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Macedonian government promises to retract misogynist school textbook

Macedonian textbooks on a student's desk. Photo by Meta.mk, CC-BY.

This story originally appeared on Meta.mk News Agency, a project of Metamorphosis Foundation. An edited version is published below as part of a content-sharing agreement.

The Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of North Macedonia announced on December 16 that it will modify a high school sociology textbook following an avalanche of online criticism.

This is what the textbook, which has been used in Macedonian schools since 2002, says:

Причините за различното учество на жените во криминалитетот се објаснуваат со општествената положба на жената. Ако жената е затворена во домот и нема никакви јавни улоги, таа нема можност да прави кривични дела. Жената на тој начин е заштитена од многу комуникации, одговорности, ангажмани, натпревари, конфликти и е упатена да се грижи за семејството, а со тоа помалку е изложена на влијанието на објективните криминогени фактори. Во услови на поголема општествена активност можно е да дојде до поголема криминална активност особено кај некои видови кривични дела.

The reasons for different rate of participation of women in criminal activities are explained with women’s social standing. If the woman is closed in the home and has no public activities, then she will have no opportunities to conduct any crimes. This way, the woman is protected from many communications, responsibilities, contests, conflicts and is directed towards keeping the family. This will help her to be less exposed to criminal factors. Under conditions of increased activity [by females] in society, it is possible that an increased criminal activity would result, in particular in regard to certain criminal acts.

Excerpt from the controversial sociology textbook. Image widely shared on social networks.

On the same page, the text says:

Жените во помал обем ги извршуваат и следниве кривични дела: прељуба, недозволен абортус, уцени, кражби, кривоклетство.

To a lesser degree, women are perpetrators of the following criminal acts: adultery, illegal abortion, blackmail, theft, and perjury.

In fact, adultery is not a criminal act in North Macedonia.

The Ministry of Education (MES) said the textbook, which was written by university professors Nelko Stojanoski, Milena Gjuroska, and Zoran Matevski, will be reviewed and reprinted for the school year starting in 2020.

MES officials added they have been reviewing and updating textbook content with the help of teachers and students since 2017, and that the textbook in question had not received any feedback. An official statment said:

Во таа насока, уште во 2017 година Министерството, односно Педагошката служба спроведе анкета помеѓу наставниците во основните и средните училишта со цел да достават сугестии, да укажат на забелешки од сите можни аспекти во врска со содржината на учебниците кои се одобрени и се применуваат во наставата, заради пристапување кон нивна корекција и ажурирање. За учебниците за кои добивме забелешки беше спроведен процес на корекција и повторно печатење во 2018 година, но меѓу нив не беше и учебникот кој денес е предмет на повеќе медиумски текстови, односно за истиот не беа доставени забелешки.

In this regard, the Ministry i.e. the Pedagogical Service conducted a survey among the teachers in the primary and secondary school in 2017 asking them to provide suggestions, to give feedback on all possible aspects of the contents of the textbooks that had been approved and had been used for teaching, in order to correct or upgrade them. The process of correcting and reprinting textbooks commenced in 2018. However, the textbook generating controversy in the media today ha not been included in that process of revision, because no remarks were submitted about it during the previous consultations.

The note adds that MES has asked the Bureau for Development of Education (BDE), a state body in charge of curriculum development, to examine the content of all textbooks. BDE's evaluation will serve as a basis for an upcoming curriculum reform.

Irena Cvetkovic, Coalition Margins. Photo by Andrej Lembanov, used with permission.

Irena Cvetkovik, the executive director of Coalition Margins, a human rights advocacy organization, told Meta.mk that stereotypes and discriminatory stances hide behind the language of “scientific truth” in the Macedonian education system.

Фактот дека жените по статистика извршуваат помал број на кривични дела споредено со мажите не може да се објаснува, а уште помалку да се одобрува, со одржување на родовата нееднаквост и притискање жените да останат во приватната сфера на домот и семејството, оставајќи ја јавната сфера на мажите. Точно е дека жените се помалку подложни на криминално онесување, но тоа треба да биде претставено како пример, како добар пример и токму заради тоа да се инсистира жените што повеќе да ја окупираат јавната сфера носејќи поинакви вредности како чесност, посветеност.

The statistical fact that women commit less criminal acts in comparison to men must not be explained, or even worse affirmed, with the promotion of gender inequality or forcing women to remain in the private sphere of the home and family, leaving the public sphere to men only. It is true that women are less prone to criminal behavior, but this should be presented as a positive example in the context of insistence that women should become more involved in the public sphere, as they would bring with them values such as honesty and dedication.

Cvetkovik, who holds a Ph.D. in gender studies, appealed to the authorities and the members of the academic community to do a complete revision of all school books and educational material as the first step towards a comprehensive reform of the Macedonian educational system. She noted that Coalition Margins have been making this request continuously since 2011.

In 2012, University Sts. Cyril and Methodius refused her candidacy for teaching assistant at the Faculty of Philosophy. Previously, pedagogy professors from the same university sued her for libel after she wrote a newspaper op-ed accusing one of their textbooks of promoting homophobia. A court ruled in Cvetkovik's favor. Many suspected the professors in question pressured the university into refusing her the job.

Dijana Stojanovic Djordjevic, Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation. Photo used with permission.

Dijana Stojanovic Djordjevic. Photo by The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, used with permission.

Dijana Stojanovik Gjorgjevik, who holds a Ph.D. in political science with a focus on gender, and works as a program manager at The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, a women's rights organization, stated for Meta.mk that the amount of discriminatory, stereotypical and inappropriate information in the primary and secondary school textbooks is “frightening.”

Some of the examples include the uncritical reproduction of folk stories (such as “The Lazy Wife“), songs and proverbs that promote patriarchal values, without providing an appropriate context for contemporary society. She concluded:

Само детално прегледување на сите содржини со родови очила и низ родова призма може да ги елиминира оние информации кои што допринесуваат за одржување на родовата нееднаквост.

Only a detailed review of all textbooks from a gender perspective can eliminate the content contributing to gender inequality.

The low quality and ideological bias of Macedonian school materials were among key motivators of the protests against the right-wing government that ruled North Macedonia from 2006 to 2017.

Improving the quality of textbooks and reviewing gender-sensitive language was a major campaign promise of the center-left government elected in 2016.

So far, those promises haven't been completely fulfilled, and authorities’ perceived sluggishness contributed to the recent outrage on social media over the sociology book.

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