A school should be a safe space for all children. Not a place where 12-year-old girls are treated as second class citizens, and certainly not a place where menstruating girls are ostracized as "unclean" and sent to the back of the "prayer-cafeteria" as third class citizens!
Yes, you read that correctly. Valley Park Middle School in Toronto allows Muslim students to use the cafeteria for Friday prayer, but has decided to segregate their students based on gender. Seventh and eighth grade girls pray behind the boys, separated by tables, while participating girls who have their period must sit on their own in the back of the room, not partaking in the prayer.
Both Canada's left-wing and right-wing national newspapers have run editorials equally decrying this appalling situation and school board decision. The accompanying photo published has provoked outrage at the treatment of these young girls in a publicly-funded school.
While the Toronto District School Board claims they are obligated to provide accommodation for students' faith needs, this segregation violates the Ontario Education Act and the District's own gender equity policy.
Furthermore, the school's practice is condemned by the Muslim Canadian Congress, which is threatening legal action. MCC founder Tarek Fatah stated his concern that "the Toronto District School Board (is) using tax money to tell girls that they are second-class citizens" because of "white, liberal guilt." Fatah elaborated: "Deep inside is a racist view that Muslims are not considered equal human beings, and that they can treat women how they want, and it’s nobody else’s concern." With these major Muslim groups also so strongly in favor of gender equity, the school district should seriously reconsider why its imposing sexist segregation on impressionable students.
Religious accommodations could be made for Muslim students without promoting sexism and gender segregation. Trustee Michael Coteau says that the prayer sessions should be conducted in line with the District's gender equity policy, with girls -- all of them -- praying beside the boys.
Right now, the only "choice" for Muslim girls is to agree to sit behind their male peers, or to not participate in the prayer at all. They should be able to choose to practice their faith in an equitable manner, alongside their male classmates, an option they are denied by the current set-up.
Please sign this petition to call up the Toronto School District Board to respect gender equity and not shame girls for menstruating.
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