Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

The Anti-Gender Movement in Europe and the Educational Process in Public Schools

Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

The Anti-Gender Movement in Europe and the Educational Process in Public Schools

Article excerpt


In the recent years - particularly since the mass protests by Manif pour tous in France against marriage equality in 2013 - an increasing number of groups and initiatives have been organised in resistance to what previously appeared to be an irreversible process of achievement of gender equality and sexual rights in the Western world (but also elsewhere). Their targets include anything from marriage and gender equality, abortion, reproductive rights, sex education, gender mainstreaming and transgender rights, to antidiscrimination policies and even the notion of gender itself. The basic idea that connects all of these actors is the notion of "gender theory" or "gender ideology",3 which functions as an empty signifier (Mayer & Sauer, 2017), as symbolic glue (Kováts & Pöim, 2015), or simply as a multi-purpose enemy, which can be shaped in different ways to fit into the concrete goal of a political protest.

This resistance across Europe should not be understood merely as a continuation of previous forms of (conservative) opposition to the human rights pertaining to intimate (Plummer, 2003) and sexual citizenship (Richardson, 2000) policy debates; they are new manifestations of resistance, shaped by new forms of organisation, new types of mobilisation and new discourses that seek to address wider audiences and not only traditional circles of conservative groups.

Despite the fact that the term "gender theory" has emerged only recently, its ideological background has been in the making since the mid 1990s, primarily in the context of the Roman Catholic Church. As shown by recent investigations into the roots of the anti-gender movement, the Vatican has been instrumental in manufacturing the notion itself and in spreading it around Europe and globally (Paternotte, 2015).

One of the most important targets of the anti-gender movement in Europe is public schools and the educational process. It is believed that "gender theory" has "leaked" into public schools and that pupils are being sexualised and brainwashed by radical feminist ideology and homosexual propaganda. For these reasons, groups of concerned parents are being organised across Europe to protest against the alleged infringement of their right to educate their children in accordance with their religious and philosophical convictions (Paternotte & Kuhar, 2017b).

Taking these developments as the starting point, the aim of the present article is threefold. First, we examine the emergence and interpretation of the term "gender theory" and why it has such a strong mobilising effect. We then discuss the types of protests anti-gender movements across Europe use to protest against "gender theory" in the educational process in public schools. These two sections are based on a research project comparing these movements in twelve European countries, carried out between 2014 and 2017 (Kuhar & Paternotte, 2017). The research focused on a critical analysis of the movement's discourse, mobilisation strategies and actors. Empirically, it was based on an analysis of the movements' webpages, public statements and debates, leaflets, media articles, YouTube videos, etc. in each national context.4

Finally, we consider the role of parents and their right to intervene (or not) in the educational process when "difficult topics" such as gender equality or sexuality are discussed. In reality, these protests are not a totally new phenomenon: parents have complained about certain topics - particularly sex education - in the past, with some of the cases ending up at the European Court of Human Rights. What is new is the magnitude of the protests, such as the French or Italian appeals to "concerned parents" to keep their children out of school for a day in order to protest against "gender theory". Such protests put immense pressure on school authorities and on teachers themselves.

Despite the aforementioned differences, we believe that the existing judgements of the European Court of Human Rights are still a valid interpretation of Article 2 of the Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1952), which compels the State to "respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions". …

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