In Kenya, UN chief kicks off global media campaign to end female genital mutilation

2222

At age one, Fatima was subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in her village in Afar Region of Ethiopia which has one of the world’s highest prevalence rates. Photo: UNICEF/Kate Holt

 

30 October 2014 – The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) must come to a quick end and the global media can play a critical role in making that happen, Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon affirmed today during his visit to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

Speaking at the launch of the Global Media Campaign against female genital mutilation organized by the Guardian Media Group, the Secretary-General underscored the importance of placing a greater media focus on the issue, which condemns millions of girls and women to the brutal practice each year.

“Change can happen through sustained media attention on the damaging public health consequences of FGM, as well as on the abuse of the rights of hundreds of thousands of women and girls around the world,” Mr. Ban confirmed.

New data recently released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows the need for urgent action to end FGM. According to UNICEF, more than 130 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the harmful practice is most common.

In his remarks, Mr. Ban highlighted the courage of individual activists in promoting greater awareness among at-risk girls and women, noting that sustained public pressure along with media awareness could help generate “concrete results.”

In the United Kingdom, where over 20,000 girls are currently at risk of FGM, Mr. Ban praised the efforts of Fahma Mohamed who had secured a commitment from the Government to write to all schools warning about the dangers of the practice. Meanwhile, in the United States, where risks are similarly high among certain diaspora communities, he cited the Guardian campaign led by FGM survivor Jaha Dukereh which led the Government to promise to carry out the first national survey on FGM prevalence.

“The mutilation of girls and women must stop in this generation – our generation,” the Secretary-General said, adding that the fight to end FGM was not solely limited to female campaigners.

“Men and boys must also be encouraged to support the fight against FGM – and they should be praised when they do.”

As part of its wider Organizational push to end FGM, Mr. Ban announced a new, joint UN Population Fund (UNFPA) – Guardian International FGM Reporting Award to be granted annually to an African reporter who has demonstrated “innovation and commitment” in covering FGM. The competition winner, he said, would spend two months training and working at The Guardian’s offices in London while, in Kenya, another five joint UNFPA-Guardian FGM Reporting Grants would also be awarded to the country’s leading media houses to help support their reporting on FGM.

“Ending FGM is part of the UN’s unwavering campaign for the health, human rights and empowerment of women and girls,” said Mr. Ban. “We salute the girls and women who have fought against FGM and reclaimed their bodies. We now need them to be the norm rather than the exception.”

The Secretary-General’s visit to Kenya is the fourth stop in a visit to the Horn of Africa aimed at promoting development and consolidating peace and security across the wider region. The trip unites the capacities of the UN, World Bank, European Union, Islamic Development Bank, and African Development Bank and targets a swathe of countries in the Horn of Africa, spanning Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda, with an $8 billion development initiative.

During his visit to Nairobi, Mr. Ban and other senior UN officials also met with the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, as over 42 African countries adopted a new “historic” framework aimed at setting in motion the continent’s sustainable transport transition, a press release from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced.

The framework, formulated at the Africa Sustainable Transport Forum (ASTF), organized by UNEP, the World Bank, and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport in Africa by encouraging governments to adopt a comprehensive approach that aims to promote the use of low-emission non-motorized transport, the development of quality public transport and increase investment in clean technologies.

Pollution from transport is an increasingly insidious problem, particularly as data indicates that global air population kills an estimated 7 million people annually.

The World Bank warns that the transport sector produces roughly 23 per cent of the global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion. More “alarmingly,” notes the World Bank, transportation is the fastest growing consumer of fossil fuels and the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions.

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, welcomed the adopted framework, stating that it provided “a window of opportunity to mitigate climate change threats and ensure the health and well-being of millions of Africans by introducing clean and efficient transportation.”

“The ASTF Framework will provide the platform for Africa’s decision-makers to share best practices, coordinate sustainable transport efforts and provide focus to development planning to transition its transport sector into one that is more resource-efficient, environmentally sound and cost-effective for its ambitious and increasingly mobile population,” he stated.

Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, agreed. “The ASTF Framework, and the bi-annual ASTF meetings, will allow leaders to share knowledge and best practices, while acting as a mechanism for funding and investment for sustainable transport infrastructure across the region.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The cruel hands of alshabaab, Gacmaha naxiista daran ee alshabaab

Waxaa iska cad in dadka soomaaliyeed dhibaato badani kasoo gaartay gacmaha naxariista Daran ee alshabaab  bal aan dib ufiirino  ilaa  dhamaadkii  bishii  9aad falalkii naxariis darada Ahaa   ee ay sameeyeen  tusaale   for example

Waxay magaalada baraawe ee koonfurta soomaaliya   kutaala 26.09.2014  dhagax ku Dileen haweeney kadib markii max kamad ay samaysteen  ku riday xukun dil ah

Alshabab militants stoned a women  to death in the southern town of Barawe   somalia  on Friday 26.09.2014  after a court they had set up declared her guilty of adultery

Kooxdan ku caan baxaday falalka  naxariis darada ah waxay dhibaato joogto ah ku hayaan dadka kunool   meelaha ay ka taliyaan dadka ku nool kuwaas oo falal kooda guracan ay ka soo  gaarto  wax yaabo lid ku ah  xaquuqda aadanaha   sida  kufisi  ( rape) ,guurka qasabka ah( early and  force marriage)   iyo wax barashada oo loodiido    gabdhaha  (denying   girls    education) dadka ay maxkamada saaraan   cid meteshaa oo xaquuqdooda u doodaa ma jirto

A another  example ,tusaale kale  22.10.2014 alshabaab waxay  dhagax ku dileen   wiil Dhalin yaro ah oo  18 sano jir ah kadib markii ay ku soo eedeeyeen  inuu kufsaday  Haweeney si xoog ah qorina ku qabtay  gobolka shabeelaha hoose    taasoo dadeedu   ahayd   28 sano jir  hadaba   su aasha is waydiinta lihi waxay tahay   goormay  dhamaan doontaa   Gacanta  naxariis darada ah  ee alshabaab    look  below  picture

Somalia’s al Shabaab says stones man to death for rape

qqqqqqqqqq

Dumarka iyo gabdhu waa inay fahmaan  indoor muhiima ay ku leeyihiin sidii loo la dagaala mi lahaa  ladagaalanka alshabaab

Women and girls must   understand they could play big role in fighting  al shabaab  extremist

Waxay sowora  rajaynisaa   inuu yimid    waqtigii  dhamadaka    al shabab

Time  has  come to  unite  eliminating  extremist  ideology

Abdikani  Hassan

Human rights Activist

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Death Penalty for Apostasy Not Justifiable in Islam – Somali Scholar

qqqq

Somali author Abdisaid Abdi Ismail – Photo HOL

dd

By Bosire Boniface
Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Garissa — Somali author Abdisaid Abdi Ismail has come under intense scrutiny after publishing a Somali language book titled “The Rule of Apostasy in Islam: Is it True?” in which he argues that there is no religious justification for killing people for apostasy.

The book sparked mixed reactions among the Somali community in Kenya and Somalia following its launch in Nairobi on September 14th.

After some clerics called for the book to be banned and burned, most Somali bookstores in Eastleigh stopped selling it, and it is now being sold “discreetly” in a few bookstores in Garissa and Nairobi as well as online, Ismail said.

Ismail, a 50-year-old Galkayo native, was received a scholarship from Umm al-Qura University in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where he studied sharia law and advocacy, graduating in 2002 with a master’s degree in Islamic economics. Since then, Ismail has written two books in Arabic, “Muslim Countries’ Expanding Debt Dilemma” and “Globalisation in the Muslim World: Facts and Figures”, and two other books in Somali, “How to Eradicate Poverty” and “Introduction to Islamic Economics”.

Ismail, a father of three, has taught economics at East Africa University in Bosaso since 2009, but says he cannot go back to Somalia now due to death threats he has received since publishing his latest book in Nairobi.

In an exclusive interview with Sabahi, Ismail talks about why it is important to discuss the subject of apostasy in Islam, his research on the topic, and the need to promote and tolerate a healthy debate on diverse ideas among Somalis.

