Sex Education in Croatia Bijelić, Nataša Postprint / Postprint Zeitschriftenartikel / journal article - PDF

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Sex Education in Croatia Bijelić, Nataša Postprint / Postprint Zeitschriftenartikel / journal article Zur Verfügung gestellt in Kooperation mit / provided in cooperation with: Empfohlene Zitierung / Suggested Citation: Bijelić, Nataša: Sex Education in Croatia. In: European Journal of Women's Studies 15 (2008), 4, pp DOI: Nutzungsbedingungen: Dieser Text wird unter dem PEER Licence Agreement zur Verfügung gestellt. Nähere Auskünfte zum PEER-Projekt finden Sie hier: Gewährt wird ein nicht exklusives, nicht übertragbares, persönliches und beschränktes Recht auf Nutzung dieses Dokuments. Dieses Dokument ist ausschließlich für den persönlichen, nicht-kommerziellen Gebrauch bestimmt. Auf sämtlichen Kopien dieses Dokuments müssen alle Urheberrechtshinweise und sonstigen Hinweise auf gesetzlichen Schutz beibehalten werden. 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Diese Version ist zitierbar unter / This version is citable under: Sex Education in Croatia Tensions between Secular and Religious Discourses Nataša Bijelić CESI (CENTRE FOR EDUCATION, COUNSELLING AND RESEARCH) ABSTRACT This article explores the influence of the Catholic church on educational policy, more specifically on sex education, in Croatia. It explores tensions between secular and religious discourses regarding the introduction of a sex education programme supported by the Catholic church into Croatian schools. The presence of the Catholic doctrine in the educational system provided the basis for the introduction of sex education with a religious framework, namely the GROZD sex education programme. The GROZD (Glas roditelja za djecu [Parents Voice for Children]) programme triggered a public discussion that soon became a polarization between liberal (i.e. secular) and traditional (i.e. religious) discourses. In the discussion, the traditional/catholic value system was used as a justification for the introduction of a sex education programme that was seen by opponents as harmful. KEY WORDS Catholic church Croatia sex education sexual and reproductive rights youth INTRODUCTION In the Catholic tradition, terrestrial life is treated as having secondary importance because Catholics should endure suffering in the hope of heavenly reward. On the other hand, earthly church institutions have developed a concomitant interest in any temporal matter that affects the church s institutional interests (Ramet, 1990: 3). This insightful comment about the duality of the Catholic tradition is also applicable to the Croatian context. One of the Catholic church s historical interests is in the regulation of sexuality (Weeks, 1989). In Croatia, one of the ways this interest has materialized is through the introduction of a sex education programme into schools. European Journal of Women s Studies Copyright 2008 SAGE Publications (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC), Vol. 15(4): ; DOI: / 330 European Journal of Women s Studies 15(4) A number of research projects and analyses have supported the argument that after the demise of socialism in 1990, the public role and influence of the Catholic church increased in Croatia (Borowik et al., 2004; Vrcan, 2001; Zrinšćak, 2004). The focus of this article is not the privileged position of the Catholic church since 1990 because that would call for a detailed analysis beyond the scope of this text. Rather, I focus on one of the consequences of such a privileged position, namely the church s influence on educational policy more specifically on sex education. This article explores the tensions between secular and religious discourses regarding the introduction of a sex education programme supported by the Catholic church into schools. It starts by outlining the presence of the Catholic doctrine in the educational system, which provided the basis for the introduction of sex education within a religious framework namely the GROZD (Glas roditelja za djecu [Parents Voice for Children]) sex education programme. The GROZD programme triggered a public discussion, which soon became dominated by a polarization between liberal (i.e. secular) and traditional (i.e. religious) discourses. The traditional/catholic value system was used to justify the introduction of a sex education programme that its opponents believed would cause harm. The perspective of this article is affected by my own specific positioning within the process: first, as a member of the expert group that proposed a liberal programme of sex education and, second, as a member of a civic coalition that advocates against the discriminatory and religiously based GROZD programme being taken up in schools. THE CATHOLIC DOCTRINE IN THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM The privileged status enjoyed by the Catholic church in Croatia, here understood as an institution with a structure and hierarchy, was established by a series of international agreements that the Republic of Croatia signed with the Holy See. The four agreements were signed in 1996 and The agreements were prepared secretly, without public knowledge or discussion, and after being signed entered parliamentary procedure (Zrinščak, 2004). The Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Education and Culture is especially important for this discussion because it ensured the privileged position of the Catholic church in the educational system. This agreement states that the values of Christian ethics have to be taken into consideration in the whole educational system, i.e. in all public kindergartens, schools and universities (Zrinščak, 2004: 309); this includes the teaching of the Catechism in pre-schools, elementary and secondary schools. 1 In 1999, Catholic dogma was introduced into the educational system through the teaching of the Catechism in kindergartens and the state Bijelić: Sex Education in Croatia 331 schools. The decision to introduce Catholic instruction was a government decision made without any public or parliamentary debate (Zrinščak, 2004). Around 90 percent of pupils in elementary school attend Catholic instruction and 75 percent in secondary schools (Zrinščak, 2004). The introduction of Catholic instruction and the Catholic monopoly in education raised concerns about the division of children of different confessions as well as children who are non-believers, but these arguments were completely disregarded (Zrinščak, 2004: 309). In elementary school, pupils who do not want to attend religious education are free for that school hour. Elementary schools, however, do not offer an alternative subject for pupils while their peers are attending Catholic instruction. The social pressure on these children, although not documented, is high. In order to fit in (or because they have no other place to go), these children often end up in a religious education class despite not being believers. 