France’s conservative family-values campaigners have forced the Socialist government to scrap plans to force all schools to introduce a gender-equality programme. Parents fear the programme is an attempt by the government to teach primary school children that “they aren’t born boys or girls, but neutral.”
The programme has been tried out in 275 of France’s 48,000 schools since last autumn but what the left-wing newspaper Le Monde called “far-right agitators”, fired up by last year’s massive demonstrations against gay marriage, “claimed that it was smuggling ‘gender theory’ that supposedly claims that differences between the sexes are socially acquired into the syllabus.”
Parents organised a boycott in January, pulling their children out of school one day a month. In the first month of the boycott, some 100 schools in Strasbourg and the Paris region reported losing up to a third of their pupils, according to German Deutsche Welle website.
The protest was organised by Farida Belghoul, a French-Algerian from Strasbourg, who moved from supporting the extreme left civil rights movement in the 1980s to supporting the conservative family values movement now. Absences from schools during the boycotts have been highest in Muslim immigrant areas, as conservative families resist Socialist “gender ideology.”
Now education minister Benoit Hamon and women’s rights minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem have announced that “The ABCDs of Equality,” which has been tried in over 200 schools, will not be mandatory in all schools as planned.
In the programme, teachers are encouraged to point out that Louis XIV wore high heels and ribbons, and to point to 19th century works of art and point out how the women are “forced by convention” to wear suffocating corsets. Deutsche Welle reports: “In acting out fairy tales, for instance, boys should be encouraged to play the part of Little Red Riding Hood, and girls the part of the wolf.”
The government’s climb down has infuriated socialists and feminists, who claim the programme is simply teaching equality and respect between boys and girls from a young age. “We have a leftist government that gives in to the pressure and the misinformation of its opponents, who are reactionary and conservative”, spokeswoman Pauline Arrighi of the group Dare Feminism told The Local.
An initiative announced by the government on Monday will instead give gender-equality training to teachers, but allow autonomy over if and how to teach the issue of gender equality in their classrooms.