Sabahi: Tell us more about your book and why you wrote it.

Abdisaid Abdi Ismail: The main thesis of this book is about apostasy in Islam, but I also talked about several other issues such as state and religion, gender equality in terms of blood money, death by stoning of adulterers and adulteresses, et cetera.


The Rule of Apostasy in Islam: Is it True? – Photo HOL


I wrote this book for the Somali community to let them know some of the big issues in their religion that involve their life in this world and hereafter, which some Somali clerics continuously explain in a way that does not match the real meaning of the Islamic teachings.

I hope that the people who read this book will realise what Islam says about the issues covered by the book, but the core message is that Islam is the religion of humanity and mercy, and it values above all the life of human beings.

Sabahi: You made the issue of apostasy your main focus. Why do you think it is so relevant now and important for Somalis to understand?

Ismail: It is a very important issue in [Muslim] society today because extremist groups are using the apostasy issue as a tool to justify their heinous and brutal killing against those who oppose their erroneous interpretation of Islam or even their political agenda.

This issue is very important for the Muslim community in general, but especially for the Somali community, because their blood is being shed on a daily basis using apostasy as a tool to justify it.

I believe the topic deserves to be discussed in a broader way in the current situation of the Muslim world. I would have liked if someone else could have written about it, but unfortunately no one has written about it and that has forced me to do it now, and I chose the Somali language so as to be able to reach Somali speaking peoples in East Africa and throughout the world at large.

Sabahi: Is death an adequate punishment for apostasy and in line with Islamic teachings?

Ismail: I have been researching the issue of apostasy for a while, comparing the various perspectives and the evidences that each extremist group is using and what the Qur’an and the teachings of the prophet said about it.

What my findings led me to conclude is that the death penalty for apostasy does not have any valid argument in Islam even though it has been used for centuries for political purposes by ruling elites in successive historical Muslim regimes as a form of treason for Muslims who left the religion, because religion was an all-encompassing identity for people at the time.

Sabahi: What does your research say is the correct punishment for apostasy according to Islam?

Ismail: Based on scholarly review of the religious teachings, my view regarding apostasy is that there is no punishment for apostasy in this world. The punishment is in the hereafter and it is between the individual and God.

Freedom of religion and beliefs are some of the basic human rights and no one has a right to interfere with what others believe. Diversity and different ideas and opinions are very crucial for co-existence, coherence and development of any society.

Sabahi: Why should Muslims read this book?

Ismail: They should read it because they need to know the lack of authentic justification for apostasy punishment in Islam, which I am satisfied that there is no valid support to back up the death penalty for apostasy in Islam.

The book will clarify for readers many other issues directly or indirectly related to the issue of apostasy and will hopefully dissuade groups from using [this issue] to kill people [based] on false justification.

I am hopeful that as [the number of] people reading the book increases, the madness sweeping in my country will ease a little bit and youths will eventually realise they are being used against their people under an un-Islamic pretext.

Sabahi: What is lacking in the conversation among Somalis when debating these issues and ideas?

Ismail: Several points are lacking in this matter, such as critical thinking and new scholars who can interpret the Qur’an and the hadith (the teachings of Prophet Mohammed) according to its original context without the interest of specific groups who want to hijack Islam for their own benefits.

There has to be an open and free dialogue among scholars and the masses as to how to interpret Islamic sources in a way that can help Muslims live a civilised and tolerant way of life as they should, so that it can lead them to live in peace among themselves and with others in this global world of ours.

Sabahi: What is the source of al-Shabaab’s ideology?

Ismail: I believe that al-Shabaab and other similar groups are just implementing the teachings and understanding of some hardline Islamic scholars who interpret some Islamic scriptures according to their agenda.

To get rid of al-Shabaab and other extremists, first we need to explain the Qur’an and hadith and other Islamic sources of knowledge according to their original context. The war against al-Shabaab and other fundamentalists is a war for the hearts and minds of Muslim society and to win that war we have to reveal the real nature of Islam which is peaceful, tolerant, moderate and democratic.

Sabahi: Groups such as al-Shabaab argue they are trying to recreate society exactly as it was at the time of the Prophet Mohammed. What is wrong with that?