2 In secondary school, pupils can choose between a subject called ethics and Catholic instruction. Moreover, Vatican treaties violate the constitutional provision that all religious communities shall be equal before the law (Padjen, 2004). These agreements have precedence over national law 3 and all international human rights conventions that the Republic of Croatia has ratified. Consequently, international human rights conventions, including those relevant to the protection of reproductive and sexual rights, have less legal power than the agreements concluded with the Holy See (Škrabalo and Jurić, 2005: 179). Catholic teaching on human sexuality and reproduction is unambiguous and is a part of Catholic instruction. 4 The church advocates the protection of human life from conception and is opposed to abortion. It approves sexual activity only within heterosexual marriage and is against mechanical or chemical contraceptives. Homosexuality is viewed as incomplete sexual orientation and to practise homosexual behaviour is seen as sin. Simultaneously, international human rights treaties, ratified by Croatia, provide the legal foundation for the right to sex education that should be accurate and objective and free of prejudice and discrimination (Zampas and Kebriaei, 2007: 4). Additionally, some national policies also oblige the state to introduce accurate sex education free of discrimination. Consequently, this leads to a discrepancy in the educational system. This discrepancy enables the parallel existence of a sex education programme based on religious and secular teaching. Thus, we have the juxtaposition of Catholic teaching on sexuality ensured through Vatican agreement and secular teaching ensured through human rights treaties and national legislation. This juxtaposition has produced tensions between secular and religious discourses regarding the introduction of sex education. Agreements with the Vatican are concordats, which according to Padjen (2004: 104) are international legal acts sui generis in several respects: the 332 European Journal of Women s Studies 15(4) Catholic church as one of the concordat parties is neither a nation-state nor an international organization; a concordat is not registered with the UN secretary general and since a concordat involves divine law, the Holy See is not in a position to accept the decision of a third party, even if it were an international court or tribunal, for the settlement of disputes. Having in mind the legal force of the Vatican agreement, Catholic instruction and its teaching on sexuality is almost impossible to eliminate from the educational system. Undoubtedly, Catholic instruction in schools has laid down the foundations for the introduction of religiously based sex education. THE PROBLEMATIC CONTENT OF THE GROZD PROGRAMME THE MODULE ON HUMAN SEXUALITY The latest programme backed by the Catholic church directly promoting Catholic morals and values regarding sexuality is the programme offered by the GROZD Association. In 2006, the GROZD Association presented three experimental programmes on health education: 5 health education for elementary schools, for the three-year secondary schools 6 and for high schools. These programmes contain a module on human sexuality that ignores scientific facts and offers a value system that places sexual intercourse in the domain of heterosexual marriage and procreation. The human sexuality and sex education values supported by GROZD are love, restraint (until marriage) and faithfulness (Udruga GROZD, 2006a: 10; 2006b: 10; 2006c: 10). By claiming that human sexuality represents a gift that can reach its real purpose through the gifts of love between two persons of different sex (Udruga GROZD, 2006a: 10; 2006b: 10; 2006c: 10), GROZD promotes a particular value system that is in accordance with the Catholic doctrine (Katekizam katoličke crkve [Catechism], 1994: ) and not with the socially accepted values of the Republic of Croatia such as freedom and gender equality (Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, Art. 3). Most of the subjects taught in the GROZD programme are related to Catholic instruction, which is a part of the curriculum. The programme s methodology proposes separate classes for male and female students and that male and female students should learn about both genders but in different scope and order, meaning that, for example, young men should learn more about young men (Udruga GROZD, 2006a: 20; 2006b: 20; 2006c: 20). This methodological recommendation restricts information to young people and therefore violates their right to complete information regarding sexuality. The theme of masturbation is presented according to Catholic teaching, stressing the need to develop the ability to control one s sexual excitement Bijelić: Sex Education in Croatia 333 and the capability to overcome the possible habit of masturbation (Udruga GROZD, 2006a: 33; 2006b: 33; 2006c: 73). The themes of contraception and abortion are unacceptably dealt with from the standpoint of women s human rights, gender equality or medical science. This programme teaches that there is no safe sex and provides information only on natural contraception (never mentioning condoms) and falsely claiming that contraceptives change the essence of the sexual intercourse because they don t respect the complete nature of the relation between man and woman, which is complicated, yet fascinatingly harmonious (Udruga GROZD, 2006b: 72; 2006c: 59). By presenting valueoriented statements closely related to Catholic doctrine, the GROZD programme is potentially placing young people, especially young women, in danger and once again is violating their right to accurate, complete and scientific information on sexuality and reproductive health. Regarding the issue of abortion, GROZD represents