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[Op-Ed] Delaying Gender Identity In Sex Ed Plays Politics With Kids’ Lives

Ontario’s plan for the sex-ed curriculum fails to meet the rights and needs of kids

Op-Ed published in the Huffington Post

Activists should be proud this week. The fact that Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced on Friday that her government will not exclude vital lessons around LGBTQ+ sexuality, consent, and social-media literacy from Ontario’s sexuality education curriculum is proof that the massive wave of public push-back in support for sex-ed is working. The overwhelming majority of parents, educators, and young people who stood up to fight for sex-ed were impossible to ignore. It’s a win for sex-ed but what the government announced is a compromise between what they want and what parents, teachers, and young people are asking for.

Ontario’s plan for the sex-ed curriculum still fails to meet the rights and needs of kids. We need to remain vigilant.

Ontario’s new sex-ed curriculum will remain a step back from where we got to in 2015. The minister said that the curriculum will delay teaching about gender identity and expression until Grade 8, which is the latest they can possibly push it within elementary school curriculums. These compromises may seem small but they have serious implications for students and their families, particularity LGBTQ+ youth and their families. Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. Now is the time to recognize that protest works and that we should continue to push until no child is left behind.

First, some context: according to UN experts and the 2018 UNESCO International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, no curriculum in Canada meets the highest quality standards for sex ed. Almost no kid in Canada is getting the complete education they need to live full, healthy lives. Those few who do are fortunate enough to have exceptional supports that are often offered by sexual health experts who have made it their mandate to build capacity in schools or with children themselves. But this is the exception, not the rule.

The inconsistent, patchwork nature of quality sex education throughout Canada is nothing less than a human rights violation. That is why a recent letter sent from a large group of UN human rights experts to Prime Minister Justin Trudeaudemands that Canada immediately intervene to ensure that young people across Canada, in every jurisdiction, have equal access to high-quality sex ed. And that is why Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is campaigning for better sex ed everywhere in Canada.

Playing politics with the health of kids is a dangerous thing for any government to do. Thankfully, the public has proved that it has no intention of sacrificing the well-being of young people because of unwarranted fears based on misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia.

We should feel proud that parents, educators, and young people were successful in pushing back against what could have been an unmitigated disaster. But we should also remain deeply concerned that the new curriculum will not meet the needs of our kids.

The fact that children will not be taught about gender identity until Grade 8 may not seem like a big deal but it will have a huge negative impact. The notion that including gender diversity in classroom discussions is not “age-appropriate” is patently untrue, as well as dangerously stigmatizing. Most children will develop a sense of their gender identity between the ages of two and five. How is that child meant to feel when people are telling them that their thoughts, feelings and indeed, their whole self is not “appropriate” to express? For kids who are gender diverse, or gender creative, knowing that gender expression and diversity exists and that it is normal will have real consequences for their mental and physical health. This isn’t about politics, this is about real people and their lives.

All kids need to learn about gender identity. Gender roles that teach boys to be tough and unemotional and girls to be submissive and pleasing have serious consequences too. These messages, so pervasive in society and media, must be actively managed through gender-sensitive, gender inclusive, age-appropriate sexuality education that begins in kindergarten.

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights responds to Federal budget 2019

What we Liked

A (step towards the) Canadian Drug Agency and national formulary

Action Canada welcomes this as a step towards ensuring all people in Canada have access to all medications and medical devices. With over 7.5 million people in Canada who do not have prescription drug coverage, Canada needs a universal, comprehensive and single payer approach to Pharmacare now more than ever.

A “fill the gaps” approach is unacceptable. Action Canada knows first-hand that access to medications and devices is often unaffordable for those who need it most, especially those suffering from intersecting marginalization and discrimination. The ability to manage your own fertility, have healthy pregnancies, affirm your own gender, and prevent, treat or manage sexually transmitted infections should not be dependent on income, place of residence or immigration status. People in Canada who require vaccines, medication or contraceptive devices should not need to rely on insurance or personal savings to afford what they need to maintain or realize the best possible sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Young people are especially at risk when they have to rely on private insurance for vaccines to prevent STIs, antiretroviral medication to prevent or treat HIV infections, medication to terminate unwanted pregnancies or contraceptive drugs and devices. They often experience barriers from parents and ultimately won’t seek the care they need.

Through Action Canada’s network of associate organizations providing service delivery across the country, we know that there are vast discrepancies between public and private formularies, formularies between provinces and even between the federal formularies. This results in some people being able to access an essential medicine for free while others have to pay up to hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars out of pocket to access the drugs and devices they need.