Ismail: There is nothing wrong with that, but who is presenting that? My argument is that we need to understand the real Islam, not the politicised Islam.

On the other hand, we have to take into consideration the difference between the time that the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, and his companions lived, and our world, in the 21st century, when the circumstance of life are completely different.

Sabahi: Did you expect such a negative reaction to your book?

Ismail: Frankly, I was expecting the book to create academic debate among scholars, but I never expected that someone would call for the burning of the book and declare the author an apostate.

That is the very thing that the book was trying to address and it seems those who are critical of it have not actually understood the main message of the book, which is [to promote] dialogue and discussion.

However, there have been positive responses from various quarters who say the time was right to raise the issue.

Sabahi: How are you doing and what is next for you?

Ismail: I came to Nairobi from Somalia in August this year for the sole purpose of publishing this book since there are no publishers in Somalia. If there were any publishers in Somalia, they would not have been willing to publish the book anyway.

Now I am just trying to save myself from some of those extremists and their supporters who have not hidden their intentions to harm me after my book. My movements are discreet and restricted, most of the time I am indoors.

At the same time, I am working on how the peaceful Islam can be spread among Somali society. I will never be stopped or intimidated from speaking and discussing issues that I feel are important to bringing the correct and real Islam to my society. I will continue to reveal the truth about the correct stance of the religion regarding several issues that I addressed in this book and other [issues].

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kenya doing well in closing gender inequality gap, says report

2323

Participants at a gender mainstreaming workshop in Kisumu on September 30, 2014. The Global Gender Gap Index 2014 ranks Kenya favourably in terms of closing the gender inequality gap. PHOTO | JACOB OWITI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Kenya has achieved major strides in closing the gender gap on all fronts where opportunities are equally shared between men and women.

The just released Global Gender Gap Index 2014 placed Kenya at position 37 well ahead of India at 114, Brazil (71), Russia (75) and China (87), out of the 142 countries that were included in the survey.

Kenya scored 0.7258. The highest possible score is 1 for equality while the lowest possible score is 0 for inequality.

The gains made mainly arose from the free education policy launched by former President Mwai Kibaki and the constitutional one third gender rule that has increased the number of women in leadership positions across all political establishments at the national and county levels.

The same rule is slowly being applied across company boards and in public bodies amid an urgent need to ensure employment opportunities are also set at par.

EDUCATION FOR ALL

Globally, Kenya scores a first for opening up opportunities for all children by making primary and secondary education mandatory but the gains are watered down as classrooms remain congested.

Some communities are also yet to allow girls to fully access education and enough teachers are yet to be employed.

On health matters, the index places life expectancy at 54 for females and 52 for males.

This shows Kenya needs to invest heavily in healthcare so as to improve the health of its people thereby boosting production across the board, a much needed factor in the building the national economy.

ELECT WOMEN

Though it commends Kenya for making major strides politically in opening a window for women to be heard in the Senate, cabinet, the national and county assemblies, the report laments that on the elective front, much is yet to be done to help Kenyan voters to elect women on ‘substance’ basis and not on gender.

Female genital mutilation adversely affects women advancement on all fronts with early teen pregnancies blamed for mass dropouts in primary and secondary schools.

The report says that cancer, heart related ailments as well as HIV continue to wreak havoc among families as treatment remains expensive.

Only HIV falls under a donor funded project where drugs are provided for free while families bear all costs for cancer and heart related ailments treatment.

Source  Daily nation
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ban Ki-moon’s media campaign right way to enhance fight against FGM

qqqq

Former Marakwet East MP Linah Jebii Kilimo. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | FILE  NATION MEDIA GROUP

The planned visit by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Nairobi to launch a global media campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM) is timely.

Mr Ban, who is due in Kenya this week, has been persistent in calling for an end to outdated cultural practices.

One of his priorities is to help to empower women and girls by promoting their health and defending their rights.

The media, teachers, and provincial administrators have a vital role to play in helping educate parents on the dangers of FGM, a practice that demeans, dehumanises, and injures in the name of tradition.

