Brazil: Attacks on gender and sexuality education

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(São Paulo) – Legislators and other public officials at the federal, state, and municipal levels in Brazil have used pernicious legal and political tactics to undermine or even ban gender and sexuality education, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 77-page report, “‘I Became Scared, This Was Their Goal’: Efforts to Ban Gender and Sexuality Education in Brazil,” analyzes 217 bills and laws introduced between 2014 and 2022 to explicitly ban the teaching or sharing equality of gender and sexuality. sex education, or ban so-called “gender ideology” or “indoctrination” in municipal and state schools. Human Rights Watch has also documented a political effort to discredit and restrict gender and sexuality education, backed by the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, who personally amplified this message with political effect, including as recently as March 2022.

“These hostile attempts to suppress comprehensive approaches to sex education are based on prejudice and undermine the rights to education and non-discrimination in Brazil,” said Cristian González Cabrera, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Legislators should repeal laws and withdraw bills that violate children’s rights and instead ensure that they all receive comprehensive sex education, in accordance with Brazilian and international law.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 56 public school teachers, education experts, representatives of state departments of education, and civil society organizations. Interviews with 32 public school teachers from 8 states in Brazil revealed that they were hesitant or fearful to address gender and sexuality in the classroom due to legal and political efforts to discredit such material.

Teachers said they were harassed for addressing gender and sexuality, including by elected officials and community members. Some teachers faced administrative charges for covering up such documents, while others were ordered to provide statements to police and other officials.

At the beginning of 2020, Alan Rodrigues, a teacher in a public high school in Rio de Janeiro, received an anonymous email after having organized a campaign against sexual violence with his students: “Stop the indoctrination of students! We let 2019 sink! Teachers like you should die! We watch! You will only get one warning! Rodrigues said he has received threats since 2014 for bringing up topics related to gender and sexuality in class.

Virginia Ferreira, an English teacher at a public school in Vinhedo, São Paulo state, was accused by city officials of “indoctrination” and “losses in student learning” after asking her eighth-grade students to research feminism and gender-based violence in commemoration of International Women’s Day in 2019. Ferreira said he was the subject of two years of disciplinary proceedings and threats and social media posts aimed at discrediting her professionally.

Teachers and education experts say laws and bills, political rhetoric and harassment create a “chilling effect” on some teachers’ willingness to talk about gender and sexuality in the classroom.

Damares Alves, who resigned as Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights in March 2022 to stand for election, attacked gender and sexuality education, denouncing “indoctrination” and the sexualization of children.

Education ministers in the Bolsonaro administration have used discriminatory rhetoric aimed at undermining gender and sexuality education. Milton Ribeiro, who resigned in March following corruption allegations, has mentioned that gender and sexuality education is an “incitement” for young people to have sexual relations. Ribeiro also said that gay children come from “misfit families”. Previous ministers had a the story of similar Remarks.

In 2020, Brazil’s Supreme Court issued landmark rulings overturning eight laws banning gender and sexuality education. The court found that the bans violated the rights to equality, non-discrimination and education, among others. At least four similar cases remain pending.

The Supreme Court served as an important check on these laws, including at a time when President Bolsonaro increasingly tried to intimidate the court and threatened and insulted Supreme Court justices, Human Rights Watch found. But some city councils continue to pass laws banning gender and sexuality education.

In March 2022, for example, the city of Sinop, in the state of Mato Grosso, passed a law prohibiting teachers from providing information on “gender ideology”, sexual orientation and sexual and reproductive rights. in all municipal schools.

In Brazil, conservative groups and elected officials have used the rhetoric of “gender ideology” to fuel allegations of “indoctrination” of children in schools with “political” and “non-neutral” ideas related to gender and to sexuality. By instilling fear that children are in danger, these stakeholders weaponize education for political ends among a conservative segment of the population.

Brazilian law and guidelines, both at the federal and state level, require instructions on gender and sexuality. Under international law, children’s right to comprehensive sex education is an essential part of the right to education. At its core, CSE consists of age-appropriate, affirming, and scientifically accurate curricula that can help foster safe and informed practices to prevent gender-based violence, gender inequality, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.

High levels of gender-based violence in Brazil, including violence against women, girls, and LGBT people, are an indicator of the critical need for such education in schools, Human Rights Watch said. Studies and education experts link comprehensive sex education to many positive outcomes in the lives of young people, such as later initiation of sex and increased use of condoms and contraception, increased knowledge of protection from sexual and gender-based violence and gender-positive attitudes. equity and diversity.

Lawmakers at all levels of the Brazilian government should immediately withdraw bills or repeal laws that infringe on students’ rights to learn about gender and sexuality, Human Rights Watch said. Officials at the federal, state and municipal levels should stop politicizing gender and sexuality education or using it as a corner issue.

The Ministry of Education and state and municipal departments of education must comply with applicable laws and guidelines, Supreme Court rulings, and international human rights law protecting the right to sex education complete. This should include ensuring that school administrators, teachers, and other school personnel understand and feel supported in teaching and conducting activities to build knowledge on this topic.

“Ultimately, the misuse of gender and sexuality education as a political weapon most directly and negatively affects teachers and young people in Brazil, those who need information the most,” González said. . “Brazil should focus its efforts on ensuring that all young people have adequate and inclusive information on gender and sexuality, which they need to live healthy and safe lives.

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