Campaign co-signature text ProHorao

In a very complex and fluid period, with rapid developments in all areas, education is becoming – more than ever – crucial in shaping global citizenship. At the same time, the health current health crisis highlights the already increased risk of physical and mental harm, forced sexual activity, early and unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. These are some of the direct consequences of the absence of comprehensive sexual education (CSE).

Although we are already in the third decade of the 21st century, it is clear that neither the education system, nor the school as an organized institution, nor the teachers individually have succeeded in fulfilling the promise of gender equality. On the contrary, there is a huge lack of information and dialogue on issues related to sexuality, gender and gender relations, leading to the reproduction of sexist, homophobic, amphiphobic, interphobic and transphobic perceptions and attitudes, which pave the way for gender-based violence, sexual abuse and the silence of victims.

The recent mass complaints within the Greek #metoo movement brought to the surface the consequences of the lack of a Comprehensive Sexuality Education (hereinafter CSE) at all levels of education, but also in the relevant adult education programs. After sacrificing many of our children as a society (see Vangelis Giakoumakis, Nikolas Filippou, Eleni Topaloudi etc.) and already counting eleven femicides in the first nine months of 2021, the time has come to demand the introduction of CSE as a compulsory course of the curriculum, as is the case in all advanced countries.

Numerous studies have confirmed that systematic prejudice, stigma, lack of visibility, violation of rights and violence faced by LGBTQI+ students (situations that are of particular concern to democratic societies) are significant stressors that affect their health and well-being. In addition, LGBTQI+ children who grow up in intolerant and exclusive environments have been shown to internalize feelings of guilt and shame, which delay the acceptance of their identity, reduce their self-esteem and lead to despair.

Rainbow School believes that urgent action is required to help LGBTQI+ individuals overcome the hatred they face and that CSE can contribute effectively towards this direction.

The European Standards for Sexuality Education indicate that CSE may strengthen the development of responsible behaviors and promote equal societies, by providing scientific and unbiased information on all aspects of sexuality and by helping individuals to develop the right skills to act on the basis of acquired knowledge (WHO & BZgA, 2010). Children and adolescents want and need information about human relationships, their gender and body, their sexuality and sexual health as early and as fully as possible, as is recognized by Developmental Psychology and set out in the Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe (WHO Regional Office for Europe and BZgA, 2010). CSE is an ongoing educational process, starting at a young age, following a spiral curriculum model, where new information is added to existing knowledge. At the same time, the learning objectives are organized in levels, depending on the ages of the trainees.

Sexuality education courses should not undermine LGBTQI+ issues by limiting them to a chapter or a marginal discussion. This approach could only convey the message that only heterosexual relationships, heterosexual sex and gender identity stereotypes reflect “normalcy”, and that LGBTQI+ relationships may be viewed as a “different” issue; a “special” chapter. Information regarding sexuality, including discussions about safe sex, sexual orientation, same-sex relationships, and gender diversity, should be provided appropriately to all children in the classroom.

In this context, ‘Rainbow School’ held meetings with executives of the Greek Institute of Educational Policy (IEP), representatives of the Ministry of Education and the Minister herself, Niki Kerameos. During these meetings some of our constant claims were analyzed and the question was raised regarding the extent to which the “Skills Workshops of the 21st century” compensate for the absence of the Sexuality Education course in the Greek school.

However, these meetings did not appear to have a clear and organized plan on the part of the State, despite the government’s narrative of the introduction of Sexual Education in schools from September 2021. In fact, Sexuality Education consists of a sub-theme workshop provided to only three classes (grade 3 & 6 of Primary School, grade 2 of Junior High School) for minimum teaching hours. At the same time, there is not the slightest provision for training the people invited to implement the course (with materials provided by the Civil Society organizations). Moreover, the course does not cover all the topics that are necessary for each age-group. Furthermore, the teaching hours assigned to the course are not sufficient for the fulfillment of all learning objectives, as defined by accredited international and European organizations.

It is worth noting that the duration and the mandatory nature of CSE are crucial factors for its effectiveness, as the courses must have a clear time structure. Courses should implement special activities, such as projects, school campaigns and events in order to promote the effectiveness of the program. In order to achieve this goal, there should be a provision for at least 15—and ideally many more—teaching hours per year, starting from preschool to the end of senior high school (UNESCO, 2009).

The term “Comprehensive” Sexuality Education after all, refers to the breadth and depth of topics and content, using combined methods that are delivered in an appropriate manner, progressively and continuously to students, rather than individual educational interventions offered by Skills Workshops.

Since Sexuality Education includes many controversial issues, such as gender identity, it is understandable that only few educators will choose to conduct workshops that address these issues, as was the case with Thematic Week. Even with good quality material for CSE, teachers, as reported by UNESCO, often avoid —or minimize the importance of—subjects with which they feel uncomfortable due to the fact that they lack the specialized knowledge and experience in teaching sensitive and controversial subjects and are not provided access to targeted, IISE-focused training opportunities. Considering, however, that teachers play a catalytic role in CSE implementation, and need to have the confidence, desire, commitment and resources to be able to teach more complex issues of sexuality, gender and Sexual and Reproductive Health, they should feel supported by the legal framework, school management and local authorities, and have access to training and resources in order to properly implement CSE.