We should strive to preserve the best in our cultures and abandon practices that are harmful.

It is surprising that even after campaigns over the years, young girls and even women are still being subjected to the rite in some parts of the country even though the practice is illegal.

It is unfortunate that some chiefs, who are mandated to enforce the law, are reported to be colluding with parents to allow the rite.

Female circumcision was made illegal in 2001 after the government outlawed FGM among girls under the age of 18.

However, despite these efforts, FGM is still common in many parts of the country and there are relatively few prosecutions.

The law criminalises female genital mutilation and tough action should be taken against those who still practise it.

GOVERNMENT’S COMMITMENT

The establishment of the Anti-FGM Board, chaired by former assistant minister Linah Jebii Kilimo, demonstrates the government’s commitment to the war against the practice.

Mrs Kilimo’s work has been fundamental in the fight against FGM. She has been instrumental in heightening political will to address the issue, serving as an outstanding model for women, girls, and activists both in Kenya and internationally.

The former minister now has an unprecedented opportunity to devote her talents and experiences to the elimination of this violation of the rights of women and girls.

To contain the menace, the Anti-FGM Board should launch campaigns that involve men to create awareness in all people of the dangers the rite poses.

This is because one of the reasons girls are subjected to FGM is to make them “suitable” for marriage, therefore men’s support is necessary to enforce the law against the harmful practice.

A change in the attitude of men is vital in helping to fight the practice. Men and boys should be encouraged to publicly support and take part in ceremonies for alternative rites of passage, which are designed to replace the need for FGM.

Politicians are doing little to actively combat FGM.

Despite the anti-FGM law, most parliamentarians have been reluctant to discuss FGM.

It appears that the leaders fear losing political support and risking isolation by their peers if they openly speak against the practice.

CONCERTED EFFORT

Unlike other gender issues such as access to education, FGM is viewed as one cultural practice which, if threatened, endangers the cohesion of a community.

Although laws alone are not enough to end the practice, there is a need for concerted effort by political leaders, churches, NGOs to fight it.

The government cannot single-handedly monitor adherence to anti-FGM laws. It needs the support of other stakeholders.

A negative cultural activity such as FGM can be changed without disrupting the positive underlying social value that it represents.

The World Vision’s alternative rite of passage, in collaboration with church organisations, has greatly reduced cases of FGM in Kerio Valley.

The initiative, has promoted new ways for girls to be initiated into adulthood without undergoing circumcision.

Public awareness programmes are gradually changing people’s attitude about female circumcision and many people are now coming forward to reject the vice.

Changing an age-old tradition that is embedded in a people’s culture is not simple. Communities that advocate FGM resist change because they fear that their customs are threatened.

The UN Secretary-General’s decision to involve the media in the war against FGM is timely and a move in the right direction. After all, education is the key to eliminating FGM.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Saudi women’s driving campaign gathers pace,Activists say more than 2,800 have signed an online petition seeking an end to the ban on women driving in the kingdom.

A woman drives a car in Saudi ArabiaThose who have defied the ban in the past have been dealt firmly by the authorities in Saudi Arabia [Reuters]

Activists pushing for women’s right-to-drive in Saudi Arabia have declared their online campaign a success, in the world’s only country where women are not allowed to operate cars.

The campaign that began last year and revved up again since the beginning of the month encouraged women to post online images of themselves driving.

Dozens of women have driven and posted during the latest campaign, one activist said, although she knew of only two who hit the streets on Saturday and Sunday as the campaign peaked.

“A day hasn’t gone by without receiving one or two videos” of women driving, said the activist.

Men and women have also posted messages of support.

More than 2,800 people have signed an online petition at http://www.oct26driving.com asking authorities to lift the ban on women driving.

The activist said she did not want to be named because the interior ministry has threatened her with arrest if she speaks publicly about the campaign.

There is a “huge risk” for female drivers, the activist said when asked why more had not posted images of themselves this year.

Women have previously been arrested, cars have been confiscated, and one received 100 lashes, she alleged.

“So, women are afraid,” the activist said.

She added that, apart from driving, the campaign is also about “creating a storm” over the issue.

