestic actions, including comic strip contests, jingles set to reggaeton beats, and workbooks for teachers.

The next steps will be to seek alliances with educational institutions, and to work on legal test cases that can be brought before international courts under the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Within the region, no complaint about sexist education has ever been taken to an international court.

 
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