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Gender Perspective Comes to Puerto Rico's Public School System

A recent march in Mayagüez, at the western end of Puerto Rico, in favor of gender equity organized by Paz para la Mujer. Taken from their Facebook page.

A recent march in Mayagüez, at the western end of Puerto Rico, in favor of gender equity organized by Paz para la Mujer. Taken from their Facebook page.

The announcement on February 25 that Rafael Román Meléndez, Puerto Rico's Secretary of Education, signed Circular Letter No. 19-2014-2015, which makes the inclusion of gender perspective an integral part of the curriculum in public schools, was great news for the country's many people and organizations that champion gender equity.

Below is the complete document:

The Coordinadora Paz para la Mujer, a coalition of many different organizations dedicated to eradicating violence against women, also celebrated the news and offered to help the Department of Education in its work implementing the necessary changes:

Reconocemos que la política pública acogida por el Departamento de Educación (DE) es el resultado de la lucha incansable de grupos de mujeres y organizaciones quienes por décadas han creído y defendido los derechos humanos para todas las personas. El endoso es además muy significativo para adelantar el trabajo de prevención de la violencia de género que depende en gran medida de la educación desde edades tempranas. Estamos en la disposición de colaborar con el DE y seguiremos educando a las comunidades y profesionales para sensibilizar sobre la perspectiva de género y sus beneficios.

We recognize that the public policy adopted by the Department of Education is the result of a tireless struggle of groups of women and organizations that for decades have believed and defended the human rights of all people. The endorsement is also very helpful in advancing gender-based violence prevention work that is greatly dependent on education from an early age. We are happy to collaborate with the Education Department and we will keep on educating communities and professionals to create awareness on the gender perspective and its benefits.

The blog Mujeres en Puerto Rico (“Women in Puerto Rico”), recognized the importance of the Department of Education's circular letter, noting that the real work is only about to begin:

Aunque la Carta no es un fin en sí mismo, y ahora comienza la fase más importante (la implementación) no es menos cierto que la misma constituye un tremendísimo instrumento a favor de los derechos humanos de las personas que habitamos Puerto Rico.

Even though the [circular] letter isn't an end in itself (the most important phase, implementation, is only now beginning, after all), it is no less certain that this step is a tremendous instrument in favor of human rights in Puerto Rico.

This victory for gender equity rights was not easily won. Conservative religious groups lobbied intensely against the inclusion of the gender perspective in the curriculum public schools. Their stance against the Department of Education's plans was based in part on fears that the change would somehow infringe on people's right to educate their own children according to particular moral or spiritual beliefs. Supporters of the reforms say these worries are baseless. Gender perspective in education, they say, is nothing more than teaching children that everyone should be treated with equality and respect, regardless of their gender. It is not only a human rights issue, according to proponents, but an extremely urgent national concern in a country where so many women and girls are victims of gender-based violence every year.

The lack of an education that addresses gender equity has disturbing implications. Human rights activist Amárilis Pagán writes on her blog about the “blame-the-victim” mentality that permeates Puerto Rico's mainstream media, saying it's a direct result of the absence of the gender perspective in most people's education:

La demonización de las mujeres y nuestros cuerpos tiene consecuencias graves.  Implica, en primer lugar, ubicarnos en una situación de inferioridad moral que justifica la violencia que recibimos.  De ahí surgen las críticas en contra de las víctimas de violencia de género y la justificación de sus agresores. Nos violan porque provocamos, nos asesinan porque desobedecemos y nos discriminan porque no nos ajustamos a determinadas expectativas de comportamiento.

The demonization of women and of our bodies has grave consequences. It implies, firstly, our placement in a situation of moral inferiority that justifies the violence we receive. That is where criticisms against victims of gender-based violence and the justification of their aggressors come from. We are violated because we provoke, we are killed because we disobey, and we are discriminated against because we don't conform to certain conduct expected of us.

A prominent example of such unequal treatment occurred earlier this year when female singer Ivania Zayas was run over and killed by a car in the early hours of the morning. When a police lieutenant assigned to her case was interviewed on television, he said, “One of the things we have to investigate is just what was a lady doing crossing that street at that hour on her way home.” On that occasion, poet and blogger Guillermo Rebollo-Gil wrote a strong critique of the lieutenant's choice of words:

Honestamente, las expresiones del teniente en la conferencia de prensa dejan entrever que la Policía de Puerto Rico tiene una afición particular por las cacerías de brujas. Por desperdiciar sus limitados recursos en función de sus prejuicios acerca de cuáles deberían ser los hábitos apropiados de “mujeres de bien”. Y aparentemente, según el teniente, las mujeres de bien no mueren atropelladas por un carro a la 1 de la mañana, pues las mujeres de bien están en sus casas a esa hora, o al menos debidamente acompañadas.

Honestly, the lieutenant's words at the press conference imply that the Puerto Rican Police have a particular taste for witch hunts—for wasting their limited resources because of their prejudices on determining what the appropriate habits should be for “good women.” And apparently, according to the lieutenant, good women do not die run over by cars at one in the morning, because good women are in their homes at that hour, or at least, suitably accompanied.

Hopefully, with the new gender perspective policy now in place in Puerto Rico's public school system, comments like this, and the thinking behind them that cause so much damage, will someday be a thing of the past, along with gender-based violence.

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