the stand taken by the Catholic church. The programme teaches that when thinking about abortion, the solution that goes against life is never and for no one the only or a good solution (Udruga GROZD, 2006b: 61; 2006c: 62). This teaching is in contradiction to Croatian law and international standards of reproductive rights and health because it restricts women s reproductive rights and advocates a ban on abortion. This teaching is not only illegal but imposes a religious worldview on young people attending state schools while the data from public opinion surveys support the secular attitude to abortion: 65 percent of the Croatian population support women s right to abortion (GFK, 2004). Teaching on sexual intercourse offers a religious view on the subject by stating that sexual intercourse represents the physical part of one person s devotion to another and that using sexual intercourse for pure fulfilment of attraction makes a person less capable of real, original devotion (Udruga GROZD, 2006a: 75). Simultaneously, by also stating that sexual intercourse... achieves its full purpose in a complete relationship based on love between man and woman living in a lasting community of faithfulness (marriage) (Udruga GROZD, 2006b: 49; 2006c: 49), this religious view openly discriminates against gays and lesbians. Additionally, a statement such as homosexual intercourse stands against the very nature of sexual intercourse (Udruga GROZD, 2006b: 46; 2006c: 46) serves to perpetuate homophobia in the educational system. The GROZD programme also discriminates against any form of family life that is not based explicitly on heterosexual marriage. Teaching that the reasons for divorce often lie in the wrong motives for entering marriage and in the bad predispositions of persons entering marriage, i.e. their inability for real love (Udruga GROZD, 2006b: 61; 2006c: 62), the programme discriminates against persons who are cohabitating or are divorced, and also against their children. 334 European Journal of Women s Studies 15(4) THE INTRODUCTION OF SEX EDUCATION INTO CROATIAN SCHOOLS The national curriculum for primary and secondary schools had not included mandatory and comprehensive sex education. Instead, there were some extra-curricular programmes implemented by various non-governmental organizations and health clinics (e.g. the Teen STAR programme, MEMO AIDS programme). The process of introducing sex education into Croatian schools began in A year before, the Catholic church had stepped up the pressure for the introduction of sex education based on religiously acceptable principles. The following examples outline the controlling position that the church has in the educational system and demonstrate the strong impact the Catholic worldview has on educational policy. Through Catholic teaching, the church is directly involved in the educational system but it also has an indirect influence on educational policy. The indirect influence of the church is illustrated by the example of the unsuccessful attempt to introduce the MEMO AIDS 7 programme into schools. In 2004, the church publicly condemned MEMO AIDS, in particular attacking the programme for its recommendation that secondary school students be taught about condom use. Condoms were considered by the church to be insufficiently reliable and ethically unacceptable for HIV/AIDS protection. MEMO AIDS was intended to be introduced as an optional programme into a substantial number of secondary schools in Croatia, with the support of the Ministry of Health and the UN s Global Fund. After the church s reaction, there was a drop in schools take-up of the programme. One statement from the church was enough to influence the behaviour of a number of head teachers (Škrabalo and Jurić, 2005: 197). Another example was the public scandal that emerged in 2004 over the showing of the American documentary Silent Scream during a Catechism lesson in one secondary school in Zagreb. The documentary contains scenes of foetus curettage at the later stage of pregnancy and represents an example of anti-choice propaganda. The Ministry of Education concluded that the film was unsuitable as educational material. The minister informed the Cardinal of the Catholic church about the decision, and the Cardinal concurred. Only after consensus with the church was reached on the case, were schools informed about unsuitability of the film for educational purposes (Škrabalo and Jurić, 2005: 187). That same year, civil society organizations were the first to criticize and draw public attention to the Teen STAR programme and initiated legal and advocacy initiatives to urge reform of its problematic content. Teen STAR 8 is a government-approved extra-curricular sex education programme. It is an abstinence-based programme supported by the Catholic church. It has been taught in a small number of primary and secondary schools. The action against Teen STAR included complaints to the Offices Bijelić: Sex Education in Croatia 335 of the Ombudspersons for Children s Rights and for Gender Equality, who were both highly critical of the programme. They found several aspects of the Teen STAR programme to be in violation of the Croatian constitution, national laws such as the Gender Equality Law and the Law on Same-Sex Communities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In a social atmosphere where Catholic morals and values are directly or indirectly part of the educational system, the Ministry of Education decided, in light of these events, to resolve the problem and tackle the issue of sex education. For that purpose, a number of various experts were engaged and two committees were formed. During this process, tensions between secular and religious discourses emerged. In the first committee, members of the Catholic church were overrepresented. The committee proposed the introduction of a health education programme into schools. This proposal was obviously a compromise between the liberal (i.e. more secular) and conservative (i.e. more religious) members of the committee. The liberal members concluded that for the purposes of overcoming the ideological tensions that existed among committee members, the best would be a compromise solution, i.e. health education. The second committee decided that the GROZD programme should be introduced into schools, providing they
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