With the new school year back in full swing, all students in the French-speaking community in Belgium will now regularly receive relational, emotional and sex education. A number of Islamic organisations want that reversed.
The use of the Education for Relational, Affective and Sexual Life (EVRAS) programme in schools in Brussels and Wallonia was voted in by the local parliament on September 7 and received immediate pushback from a group of Islamic faith-based organisations.
A few hundred people protested in front of the parliament of the Federation of Wallonia and Brussels. “EVRAS, we don’t want it” and “freedom for our children” they chanted.
The local Minister of Education Caroline Désir said there was no reason for unrest.
“Our intentions are noble. Of course, we will not encourage hyper-sexualization among young people, we will not promote sexual orientation or gender identity, and we will not provide lessons on sexual practices. It is unacceptable to scare parents about this,” she said.
“This decision strikes us as contrary to the universal and inviolable values of the framework of family education and to the interests of students and their families”, Islamic organisations claimed in a statement.
“The EVRAS programme raises serious concerns about how it will be implemented and the messages it will convey to young and even very young children.”
They are concerned that EVRAS may “erode” religious freedom and the rights of parents to guide their children’s education in accordance with their own beliefs.
The statement was signed by the Diyanet of Belgium, the Islamic Federation of Belgium, the Federation of Albanian Mosques of Belgium, the Associations of African Mosques of Belgium, the Union of Mosques of Liège, the Bosnian Islamic Community of Belgium and the Turkish Islamic Cultural Associations Ehli-Beyt.
Brussels Signal reached out to Diyanet for comment on the specific reasons for which they took offence to the new programme, but at the time of writing no response had been received.
The Centre d’Action laïque (CAL), or secular action centre, on September 6 expressed “more support than ever” for EVRAS.
According to the CAL, it will empower young people to make their own choices first and foremost but will also combat inequality by providing all students with the same information. Given what it said were rising instances of sexual violence, incest and sexism, “the status quo is unsustainable”.
“Not to mention that today it is through pornography on the internet that a very large number of young people do their sex education, pornography that conveys stereotypes of violence, where the concept of consent does not exist,” the CAL added.
— Ilona Swenne (@IlonaSwenne) September 7, 2023