What do we know about the gender policy at schools?

Johann Kikillus, director Soteria Ministries, Fish Hoek

On Tuesday May 10, I gave a public talk on the gender policy that is being finalised by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED). The first point that was raised by the crowd was that no one had in fact seen the draft policy or was aware of any public participation.

As a result, this leaves many parents of pupils as well as educators confused about how this policy is going to play out. I reached out to the WCED and received an email highlighting what the proposed policy entails. One of the guidelines says: “Create an educational environment that does not discriminate unfairly, whether directly or indirectly , against anyone on one or more grounds, including gender, gender identity, gender expression, sex, sex characteristics, sexual orientation, religion, conscience, belief, culture, birth, among others.”

Obviously, I agree that there should never be any discrimination at any school, and every effort must be taken to ensure that our learners are protected. This is especially important in a world that is rife with bullying. But I have to question how this will play out in a school on a practical level.

The policy speaks about gender identity ideology, which includes many genders and then it refers to religion. The two most common religions, at least here in the far south are Christianity and Islam. Both of these religions believe that there are only two genders, which, obviously, is in stark contrast to gender-identity ideology.

My question is: How does a school ensure that both groups are represented equally and that no discrimination occurs against either side? Considering that there is no middle ground on this issue between these two groups, it has the potential to become a major distraction.

If one looks at how this is playing out in America, it has the potential to cause division, and that is the last thing we need in our schools. I am most concerned about how this will impact our children who are already crippled with anxiety and depression like never before.

I want to encourage schools to have regular public meetings with parents and that no one is kept in the dark or is left feeling alienated. This is a time that calls for respect and dignity.

• WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond responds: The claims that this was not publicised is simply false. This was covered also in the media at the time – both provincially and nationally.

In the interest of transparency and the promotion of public participation, the WCED published the previous draft guidelines in three official languages (English, Afrikaans and Xhosa) in the Provincial Gazette Extraordinary No. 8223 dated March 23, 2020 with a closing date for comments of May 11, 2020, calling any person or organisation who wished to comment to do so. A further extension was granted until June 19, 2020.

Of the 317 comments received, we invited persons/organisations who submitted substantial and/or material comments to engage with us on October 16 2020.

The purpose of these guidelines is to (a) create an educational environment that does not discriminate unfairly, whether directly or indirectly, against anyone on one or more grounds, including gender, gender identity, gender expression, sex, sex characteristics, sexual orientation, religion, conscience, belief, culture and birth, among others; (b) create an educational environment that is free from stigma and discrimination for all learners, educators and school staff in all public schools; and (c) promote and protect the freedom of gender identity and gender expression of all learners, educators and school staff.

The policy development included input from various specialists in this field, including social workers, psychologists and legal experts.

The department has now considered all submitted comments / suggestions and given due consideration to them. The department will attempt to strike the balance between highly competing interests in the final document.

Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said: “The guidelines have not yet been signed off, and the development of a document relating to the same matter by the DBE (Department of Basic Education), which will be distributed for public consultation soon, is also being factored into the process. It is not clear why certain individuals have decided to belatedly attempt to whip up social media complaints on the guidelines this week, referring to articles from 2020. Of great concern is the seemingly deliberate false claim that girls and boys will be forced to share bathrooms, or be forced to share them with adults. This is blatantly false, and I must question the motives of those making this claim.”

The guidelines, she said, are intended to achieve a safe environment for all learners, allowing schools to implement measures such providing a unisex toilet if they have the available extra space and having considered safety measures and risks. It is not to the exclusion of same-sex facilities for those who want them.