Peru is divided by a new proposal for the school curriculum which aims to improve gender equality but is instead being seen by some as a move to educate children on gender identity.
On March 7, thousands marched across Peru in protest at what they call ‘gender ideology.’ Organizers claimed that over 1.5 million citizens turned out to challenge wording in the syllabus which they say encourages homosexuality and the right to choose sexual orientation and gender. They marched under the banner of “Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas” which can be translated as “Don’t mess with my kids,” and their cries were firmly directed at the Ministry of Education.
The marches, which took place in more than 27 towns and cities around the country, were mobilized by evangelical leaders and conservative groups such as Nacional Pro Familia – a civil society group who work to preserve the traditional family unit and are firmly pro-life. A spokesman for the organization who did not wish to be named, saying that he was representing the ‘collective voice,’ told VICE News why they were against the change to the curriculum.
“We are concerned with the terminology associated with the word ‘gender’ since it tends to be used, in the ideological sense attributed to it, by radical or gender feminism.”
Marilú Martens, the minister for education, has made several attempts to explain that the offending paragraphs refer to gender equality between men and women rather than gender identity. During a press conference on March 12, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski expressed his full support for the minister.
“What we and the ministry of education are most interested in, is equal opportunities in education. As we all know, women in Peru and people from the Andes often have less access to education,” said the President.
But protesters at the Lima march, like father of two Carlos Valverde Bravo, weren’t buying it. “That’s a lie. We are making a fair complaint and they should approach it that way,” he said.
Valverde Bravo also echoed the popular belief that parents, not the government, should assume the role of educators in this context.
“I have to decide for my children what sexuality is. We know that our children are born a specific gender, male or female. It has been given as a gift to our children and we have to look after it as a gift,” he added.
Some of the banners seen at the protests hinted at even more radical opinions. “Do not confuse our children,” said a banner held by a woman in her fifties. “No to gender ideology. It’s a sexual perversion,” said another, held by a mother with two young children marching by her side. One man held a bible in his hands and was seen gesticulating wildly at the open pages while shouting about sin and unnatural acts. A flyer widely in circulation warned that the new ideology would encourage children to use mixed toilets.
Joel Jabiles, the campaign and advocacy coordinator for Amnesty International in Peru, believes that campaigns such as Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas could be setting back any recent advances made for LGBT rights in Peru.
“As we have seen in recent weeks, this type of campaign allows people to demonstrate messages of hate and discrimination that legitimise homophobia and transphobia through prejudices and false concepts that only seek to increase contempt for people they consider different,” he told VICE News.
Equal rights are still a long way off for LGBT people in Peru. In an August 2016 report, the human rights ombudsman noted that courts had rejected most of the requests made to revise gender in identification documents, often applying inconsistent criteria.
A study by the ministry of women and vulnerable populations (MIMP) in 2015 also found that 90 per cent of the LGBT population in Peru had experienced some type of gender-related violence.
But despite Peru’s inherent prejudice when it comes to issues of sexuality – shown in the fervour displayed by those who marched – there have been some advancements lately.
A bill to explicitly recognize crimes of hate based on sexual orientation in Peru’s Criminal Code (twice rejected by Congress), was finally passed and added to the constitution in February.
Previous proposals to legalize same-sex civil unions had also been rejected by Congress but when Oscar Ugarteche, the founder of the Homosexual Movement of Lima, married his partner in a civil ceremony in Mexico City six years ago, he fought the courts in Peru to have the union legally recognized by the National Registry of Identification and Civil Status. In January, to the surprise of many, he won. In February 2017, a bill legalizing same-sex marriage was introduced in the Peruvian Congress and is due to be debated at a later date.
There are fears however, that these changes may only serve to fuel the fire of traditionalists and campaigners desperate to hold back the tide of change. Some social commentators have proposed that the protest leaders may have misinterpreted the words in the curriculum deliberately in order to reinvigorate old values which encouraged homophobia and a machismo culture.
In an effort to appease the protesters, the Ministry added a glossary for words such as gender and sexuality to the new curriculum at the beginning of March. In response, the spokesman for Nacional Pro Familia said that the glossary only reaffirms the so-called gender ideology.
“The changes required by the parents such as removing gender as terminology have not been made,” adding: “We will soon be announcing further actions by the parents.”
Although there are no further changes planned to the wording in the curriculum at the moment, the real struggle for LGBT campaigners – even with amendments in the law – is in dealing with the innate prejudice that they face in the country, something firmly outlined by campaigns such as Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas.
Kary Stewart is a multimedia journalist covering development, human rights and culture. She is based London and Peru.