In view of the foregoing, we at Rainbow School consider that before the introduction of CSE in schools, it is both essential and necessary to organize appropriate and continuous education for the educators. This education should be based on international and European guidelines, composed by institutions such as the Council of Europe, WHO, UNESCO etc. all of whom refer to the need for the acquisition of special skills by the educators.

It appears, therefore, that the issue is not limited to the introduction of Sexual Education in schools, but has further ramifications concerning the implementation of this endeavor, its frame and goals. Issues of content, methods, and practices of the education provided to the educators are raised, as well as of their well-rounded support by the Ministry of Education.

Both WHO and UNESCO point out that the effectiveness of CSE is fully dependent on the general direction of education, as well as on the measures undertaken by the State towards promoting gender equality, on the one hand, and preventing gender violence, on the other, with the creation of the appropriate legal framework. In other words, the effectiveness of CSE is dependent on the whole range of issues which influence its range and impact.

For CSE to be successfully introduced to schools as a mandatory subject, what is required is a) to have political will, holistic investment and interventions which will aim at the areas of health, society and education, b) serious preparation and, c) continuous support.

Since we consider the needs which arise particularly crucial, Rainbow School, with the support of the Council of Europe, organizes a campaign with the following requests:

institutionalization of CSE as a mandatory subject from kindergarten through all educational stages/grades,

development of targeted sexual education curricula for each class. Curricula should be comprehensive and complete, and should take into consideration the needs of all children in accordance with guidelines by organizations such as UNESCO, the Council of Europe, WHO, etc. They should also take into consideration the example of countries with long experience in the implementation of CSE programs (Malta, the Netherlands, Finland, Canada etc.). It is important to establish that Sex Education will not be confined to the biological data on human reproductive activity. Under the rubric of human sexuality one should include the study of gender, as well as of the cognitive, social, emotional, relational and embodied dimensions of sexuality. It should further extend to issues of feeling, the senses, attractions, relations, consent, empathy, boundaries, separation, loss, commitment, desire, body image, long-term bodily, cognitive, mental or sensorial damage, self-confidence, self-worth, etc. In other words, Sex Education should extend to issues which concern all members of a contemporary society from a young age and which directly relate to human sexuality and variety, in terms both of the biological and the social gendered spectrum.

– school curricula proposed by the Greek Institute of Educational Policy should be rephrased and completed, so that the perspectives of gender, sexuality and relationships be included.

the design and implementation of continuous education and raising awareness of educators of all grades. Special attention should be paid to combating: a) stereotypes and social norms relating to gender; and b) gendered behaviour expectations which students are expected to substantiate. This type of education of educators should start already at the undergraduate level. Furthermore, for a person to receive a certificate of teaching adequacy and for this person to subsequently enter the teaching profession it is particularly important that their certified knowledge on gender and sexuality be taken into consideration.

the design and implementation of continuous education of educators and heads of teaching staff in matters of: sexuality, gender expression, gender identity and gender characteristics. Thus, teachers implementing CSE will be empowered, and provided with the necessary knowledge to deal with crises. Furthermore, those teachers in turn will help their school’s goal setting, so that the school can build a tradition of comprehension and democracy.

Teachers Guidelines for Comprehensive Education in matters of sexuality, gender identity, and gender characteristics should be written. In addition, it is considered necessary that relevant Guidelines and other material of raising awareness, should be implemented and distributed to all members of the school community, Centers of Interdisciplinary Evaluation, Counseling and Support (KEDASY), and various Units of Prevention and Promotion of Psychosocial Health which collaborate with schools.

the Ministry of Education should compose and distribute to schools a specialized circular concerning the management of issues relating to sexuality, gender identity and gender characteristics, as well as gender stereotypes and sexism, which appear in everyday school life, so that the framework of student rights be clarified. It should be noted that such a framework is unclear to the present day.

a constant communication with Parent and Guardian Associations should be established, aiming at parents’ and guardians’ information, awareness and education in matters pertaining to CSE. It is also important that supervision by institutions implementing Parent Education be provided.

At the core of our schools are our students, and for this reason their needs should always be prioritized.

Research shows that in schools where CSE is implemented an overall improvement of cognitive and pedagogic climate is observed; all children, LGBTQ+ or not, feel safe and accepted; both these feelings are basic preconditions for students to get involved in the adventure of learning. The feeling of security and inclusiveness is essential for effective learning and creates a space where victims of bullying, violence or abuse, can report incidents, be supported and empowered.

The issues of Sexual and Reproductive Health, gender stereotypes, gender violence and sexual abuse concern us all because they have a decisive effect on our bodily and psychic health, they limit our possibilities, our freedom and our dreams, and affect our relationships. It is the responsibility of us all, not to put up with sexism, homophobia, transphobia and interphobia in our environments and to pressure the governments to take all necessary measures so that the equitable and universal exercise of human rights is ensured.

For all the above reasons, we ask from all the Organizations of Civil Society, and from any individual who comprehends the benefits and the necessity of sex education, to sign this text and to contribute to the campaign Moving Forward!

We owe it to our children.

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