Conservative protestors in France claimed another victory last week as the education ministry announced it had abandoned a program to teach gender equality in school. Opponents argued the program actually sought to erase gender differences.
The program, called the ABCD of Equality, started as a pilot in 275 schools in September 2013. The French Education Ministry planned to expand the program to all French schools by 2018.
France’s education minister, Benoit Hamon, said the program’s goal was to deconstruct gender stereotypes: “We want to prevent anyone from forming the conviction at school that there would be … jobs and training and diplomas for girls, and jobs and training and diplomas for boys.”
But frustrated parents, some of whom pulled their children from school on designated boycott days this spring, said the educational program was an effort to push “gender theory” in French classrooms, the denial of any inherent difference between males and females. According to Germany’s Deutsche Welle, the program includes advice for teachers to encourage boys to play female roles in stories such as Little Red Riding Hood, highlight cross dressing in historical figures, and shun fairy tales that present women as passively waiting for Prince Charming.
Catholics, Muslims, and conservative political groups organized a campaign, including demonstrations and posts on social media, to kill the program.
Hamon announced last week he would end the program and replace it with non-compulsory teacher education beginning in September. It’s not clear what the new program will look like, but opponents warn they will continue their demonstrations if it smacks of “gender theory.”
A group called La Manif Pour Tous (The Protest for Everyone) rallied more than 100,000 protestors in Paris and Lyon in early February in opposition to the gender program, according to Reuters. Protestors held signs reading, “Pas touché à nos steriotypes de genre!” (Hands off our gender stereotypes!), and “Theorie du genre a l’ecole … STOP” (“Theory of gender in school … STOP”).
The government “has no business getting involved in such intimate subjects as sexual identity and imposing adults’ concerns on children,” said Ludovine la Rochère, the president of La Manif Pour Tous in an article in French news source RFI.
In early February, protestors also stood opposed to a package of family law reforms they said threatened traditional family values. The reforms included expanding access to procreation assistance, like in vitro fertilization and surrogacy, to gay couples. The week after the protests, the prime minister’s office announced the government would not consider the family law reforms this year.
“Recognize the different family situations today? Yes. Show solidarity with the most hard-pressed? Yes. Not stigmatize? Yes,” said conservative French lawmaker Herve Mariton of the reforms. “But ... we affirm loudly and strongly that it’s better for a child to have a father and a mother, and all family models are not equal.”