Opinion | Repeal of Ontario sex-ed curriculum turns progressive image on its head

 thestar.com  7/13/2018 9:58:59 PM 

By Shree ParadkarRace & Gender Columnist

Fri., July 13, 2018

From a global perspective, even in democratic countries, an enviable feature of the West is its freedoms. Freedom of speech is one expression of it. Another epitome is sexual freedom.

Here is what I, and many others like me, saw from the outside: It’s OK to be gay in the West. It’s OK to have premarital sex. It’s OK to have kids before marriage. It’s OK to be in a relationship without marriage. It’s OK to not be married at all. Character isn’t based in a vagina.

A big driver of this compassionless discontent with the new sex-ed curriculum is far-right Christian belief rooted in homophobia, Shree Paradkar writes.
A big driver of this compassionless discontent with the new sex-ed curriculum is far-right Christian belief rooted in homophobia, Shree Paradkar writes.  (Rob Ferguson)

As someone who was raised in a culture at a time when virginity meant good character, sex was not talked about, and couples didn’t even kiss openly, feminine empowerment lay either in the pages of the nation’s past or in the lands of liberation that held the promise of a judgment-free expression of oneself.

That image has turned itself on its head with the Ford government’s decision to repeal the carefully cultivated, highly consulted sex-ed curriculum in Ontario schools.

Read more:

The naked truth about how the repealed sex ed program compares to the 1998 one that replaces it

Opinion | Judith Timson: Rolling back sex education is not good for kids

Opinion | I was pulled from sex ed class, did not learn about my body and was abused

Had the curriculum never been updated by the Liberals, chances are the world would have assumed Ontario’s sex education was every bit as progressive as its image.

But the Conservatives’ pulling it back has exposed the gaping hole between perceptions of progressiveness and the reality of regressiveness that is taking a hold of Ontario.

When the sex-ed curriculum protests began in 2015, media images presented it as a problem of visibly religious minorities, mostly Muslims. In reality, a big driver of this compassionless discontent is far-right Christian belief rooted in homophobia.

That became apparent not just by the presence of far-right Christians at those protests or the number of people who are openly equating the Liberal sex ed with indoctrination of anal sex.

It’s also in the beliefs espoused on 20-year-old Sam Oosterhoff’s social media posts decrying the “sin” of homosexuality. Beliefs that can no longer be dismissed as the rantings of an overreaching nobody, not when this home-schooled youth is parliamentary assistant to the minister of education.

Not when he links to blogs that say things such as “Scripture is quite clear about the sinful nature of homosexual practice.”

It’s not just inclusivity that is lost in the now anachronistic sex-ed curriculum.

Central to the idea of sexual freedom is a concept that changed the role of women from compliant sexual object to equal sexual partner, and that is consent. This one word has attempted to rebalance centuries of wrong, even as the shape and form of understanding consent itself continues to evolve.

This is the word now being taken out of the education children receive.

The image of a forward-thinking, sexually liberated society is one the West has actively courted and is evident in all the wars it began and colonial conquests it justified in the name of rescuing women.

Western NGOs, too, take it upon themselves to impart the concept of consent in its education around the world. For instance, Plan International Canada runs Champions of Change clubs in Senegal, Ghana and Bangladesh. At these clubs, says Jennifer Donville, Gender Equality Senior Advisor at the agency, “girls learn about their fundamental rights, and how to demand them, including the right to say no. Boys learn about the importance of consent and unlearn the harmful masculinities that perpetuate gender-based violence.”

A Justin Trudeau appearance at Pride parades or self-reference as a feminist prime minister might induce groans here, but abroad it bolsters Canada’s image as a forward-thinking, inclusive society.

It’s an image that would match with a society up-to-date with internet sex crimes and cyberbullying, with kids who were growing into free thinking adults precisely because they learned about and respected boundaries.

In an age when teens face draconian consequences because the internet can channel their acts of immaturity in unimaginable cruel ways, both parents and children need to know their rights, recognize, for instance, when online communications crosses boundaries into coercion, exploitation and harassment and what the consequences could be.

What constitutes revenge porn? What actions that might seem harmless or petty in the heat of the moment might actually attract charges of pedophilia?

“I know this kind of comprehensive education advances gender equality and adolescent health in the communities we work in, especially for girls,” Donville says. “If we don’t have the same kind of quality education here at home, we could see advances in gender equality and health outcomes rolled back.”

Shree Paradkar is a columnist based in Toronto covering issues around discrimination and identity. Follow her on Twitter: @ShreeParadkar

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