‘Pro-family’ advocacy groups with ties to the US Christian far right keep kids in the dark, writes Koketso Moeti.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga recently warned us that teachers who refuse to teach the comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) curriculum will face disciplinary action.
In response to Motshekga’s stance, the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) threatened to take the department to court as it believes that “parents should teach children about sex, not the state”.
The ACDP is not the only group opposed to the enforcement of CSE. The SA Teachers’ Union and religious lobby groups also oppose it.
Some have even turned to misinformation to register their vehement opposition.
The opposition to CSE is ill-advised because it deprives children of the opportunity to learn so that they can make informed and safe choices about responsible sexual activity, something not all parents teach at home.
But the opposition to CSE – which teaches pupils about consent, body autonomy, sexual and reproductive health, as well as gender and sexuality diversity – isn’t only about this differing philosophy towards sex education. There’s a more sinister agenda going on.
New research has found that conservative “pro-family” advocacy groups with ties to the US evangelical Christian far right are actually behind the opposition.
This is part of their effort to expand anti-women and anti-sexual reproductive rights, as well as homophobic and transphobic ideology under the façade of protecting the “natural family”. And South Africa isn’t the only target. Ghana has experienced severe pushback on its sexuality education proposals, as have Nigeria and Kenya.
Indeed, across the world, ultraconservative groups are uniting to not only reject sexuality education and women’s rights, but also to promote bitterly hostile anti-LGBTIQ and anti-abortion dogma. And this is precisely what has informed a lot of the opposition to CSE.
In Ghana, one of the fiercest opponents of CSE is the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values, whose members have described it as an “active strategy” and a “satanic attempt to spread LGBTIQ acceptance in Africa”. The coalition was a local partner behind a gathering in Accra themed The African Family and Sustainable Development: Strong Families, Strong Nation, which has been described as a summit of hate during which they again tore into CSE.
And here, again, the influence of the US evangelical Christian far right is evident. The gathering was organised by the World Congress of Families (WCF), a US-based organisation with Russian links, that has been identified as a hate group. Investigations have shown that the WCF has numerous links to a variety of Islamophobic and white supremacist movements, and has had a hand in influencing anti-LGBTIQ legislation.
CHRISTIAN FAR RIGHT
The US evangelical Christian far right has a long history of exporting the most extreme aspects of its movement outside the US. It is therefore dangerous to think of those driving the opposition to CSE, through preying on existing prejudices and other nefarious means, as a bunch of fools whose opposition is not rooted in reality and evidence.
They know exactly what they are doing and are part of a growing movement that has “crystallised its ideology under the banner of ‘family’ – a descriptive and benign term that has been turned into the primary frontier of social wars”.
The WCF has been identified as “a prime example of today’s anti-rights lobby” by organisations including the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (Awid).
In 2017, a collaborative project coordinated by Awid released a report that found that conservative and religious groups often fixated on gender and sexuality in their policy efforts. This included using “the bodies of women, girls and individuals with nonconforming gender identities or sexual orientations as a battlefield in their struggles to appropriate and maintain institutional and social power”.
The report noted how the chipping away of institutions and protections manifested in attacks on the rights to bodily integrity, sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as reproductive rights and health, including access to CSE, contraception and safe abortions, to name but a few.
Although it has been encouraging to see the basic education department affirming its commitment to CSE, it is also important, as noted by Haley McEwen, research coordinator at the University of the Witwatersrand, “that decision-makers recognise the geopolitical networks of power supporting these agendas”.
Indeed, it is crucial for us to defend and expand movements and mechanisms of protection for all the demographics targeted by these evangelical groups, including the LGBTIQ community, women, migrants, Muslims and especially black people because of the evangelicals’ ties to white supremacists.
This is particularly important in a time of a rising, emboldened right-wing politics, growing inequality and the shrinking of social policies, which allow groups like the WCF to act more confidently in their onslaught.
As a first step, we can support the implementation of CSE widely in our schools and help ensure the next generation’s health and rights are not limited because of the grasps of the US evangelical movement.
What do you make of the proposed sex and sexuality education syllabus? Do you think it will make a meaningful contribution to our children’s understanding of their own sexuality?
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- Moeti has a long background in civic activism and has over the years worked at the intersection of governance, communication and citizen action. Last year, she was announced as an Atlantic fellow for racial equity. She is also an inaugural Obama Foundation fellow and an Aspen New Voices senior fellow. Follow her on Twitter at @Kmoeti