Thursday, July 26, 2018

SASOD, GRPA meet Education Minister on Bullying, Reintegrating Teen Mothers

SASOD, GRPA meet Education Minister on Bullying, Reintegrating Teen Mothers
- Discusses amending the Teachers Code of Conduct, implementing the Reintegration of Adolescent Mothers into Schools’ Policy and anti-bullying campaign for new school year

Minister of Education, Hon. Nicolette Henry, M.P. (sixth from left) along with Ministry staff and the joint SASOD – GRPA delegation at her Ministry’s Brickdam office.
 Photo Credit: Ministry of Education

The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) met with the Minister of Education, Hon. Nicolette Henry, M.P. and ministry staff last Monday, July 16, to discuss issues of discrimination students are facing in schools, how they can support the implementation process of reintegrating adolescent mothers into schools, and the Ministry’s support to anti-bullying initiatives SASOD and GRPA are currently developing together.   

SASOD was represented by its Managing Director, Joel Simpson; and Homophobia(s) Education Coordinator, Anil Persaud. GRPA was represented by its youth leaders, Programmes Officer Jairo Rodrigues and President and Vice-President of its youth arm – the Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM) – Chelsie France and Kobe Smith, respectively.  

Updating the Teachers Code of Conduct

The civil society delegation requested that the Ministry of Education update the Code of Conduct for Teachers to expand the grounds for discrimination to include those in the Guyana Constitution, while adding sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

SASOD and GRPA have asked the Minister to amend the non-discrimination clause of the Code under Section B, Commitment to Colleagues, to expressly prohibit discrimination on the  basis of race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed, age, disability, marital status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, language, birth, social class, pregnancy, religion, conscience, belief or culture, nor interfere with the free participation of colleagues in the affairs of their association(s).

The groups also proposed that the non-discrimination clause under Section D on Commitment to Students be similarly updated. It was recommended that place of origin, birth status, political opinion, age, disability, marital status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, language, birth, social class, pregnancy, religion, conscience, and belief or culture be included with the four grounds currently stated: ability, race, colour and creed.

Simpson explained that the Ministry needed an updated and comprehensive policy that is in line with the Guyana Constitution, the newly-crafted National Policy on the Reintegration of Adolescent Mothers into the Formal School System and a document that supports the goals and vision of the Ministry. He recalled that the Minister expressed in the previous year at the Spirit Day reception – an event hosted by SASOD and the British High Commission to commit to working against bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students – that bullying in no way will be tolerated in schools since it hinders children’s rights to live their lives free from abuse, violence and discrimination, and their right to education.
Anil Persaud explained that SASOD has recorded cases of students being bullied based on their perceived sexualities, particularly effeminate boys. The non-discrimination provisions would fulfil an obligation to students to protect them against homophobic and transphobic bullying. He added that although the stigmatizing nature of anti-LGBT bullying precludes robust data collection on the problem, minority students also need the Ministry’s full protection at all levels.

The Minister responded that she will be guided by the professional advice of the Ministry’s Legal Officer, Ms. Kellyann Payne-Hercules, who was also present at the meeting, but indicated that she does not see these amendments to be problematic or damaging since they are in line with her vision and the Ministry’s strategic plan to ensure a safe and comfortable environment where all students can play, learn and work together for the advancement of the nation.

Reintegration of Adolescent Mothers in Schools

Just over a year ago, in March 2017 SASOD and GRPA formed part of a civil society delegation at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights where they reported that the Government needs to work on reintegrating teenage mothers into the formal school system – Kobe Smith, a member of the same delegation expressed thanks to the Minister for her leadership in the development of the national policy. He spoke of GRPA’s commitment to seeing the policy implemented to which the Minister responded that orientation and familiarization is already in its planning stages and the policy will come into full effect from the start of the new school year in September.

Minister Henry said that this particular policy was dear to her since she was on Main Street (alluding to when she was Junior Education Minister responsible for Culture, Youth and Sport); “A lot of young people are left behind in a system that doesn’t cater for second chances,” she said. “On a personal level I have committed to this and as I sit here, I want to see this policy fully enforced, particularly in the hinterland,” she added.

Chelsie France of GRPA’s YAM spoke about the ongoing work with marginalized youth in vulnerable communities across the country. Jairo Rodrigues of GRPA shared how the organization’s projects can support some aspects of the reintegration policy, particularly prevention of pregnancies through education and sensitization on use of contraception and termination of pregnancies.

The Minister said that the approach to community education in these areas would have to be culturally relevant and appropriate or else it would not be accepted by the stakeholders. “What I would like to see is our communities understanding that things are changing. We need community education for social impact. This comes with strategic planning and only then will people access services and then can we change the lives of people, particularly the disadvantaged and marginalized,” she elaborated. Minister Henry stressed that the evidence-based approach is important when doing community interventions and she really would like to see meaningful interventions and collaborations which are driven by sound data and deliver solid results.

National Anti-Bullying Campaign

Minister Henry was open to partnership on a National Anti-Bullying Campaign proposed by GRPA and SASOD, organized in collaboration with other key stakeholders for Education Month in September. Through this campaign, secondary school students will be sensitized on the various forms of violence, and made aware of social support services and redress mechanisms if they are being bullied. The campaign will include a nation-wide essay competition for Grades 7 to 9 students on bullying and discrimination based on gender in schools.

The campaign will run into Bullying Prevention Month in October and culminate on Spirit Day, which is commemorated on the third Thursday of the month, October 18 this year.

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