The UN congratulated Peru last week for its new education curriculum, in effect since the 1st January this year, which aims to improve gender equality. The change has been long needed, as is the case for many other countries in the region, where curricula for secondary education have not been updated for decades. The changes made in Peru have a significant focus on gender equality, calling on teachers to challenge stereotypes where "women clean better, men are not sensitive, women have less ability than men to learn math and science, men are less able than women to learn in Communications, women are weaker and men are more irresponsible."
This change is directly in line with the call in Target 4.7 of the new education goal in the Sustainable Development Agenda, which looks more at how we are learning and for what aim. Correspondingly, the GEM Report has been emphasizing the need to monitor the content of curricula frameworks and textbooks as a way of holding governments to account for this Target, which is otherwise hard to pin down. Our research showed, for instance, that less than 15% of countries curricula frameworks integrated key terms such as gender empowerment, gender parity or gender-sensitive, while half mentioned gender equality.
In Peru, the different interpretations of the new curriculum are generating some divides between Catholic religious groups, evangelicals and parents. Critics say the curriculum has a gender ideology; the Ministry says it is focused on gender equality instead, which means that people, regardless of their gender identity, have the same duties, rights and opportunities.
The new curriculum makes it mandatory to teach about sexual and reproductive rights, abortion and gender orientation, for instance, which includes covering homosexuality and transsexualism. Alongside the curriculum, an accompanying guide will be given to teachers to show that relationships between same-sex couples are normal. Covering such issues in learning materials is more rare than it is normal, unfortunately, which might explain the backlash the new curriculum is receiving in Peru, but also the UN's congratulatory note. Solo el 3% de los libros de texto cubren los derechos de la personas LGBTI, por ejemplo.
This is the second time that Peru has been congratulated by the UN for efforts to combat discrimination against women. The first was back in 2002, for the government's recognition of the "paramount role of education in changing discriminatory cultural mindsets and stereotypes" which meant it "accordingly changed educational curricula at all levels".
Tens of thousands march in Peru against gender violence, August 2016.
This focus on education for gender equality joins a national debate about gender violence in the country, a manifestation of gender inequality in society, and which boiled over into a visible protest last August. Changing mindsets, and attitudes through education is a strong step in the right direction. Challenging norms, and clearly stating what vision of education governments want to be rolled out in the classroom is an important way of hitting back against negative values being instilled in households.