Education International
Education International

Report says that textbooks are crucial to tackling sexual discrimination

published 11 January 2017 updated 17 January 2017

A new Global Education Monitoring Report Policy Paper clearly shows that textbooks can play a major role in helping build tolerance and positively shape young people’s views and acceptance of sexual diversity.

Textbooks are never neutral, according to the new Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report Policy Paper: Between the Lines, which looks at the content of textbooks and how it reflects some of the key concepts in Target 7 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 on global education.

Textbooks convey influential messages that help to shape children and young people’s ideas about what is ‘normal’ and legitimate in their society. While textbooks have increasingly called for tolerance of diversity, too often sexual diversity is excluded, and the overwhelming majority of textbooks still only show heterosexual couples, relationships, and families, according to the report.

There are three types of textbooks when it comes to covering sexual diversity, the GEM Policy Paper says: those that cover the issue, with either implicit or explicit positive messages; those that ignore the issue altogether, and those that cover it with negative messages, instilling discriminatory attitudes.

LGBTI coverage

The new policy paper shows that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) people appear in only three per cent of secondary school social studies textbooks. There has been almost no change in this number since the 1970s, though there is significant regional variation: coverage of LGBTI rights is highest in Latin America and the Caribbean (20 percent), whereas in sub-Saharan Africa and Northern Africa and Western Asia, less than five per cent of textbooks acknowledge LGBTI people.

While only 25 countries mention issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity/expression in their national or regional curricula, the UNESCO research finds that challenging homophobia and transphobia in education is most effective when LGBTI issues are included in teaching and lesson plans, and when LGBTI people are positively portrayed across different instructional materials.

When textbooks feature positive representations of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions, they indicate to all learners that LGBTI people are a legitimate and integral part of society, and affirm their equality in dignity and rights.

Need to create inclusive textbooks

The document reasserts that, according to evidence-based guidance from UNESCO and the World Health Organisation, as well as from numerous professional bodies of doctors, psychologists, teachers and parents, it is safe to teach children and young people about gender equality and diverse sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions in an age-appropriate manner.

Education International (EI) believes that countries should continue to follow this progress, expanding comprehensive sexuality education in the school curriculum, and using examples in textbooks across all subjects and ages that illustrate diverse families, relationships and LGBTI people.