On Thursday the interior ministry issued a warning to would-be female drivers and their supporters.

The ministry said it would “strictly implement” measures against anyone who “contributes in any manner or by any acts, towards providing violators with the opportunity to undermine the social cohesion”.

That means the campaign has had an impact, the activist said.

“I think it’s pretty successful. If we’re getting a reaction, that means we’re effective.”

Tradition and custom are behind the prohibition, which is not backed up by an Islamic text or judicial ruling, the online petition states.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Toronto school board sets higher improvement targets for students based on race, sexual orientation

nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

Students Charlotte Sulek 12, Nara Wrigglesworth, 13, Stella Racca, 13, and Irina Babayan,12, are members of the gay-straight alliance of Westwood Middle School, and they meet in the school’s Positive Space area together. The need for these bully-free zones has been proven by the Toronto District School Board’s detailed student survey.

333333333333333


For the first time in Ontario, a school board has set a different — and higher — target for raising the marks of students who are black, Spanish-speaking, aboriginal, Portuguese, gay or lesbian, than the target for its students overall.

The Toronto District School Board has pledged to boost the test scores and report card marks of students in these groups next year by 15 per cent compared to 10 per cent for all students, in a bid to shrink the learning gap it has found these students face and help them succeed at the rate of their classmates.

But such nuanced, colour-coded, even sexuality-based planning is possible only because of the goldmine of demographic data Canada’s largest school board dares to collect from its 200,000 students.

It showed, for example, that 32 per cent of students who identify as LGBTQ don’t graduate from high school, compared to 22 per cent of those who say they are heterosexual. And nearly half of LGBTQ students, 46 per cent, did not apply to college or university in 2012, compared to just 32 per cent of their straight classmates.

Call it the long-form census of the education world, and it, too, comes with controversy — revered by supporters, but dismissed by critics as intrusive and even stigmatizing.

“But everything we do to move students forward comes out of our census data, even at the highest level. We’re the only board in the province that sets different achievement targets for black, Portuguese, Spanish students, aboriginal and LBGTQ,” said Jim Spyropoulos, the TDSB’s executive superintendent of equity and inclusive schools. “This is a bold move.”

The board’s sweeping 40-question student survey drills deep into a student’s background and home life (identified by code number, not name, to protect privacy) and then links that information to the student’s marks and how they feel about school, to produce the mother of all flowcharts into how demographics can shape learning.

This deep level of data is the extreme example of a trend that is starting, gingerly, in schools across Canada.
Ontario now requires all boards to ask First Nations students to self-identify so educators can track what kind of support best helps them engage with school.

Nova Scotia now asks black students to self-identify for the same reason, and has begun analyzing test scores by neighbourhood income level.

Ontario’s testing body, the Education Quality and Accountability Office, has long broken down results for English language learners, boys and girls, and students with special needs.

A network of educators based at York University is running a “demographic data and student equity project” to encourage boards to collect this kind of information and offer tips on how to comply with human rights and privacy laws.

Ontario’s Ministry of Education now mentions “demographic data” in its vision statement, although it stops short of requiring boards to collect it.

The Peel District School Board is preparing a detailed demographic and attitudinal survey of its staff, though not students, next fall.

The TDSB survey probes deeply into a student’s life. There are 40 check-off boxes for cultural background, 12 choices for family make-up and 10 selections for sexual identity for students in Grade 7 and up. The survey also asks eight questions to determine how welcome students feel at school, plus questions on their home life such as “Do you take piano lessons?” and “Who helps you with homework?” The survey is then cross-referenced with students’ marks.

Yet such complex surveys are still a tough sell, even though the two boards that use them, Toronto and Ottawa, relish the findings and community groups across the province are clamouring for more boards to get over their fear and start using them.

It’s a tool some educators believe Queen’s Park should make mandatory.

“Because we know what the gap is with certain subgroups, setting the same improvement target for everyone would just keep all groups moving forward in lock-step and fail to narrow the gap,” said Spyropoulos. He points to a string of new programs this fall, sparked by the data, designed to help boost the engagement of these subgroups. The new programs include an entrepreneurial program for First Nations students and new Africentric lesson plans at the seven high schools and 10 elementary schools in Toronto with the highest percentage of black students.

