Muslim, newcomer groups join coalition supporting sex-ed

A reminder of the diversity within and among newcomer groups:

Organizations representing Muslim parents and recent immigrants have joined a new, diverse coalition of 144 groups that plans to fight the ongoing anti-sex-education boycotts and billboards with their own public service announcements and open appeal to Ontarians.

“We have examined the new sex-ed curriculum and as people who live and breathe the health and well-being of Ontario’s diverse communities, we say that the curriculum stands on solid, honest ground,” says the Ontario Coalition Supporting Health Education, in an open letter.

Members of the new coalition will gather at Queen’s Park on Wednesday to voice their support for the new curriculum and to release the letter and a video that were provided to the Star in advance of the launch.

While opposition to the updated health curriculum has come from different faith and community groups — with thousands of families pulling their children out of school last spring for up to a week in protest — the epicentre of the controversy continues in Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood, where the local public school was half-empty on the first day and where 120 students remain out of school, most of them from Muslim families who oppose a curriculum they consider immoral and age-inappropriate.

Another province-wide school boycott is scheduled Oct. 1 and billboards are now springing up across the province warning the curriculum threatens children.

“It seems like the opposition as it exists is not just Muslim, but that has captured the narrative. But on the ground, it is really diverse” — and just as diverse as those who support the curriculum, says Toronto mom Rabea Murtaza, who founded the 682-member Muslims for Ontario’s Health and Physical Education Curriculum, which has joined the coalition.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people. I’m part of a number of Muslim mom Facebook groups and … they care about education. The debate is really rich in these groups and there are lots of voices that say ‘it’s OK, we came here for education, our kids need this.’ ”

The coalition comprises religious organizations, First Nations groups, hospitals, universities, parents and community health agencies, and was created to counter those who oppose the sex-ed curriculum, an issue it says has “polarized community agencies and parents across the province.”

Maya Roy, executive director of Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto, said her agency got onside after some of its South Asian members worked on a project where “aunties and grandmothers were trained to go out and run sharing circles in homes and mosques and temples” about domestic violence, and “they were shocked to find out that you can have sexual assault and rape within a marriage” and wanted to inform their own children and grandchildren about that as well as issues like inappropriate touching, which is covered in the new curriculum.

“We feel a small minority is getting a lot of attention,” said Roy, who heads the service that helps 3,000 women a year. “It’s been hijacked — the entire conversation has been hijacked.”

The curriculum itself is “benign,” she argues, and faith-based criticisms, even in her own Bengali community “don’t hold water,” said Roy, who is Hindu. Critics say the curriculum violates family values “but it actually supports family values and encourages kids to talk to an elder or go to a mosque or temple” for guidance.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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