SASOD, GRPA meet Education Minister on bullying, reintegrating teen mums

Minister of Education, Nicolette Henry, (seventh from right) along with Ministry staff and the joint SASOD – GRPA delegation at her Ministry’s Brickdam office. (Ministry of Education photo)  

The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) met with the Minister of Education, Nicolette Henry and ministry staff on  July 16 to discuss discrimination that students are facing in schools and how teen mothers can be reintegrated in schools.

According to a release yesterday from SASOD, the meeting also discussed anti-bullying initiatives that SASOD and GRPA are currently developing together.   

 SASOD was represented by its Managing Director, Joel Simpson; and Homophobia(s) Education Coordinator, Anil Persaud. GRPA was represented by its youth leaders, Programmes Officer Jairo Rodrigues and President and Vice-President of its youth arm – the Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM) – Chelsie France and Kobe Smith, respectively.  

 The release said that the delegation requested that the Ministry of Education revise the Code of Conduct for Teachers to expand the grounds for discrimination to include those in the Guyana Constitution, while adding sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

 SASOD and GRPA have also asked the Minister to amend the non-discrimination clause of the Code under Section B, Commitment to Colleagues, to expressly prohibit discrimination on the  basis of race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed, age, disability, marital status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, language, birth, social class, pregnancy, religion, conscience, belief or culture.

There should also be no interference with the free participation of colleagues in the affairs of their association(s), the groups said.

 They also proposed that the non-discrimination clause under Section D on Commitment to Students be similarly updated. It was suggested that place of origin, birth status, political opinion, age, disability, marital status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, language, birth, social class, pregnancy, religion, conscience, and belief or culture be included with the four grounds currently stated: ability, race, colour and creed.

 Simpson said, according to the release, that the Ministry needed an updated and comprehensive policy that is in line with the Guyana Constitution, the newly-crafted National Policy on the Reintegration of Adolescent Mothers into the Formal School System and a document that supports the goals and vision of the Ministry.

He noted that the Minister stated in the previous year at the Spirit Day reception – an event hosted by SASOD and the British High Commission to commit to working against bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students – that bullying will not be tolerated in schools since it hinders children’s rights to live their lives free from abuse, violence and discrimination, and their right to education.

  Persaud said in the release that SASOD has recorded cases of students being bullied based on their perceived sexualities, particularly effeminate boys. The non-discrimination provisions would fulfil an obligation to students to protect them against homophobic and transphobic bullying, he stated. He added that although the stigmatizing nature of anti-LGBT bullying prevents robust data collection on the problem, minority students also need the Ministry’s full protection at all levels.

 The release said that the Minister responded that she will be guided by the professional advice of the Ministry’s Legal Officer, Kellyann Payne-Hercules, who was also present at the meeting.  The release said that she indicated that she does not see these amendments to be problematic or damaging since they are in line with her vision and the Ministry’s strategic plan to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for all students.

Just over a year ago, the release said that in March 2017 SASOD and GRPA formed part of a civil society delegation at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights where they reported that the Government needs to work on reintegrating teenage mothers into the formal school system.

Kobe Smith, a member of the same delegation expressed thanks to the Minister for her leadership in the development of the national policy. He spoke of GRPA’s commitment to seeing the policy implemented to which the Minister responded that orientation and familiarization is already in its planning stages and the policy will come into full effect from the start of the new school year.

 The release reported Henry as saying that this particular policy was dear to her.

France of GRPA’s YAM spoke about the ongoing work with marginalized youth in vulnerable communities across the country. Rodrigues of GRPA shared how the organization’s projects can support some aspects of the reintegration policy, particularly prevention of pregnancies through education and sensitization on use of contraception and termination of pregnancies.

 The release said that Henry was open to partnership on a National Anti-Bullying Campaign proposed by GRPA and SASOD, organized in collaboration with other key stakeholders for Education Month in September.

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