Comments about being bullied from the first small batch of students to identify as LGBTQ helped prompt the board to promote more bully-free “positive spaces” and continue its support of gay-straight alliances.

“People at other boards often say to me, ‘We don’t need to spend money to find out this stuff; we already know our kids,’ ” Spyropoulos said. “But do we always know? You might assume a high school in an affluent community wouldn’t need a breakfast program, and then you ask them and find out 100 kids come to school hungry each day.

“With our census, it’s not just guesswork, it’s not about using city data, it’s not about relying on the government census — we have the information in-house.”

Moreover, in an era of accountability, Spyropoulos said it’s helpful to be able to point to the numbers when deciding whether to keep funding a program.

But not everyone has hurried to follow suit.

The York Region District School Board was poised to launch a similar survey of its 120,000 students in May — four years in the planning, with wide community support and other GTA boards watching closely — when it pulled the plug after some trustees expressed concerns about privacy and the cost.

Board chair Anna DeBartolo insisted the survey is just on hold until after the Oct. 27 election when trustees can get more details on which questions will be asked and how the board will protect students’ privacy.

“It really wasn’t on the trustees’ radar until this year and once it was, we decided we needed to have a more wholesome discussion,” said DeBartolo, adding she is “okay with asking these kinds of race-based questions; they give us a lot of information from students.”

Had York’s survey been circulated to students in May, as staff had planned, the board would be crunching numbers by now.

“There were going to be two questions on homelessness that we were really pumped about because we have no data on youth homelessness right now. Kids are often too embarrassed to admit they have nowhere to go,” said Michael Braithwaite, executive director of 360 Kids, an agency that helps homeless youth in York Region.

“Teachers can’t always tell that a kid who falls asleep at his desk may have spent the whole night walking around because something happened at home and he had to leave,” said Braithwaite. But if you ask, you might find out, he said, and get a clearer sense how to help.

“I hope the survey really is just on hold,” said Braithwaite. “We were disappointed at the delay.”

Cecil Roach is the York board’s superintendent of equity and engagement and a strong champion of collecting data.

“The things that are important are the things we measure, and you need to know who your students are. You cannot fully talk about supporting students unless you’re able to peel back the onion in order to see the inequities.

“You have some folks who say, ‘I don’t want to segregate kids by social identity,’ but that’s ridiculous,” said Roach. “We already know gay kids are more prone to suicide, but a lot of our knowledge is anecdotal. We need to know who our students are.”

York University education professor Carl James is such a believer in the value of gathering student data he has created a network of school board officials from Toronto, Peel, York Region and Ottawa to study the issue.

He would like to see Premier Kathleen Wynne call for a “learning gap strategy” like the one she requested this week to close the wage gap between men and women, and for this, surveys would be key.

“Such data would yield very rich information for the province,” said James, “and I would argue it would be of tremendous social and economic benefit.”

A spokesperson for Education Minister Liz Sandals said Friday her government is committed to have school boards “regularly use high-quality data and ongoing research to measure progress and guide programming,” especially after the scrapping of Ottawa’s long-form census, but “it is too early to tell what that will look like.”

But detailed surveys won’t be easy. A fierce split erupted this spring among Toronto’s Somali parents when the TDSB survey showed Somali students have a 25 per cent dropout rate, 10 points higher than the board average. While some Somali parents welcomed the information and joined a task force to examine solutions, others called it unfair labelling.

“These numbers can lead to uncomfortable conversations, especially about race and also sexual orientation,” admitted Spyropoulos, “but they’re conversations we need to have.”

• 75 per cent of children of professional parents say they feel they belong at school, compared to just 65 per cent of children of parents in unskilled jobs

• 79 per cent of black students say their school offers sports they like, compared to just 65 per cent of East Asian student

80 per cent of students live with two parents at home and one-third of families have three or more children

• 56 per cent of elementary students have at least one parent with a university degree

• 28 per cent — the largest proportion — of children from JK to Grade 6 live in families with annual incomes of less than $30,000

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment