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Gender inclusion: Department of Basic Education follows a controversial approach

 

A drawn-out process of written questions and follow-up questions to the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, has finally painted somewhat of a picture of the Department's plans with "Sexual orientation, Gender identity, Gender expression and Sex characteristics" (or SOGIESC for short).

The conclusion is that the Department is following a one-sided, ideologically laden process by using a specific interpretation of the Constitution as a guide. While serious shortcomings in the South African educational system are destroying learners' future careers, the Department is spending time, money and initiative on a highly contestable approach to gender inclusion.

A comprehensive analysis of the questions and replies is presented below, while the full list of questions and replies is attached separately as well.

In an exchange of questions and replies between the FF Plus and the Minister of Basic Education, which spanned two months, a picture unfolded of what the Department is planning with regard to so-called "gender inclusion" in public schools.

It all started when the organisation FOR SA (Freedom of Religion South Africa) approached the FF Plus with information in their possession indicating that there are plans to implement far-reaching changes in this area in January 2023. They were unable to obtain any information from the Department and requested parliamentary assistance.

A series of eight written questions and replies concludes with the promise that the FF Plus may inspect the "Draft Guidelines" once consultation with internal stakeholders has taken place. And then it is to be made available for public comment.

In other words, the document remains a secret; but at least implementation will not commence in January.

We are allowed to know, though, that it was drafted in 2021/22 with funding from UNESCO amounting to $15 000 (approximately R270 000).

In the course of the two months, the FF Plus was able to obtain a copy (only a hard copy) of the guidelines from another source and the party issued a statement on it. The objective was to do the comprehensive nature of the recommendations justice, but the media fixated on "unisex bathrooms".

The topic of bathrooms is but a small subsection of the document that essentially aims to remove gender from schools. A reality where gender does not exist is envisioned. There are to be no gender distinctions in school uniforms, pronouns, forms of address, learning activities and sport.

Children who want to undergo medical procedures to prevent puberty or change their gender should, according to the document, have the right to decide to do so from twelve years of age – without consent from their parents. And schools are meant to help make this possible.

The Department must cooperate with various organisations to distribute information on the matter to schools in order to "sensitize" them. At present, this is done through the provincial departments of education and district offices.

The consideration and inclusion of comments will hopefully be concluded by March 2023, but will only be released in June 2023. Meanwhile, comments can be submitted to SOGIESC@dbe.gov.za until 31 December 2022. But how can one submit a comment without having access to the document in question?

These guidelines are not applicable to Early Childhood Development (which is currently being transferred from the Department of Social Development to Basic Education).

The reason? Such centres are already participating in a purpose-made intervention programme called “Gender Responsive Pedagogy for Early Childhood Education" (GRP4ECE), which follows a play-based learning approach. Learning materials amounting to R20 million were funded by the ETDP SETA in 2022.

At the root of all this lies the South African Constitution – or, at least, a specific interpretation thereof. It revolves around the provision that one may not discriminate based on the grounds of race, gender and everything else that may be discriminated against. The question is whether this is the only way.

In the Minister's mind, there is only one way – and that is the way that the Department arrived at by following its highly selective process. At the heart of the process is the Department's unit for “Social Cohesion and Equity and Education”.

This unit has launched many educational projects with the help of other organisations. The Department did not receive any money from these organisations, but it did afford them the leeway to contribute to the set objective at their own cost. Not all projects are relevant to this discussion.

Groups created to help formulate policy comprise the “Social Inclusion in Education Working Group". They are a group of like-minded organisations to which the Department reached out, because the Department's own ability is limited.

There was indeed an attempt to include organisations that advocate for family values, but due to extreme differences in opinion, it was abandoned. Seeing as their voice is valuable and pertinent, they will be consulted – something which has reportedly already started, but no details are provided.

The Department's approach comes down to viewing any criticism of its process and conclusions as meaning that you support the opposite side. In other words, if you do not like it, you believe that children who fall outside of the binary gender categories must be bullied and excluded.

If there were any genuine intention to find a solution to the problem of bullying and exclusion, the process would have started with determining the extent thereof. Then there should have been an open invitation to submit comments about how to overcome the problem. School governing bodies, churches and parents would have been able to make a contribution as well.

The constitutional instruction is to provide quality education to all children. Nobody can fault that. What is happening here, though, is not an attempt to execute that instruction, but a hijacking of education under the pretext of the Constitution.

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