These gaps and inconsistencies are unacceptable.

Increase in WAGE budget

Building on the Budget 2018 announcement to establish the Department for Women and Gender Equality as an official department, Action Canada welcomes the addition of resources for the Women’s Program. We know, globally and domestically, the critical role that feminist movements, organizations, and activists play to advance rights and gender equality. In the face of growing far-right and anti-feminist sentiments, now is the time to invest in people and movements that will protect the progress feminists have made.

We look to the Department for Women and Gender Equality to prioritize long-term, sustained, and flexible funding to feminist organizations working to address the full range of feminist issues – from protecting the rights of sex workers and securing access to abortion care, to advocating for quality sex-ed to combat gender-based violence.

For too long, feminist organizations have been systematically underfunded, “projectized,” and bankrupted with unnecessarily burdensome reporting mechanisms. Healthy democracies require vibrant civil society movements that are empowered and financially supported to actively participate in advocacy aimed at strengthening laws, policies, and programs. The realization of women’s rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and gender justice requires dedicated funding for feminist actors working in these spaces. We will be monitoring the increase in Women’s Project spending to ensure it is meeting these needs.

Other notable announcements:

  • Continuation of a “Gender-Based Analysis+” in Budget 2019 and accompanying “gender report”
  • Launch of the Gender Results Framework, which includes a specific indicator aimed at improving access to contraception for young people and reducing the adolescent birth rate
  • $1.5M over 5 years to the Treasury Board to work with departments to strengthen data collection and reporting practices on GBA+ across budget 2019 initiatives
  • Investment in ovarian cancer prevention, screening, and treatment
  • Increasing paid parental leave for researchers and postdoctoral fellows from 6 to 12 months.
  • $20M over 2 years to expand the work of the LGBTQ2+ Secretariat, to include capacity building and community-level work of Canadian LGBTQ2+ service organizations. No further details were outlined.
  • $45M over 3 years to create an anti-racism strategy, with a focus on community-based projects. No further details regarding the creation of the strategy were elaborated.

What we Didn’t See

No increase to Canada’s development assistance until 2023

While Budget 2019 boasts $700 million in 2023-2024 to the International Assistance Envelope, only $100 million is new money – far below the $1.4 billion that Canada’s global health sector has been pushing for to better meet global need.

Without resources to meaningfully implement the Feminist International Assistance Policy, Canada’s rhetorical commitment to address systemic gender-based inequality will remain just that: rhetoric. Canada’s support for development assistance (ODA) has stagnated and remains well below the international target of 0.7% ODA/GNI (ratio to gross national income) agreed to by OECD countries in order to effectively fight poverty and promote economic development around the globe. Resting at 0.26% of GNI, Canada’s contribution to global development assistance is officially on the decline. For a country as well resourced as Canada, with a clear policy directive to realize the rights of women and girls around the world, no new money puts Canada’s reputation as a global leader on gender equality at grave risk.

Key to implementing Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy is a sustained commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights: an area where misogynistic, homophobic and sexist forces have, for too long, curtailed the health and rights of women and girls for the benefit of political gain. If Canada is serious about countering these threats and stepping in support of human rights, an increase to the development assistance budget is sorely needed.

With Canada’s funding for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) set to expire in less than a year and global funding trends in this area failing to meet the needs of women and girls, Canada’s commitment is needed now more than ever. Stigma around sex and reproduction has led to SRHR being deprioritized. People all over the world can’t access the life saving services they need to realize their rights. Greater investment is needed to safeguard the gains that have been made in recent years and to help reach the most marginalized women, girls, and adolescents. As a progressive and credible leader, Canada can and must do more. An investment of $500 million a year over 10 years (starting in 2020) in the neglected areas of SRHR is a proven cost-effective investment that would prevent backsliding on these critical gender equality issues and solidly position Canada as a women’s rights champion. This investment aligns with the Canadian global health sector’s broader vision of a comprehensive approach to Canada’s post-2020 leadership, which calls for $1.4 billion for global health.

Lingering uncertainty on the future of Pharmacare in Canada

When can people in Canada expect a Pharmacare strategy? Budget 2019 fails to establish a concrete timeline for the rollout of such a strategy, and, ultimately, what it would include. Until people in Canada have access to universal, comprehensive, single-payer Pharmacare – like all other countries around the world with universal healthcare – inequalities, disparities, and poor health outcomes will persist.

A ‘feminist’ government that continues to fail on child care

Feminists have been demanding childcare since the 1970’s. Budget after budget has failed to deliver on a national child care strategy – despite the supporting evidence that prove beyond doubt that a National Childcare Strategy will improve equality and well-being for children and the economy at large.

Child care is a sexual and reproductive rights issues. We know it is proven to be one of the most impactful ways of increasing workforce participation, empowering women, and growing the economy. Reproductive justice means examining issues such as race, class, culture, and other power structures that support and constrain peoples’ ability to make decisions about their lives. This includes the ability to parent children in healthy environments. Without access to affordable childcare, parents may face constraints when returning to the workforce, which contributes to reduced earnings and creates male-dominated workforces that can perpetuate gender stereotypes and violence. This often has gender, class, and race implications as women are more often those who exit the workforce to care for children. This can further lead to barriers accessing support services and healthcare more broadly, including sexual and reproductive health care.

Where Do we Go From Here?

Election 2019 is fast upon us. Between now and the end of October 2019, Canadians will elect leaders they think will commit to law and policy change – and investments – on issues they care about. Now is the time to work together to truly advance sexual and reproductive rights, equally, for all people. Join us in calling on Canada to:

  • End unequal access to abortion for all people in Canada!
  • Ensure every young person’s right to comprehensive sexuality education!
  • Stand up for the health and rights of sex workers; repeal the Protection of Exploited Communities Act (PECA)!
  • Commit to a Pharmacare Strategy that covers EVERYONE!
  • Increase and sustain its global commitment to SRHR!

Read Action Canada’s election 2019 teasers here

Statement on Ontario’s Sex-Ed Curriculum

Following Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson’s announcement regarding the Ontario Sex-ed curriculum on Friday, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights congratulates every person in Ontario and around the country that rose to protest roll-back of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum but notes that there is still work to be done. Delaying inclusion of LGBTQ+ inclusion and gender identity until grade 8 will have serious implications for young people. We urge parents, teachers, allies and activists to continue fighting for the high-quality, evidenced based sexuality education that all children need to live full healthy lives.

Most children will develop a sense of their gender identity between the ages of two and five. Delaying discussion of gender diversity until children are thirteen can cause real harm for young people and their families.

Across Canada, children are receiving sub-par, inconsistent sex-ed. No curriculum in Canada meets internationally recognized human rights standards and for Ontario to choose to regress on sex-ed at all, when parents, teachers, and the young people themselves are clearly demanding a comprehensive curriculum, is a blow to the health and well-being of young people.

Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sex-Ed and Human Rights Obligations

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau P.C., M.P.

Prime Minister of Canada

Langevin Block

Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister,

I write to inform you of an official communication delivered by UN human rights experts demanding Canada take immediate steps to ensure compliance with human rights obligations. We request your immediate action to implement recommendations contained in the communication.

In December 2018, Canada received a communication from the United Nations, calling on the government to uphold young people’s right to comprehensive sexuality education in every jurisdiction in Canada, and within the province of Ontario, in particular. The communication comes as a result of a submission of evidence by Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights (Planned Parenthood Canada), in collaboration with The 519 and SHORE Centre, drawing attention to the human rights violations occurring as a result of the Government of Ontario’s decision to repeal the 2015 health curriculum and revert back to the outdated 1998 curriculum.

The 1998 health curriculum excludes lessons on LGBTQ+ identities and families, consent, media literacy appropriate for the digital age, gender equality, and inclusivity of persons with disabilities. It puts the health and lives of young people at risk – particularly LGBTQ+ youth, women and girls.

Canada is being called upon to explain and account for the serious breach of human rights occurring as a result of Ontario’s policy decision. Specifically, the federal government must: (1) “ensure that all individuals and groups have access to comprehensive, non-discriminatory, evidence-based, scientifically accurate and age appropriate information on all aspects of sexual and reproductive health, including gender equality, sexual and gender-based violence, and the issue of consent” and (2) ensure all jurisdictions comply with international human rights obligations. The communication clearly establishes the role of the federal government in ensuring provincial jurisdictions comply with human rights obligations.

This official communication comes after Canada received and accepted a recommendation through the 2018 UN Universal Periodic Review process to take action to ensure equal access to comprehensive sexuality education throughout the country. Canada now has four years to meet its human rights obligations and take meaningful action to remedy the inconsistent and sub-standard implementation of comprehensive sexuality education.

Action Canada, alongside our allies, call upon the federal government to engage immediately with the Government of Ontario to ensure the human rights of children and youth in accordance with international human rights treaties as well as the Canadian Charter and the Ontario Human Rights Code. The ongoing violation of young people’s rights to non-discrimination, health and education is unacceptable.

We demand federal leadership on comprehensive sexuality education, in line with Canada’s human rights obligations. Specifically, we call on you to:

  • Engage with Ontario Premier Doug Ford in an effort to immediately reinstate the 2015 health curriculum.
  • Establish a joint Public Health Agency of Canada/Department for Women and Gender Equality awareness raising campaign in support of quality, evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education.
  • Allocate resources to the Public Health Agency of Canada to invest in capacity building and training of sexual health educators.
  • Conduct regular national monitoring; through inter alia broad-based surveys, of a robust set of sexual health indicators disaggregated by relevant factors including gender, age, location ethnicity and others.
  • Launch a national strategy towards equalizing access to comprehensive sexuality education across Provinces and Territories.

Scientifically accurate, evidence-based, non-discriminatory, age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education is the internationally recognized right of all young people. It is essential for their sexual and reproductive health and it works to end gender-based discrimination and violence, including homophobia and transphobia.

As signatory to international human rights law, it is your responsibility to ensure all young people in Canada have access to sexual and reproductive health information. Action Canada remains available to support any effort aimed at ensuring every young person’s right to comprehensive sexuality education is realized.


Sandeep Prasad

Executive Director, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights

[email protected], 613-241-4474 x3

CC: The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism

The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice

The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs

What to Look for in Budget 2019

For Budget 2019, we’re asking the Canadian government for:

  • A global investment in sexual and reproductive rights
  • A public, universal, single payer Pharmacare strategy
  • A national affordable childcare strategy

Amidst a global climate of ongoing backlash against women’s rights and the lack of sound Pharmacare and childcare strategies at the national-level, Canada, now more than ever, needs to step up.

Canada needs to show its commitment to gender equality, and it starts with Budget 2019.

Click here to read our Budget 2019 Primer. 

International Women’s Day: Feminist Asks for an Election Year

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD) and only 224 days until Canada’s federal election! Start your engines, folks: feminists in this country have a lot to say!

As we celebrate our movements and our activism, let’s also turn our laser-sharp gaze towards the government of Canada and our collective political future. What’s working from government policy, programs and initiatives? Where are they missing the mark? How are they failing completely?

For “Election Year IWD”, Action Canada is excited to announce our 2019 Election Campaign Wish List! Stay tuned for the release of our full Elections package with policy proposals, background information and candidate questions!


The Government of Canada can and must end unequal access to abortion for all people in Canada!


We’re tired of demanding access to abortion in Canada. Aren’t you? Equal access is STILL restricted by age, financial resources, geographic location, immigration status, and physicians refusing to provide the services on moral and religious grounds. The abortion pill is still not available free of charge in two provinces and one territory, even though the Government of Canada is OBLIGED under the Canada Health Act to intervene where abortion is restricted.

We demand that Canada withhold cash transfers to provinces and territories failing to ensure the availability of and access to abortion services.


The Government of Canada has an obligation to ensure every young person’s right to comprehensive sexuality education.


Young people are getting inconsistent, sub-standard sex-ed across the country. The government of Canada has human rights obligation to promote scientifically accurate, gender-sensitive, LGBTQ+ inclusive and sex-positive school curriculums. The Government of Canada must ensure that provinces and territories do not roll-back or restrict sex-ed that upholds the human rights of young people. This means that the federal government must actively engage provinces and territories to address any gaps in implementation and quality for sex-ed and to support educators in delivering sex-ed. Canada has an obligation to ensure human rights everywhere, including in the classroom! Access to quality sex-ed shouldn’t depend on your postal code.

We demand that Canada work to end sub-standard, inconsistent, and regressive sex-ed across Canada.


The Government of Canada must immediately repeal PECA!


Criminalizing bodies, sexuality, gender, reproduction causes serious harm and health risks. In Canada, sex workers risk criminal offence when they take actions to protect their own health and safety. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that criminalization of sex-work promotes violence and violates human rights; yet, after 3.5 years, the government has failed to repeal Protection of Exploited Persons Act (PECA), the dangerous legislation that is placing sex-workers at risk every day.

We demand that the Government of Canada strike the provisions of the criminal code which discriminate against sex workers, and immediately repeal PECA!


The Government of Canada must commit to a Pharmacare Strategy that covers EVERYONE.


Canada is the only country in the world with universal healthcare and no national pharmacare strategy. The ability to manage your own fertility, decide if and when to have children, have healthy pregnancies, affirm your own gender, and prevent, treat or manage STIs (including HIV) should not depend on your income, postal code or immigration status. Any national pharmacare strategy must include all drugs and cover all people, especially the most marginalized.

We demand universal, single payer Pharmacare that respects everyone’s right to health!


The Government of Canada must increase and sustain its global commitment to SRHR!


Backlashes against women’s rights in the U.S. and around the world put the health and lives of women and girls around the world at risk. Canada has boldly stepped up in defense of sexual and reproductive rights through its development assistance and foreign policy. But Canada’s investment is set to end in less than a year. Now more than ever, the global community needs Canada to scale up leadership on sexual and reproductive health and rights. An investment of $500 million a year over 10 years (starting in 2020) in the neglected areas of SRHR would position Canada as a global leader and safeguard against backslides in women’s rights and gender equality. This investment aligns with the Canadian global health sector’s broader vision of a comprehensive approach to Canada’s post-2020 leadership, which calls for $1.4 billion for global health.[1]

We demand sustained investments in global SRHR to meet the needs and promote the rights of woman and girls around the world!

[1] The Thrive Agenda is a collective vision for the future of Canadian leadership in women’s, adolescent and child health and rights around the world, created and endorsed by over 100 of Canada’s leading organizations in global health. Together they are calling for a $1.4 billion renewed commitment to global health beyond 2020, with $500M ringfenced for the neglected areas of SRHR.

Seeking Organizational Support on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

In hosting Women Deliver, Canada will bring together activists, organizations, and actors working towards gender equality and women’s empowerment from around the world. Canada has already invested heavily in efforts to bring a gendered perspective to law and policy making. As a global leader advancing gender equality and women’s rights, this conference is a significant moment for Canada to launch a legacy initiative that would empower women and girls to claim and exercise their rights.

As Canada prepares to host the Women Deliver conference, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, the Canadian Association of Midwives, the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives, and Oxfam Canada have partnered to develop the 3 proposals below to drive progress on sexual and reproductive health and rights in Canada.

Together, we are in the process of meeting with relevant decision-makers to explore interest in the proposals. Widespread cross-movement support for these initiatives will have a significant impact on the success of the initiative and demonstrate unity around priority areas in the realm of sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality, and human rights in Canada.

We are therefore seeking organizational endorsements for this trilogy of proposals.

To endorse, complete this online form or write to [email protected], with the name of your organization and your logo.

Commit to universal cost coverage for contraceptives for all as part of a call for a national public drug plan that is universal, public and single-payer, comprehensive safe and effective, accessible and affordable. Such a plan would provide free access to contraceptive methods and over-the-counter emergency contraceptives for all people in Canada, including those who are non-insured. Millions of women across Canada will benefit from this program. Lower income, marginalized and younger women will gain the most. Click here to read the full proposal »

Invest in the growth and sustainability of Indigenous midwifery and therefore, to the return of birth to Indigenous communities across Canada. This is an opportunity for Canada to demonstrate to the world its response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, compliance to the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and commitment to improve the quality of health services delivered to First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Peoples and to ensuring Indigenous Peoples have control over their health services and programs. Bringing birth back to a community has enormous cultural significance and positive effects in all areas of community health, including for women and their babies. Click here to read the full proposal »

Develop a national initiative to show support for equal access to high quality sex-ed, raise public awareness, and build capacity on the positive impact on individual health, public health and gender equality. This would inform the public of the crucial role sex-ed plays in advancing gender equality, preventing gender-based violence, preventing bullying, promoting health, and empowering youth. This upstream initiative would empower 5 million young people to claim their right to sex-ed. It would highlight the positive impacts of empowering all children and young people with information about their bodies, their health, consent, healthy relationships, teen and youth dating violence, media literacy, LGBT2QI inclusion, body positivity, and gender equality. It is critical to achieving Canada’s efforts towards preventing and addressing gender-based violence, empowering women and girls, achieving public health goals, addressing rising rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and supporting healthy relationships among young people and creating a culture of consent. Click here to read the full proposal »

Statement on Canada’s Interim Report on National Pharmacare

Dr. Eric Hoskins, chair of the National Pharmacare Implementation Committee, revealed an 8-page interim report today on Pharmacare implementation. Dr. Hoskins is correct when he said this morning that far too many people fall through the cracks of our health system when they cannot afford their medication.

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights knows that an alarming number of people cannot afford HIV/AIDS medication, contraceptives, medical abortion, or gender affirming medication among other urgent sexual and reproductive health needs. Every person in Canada has the right to equal access to health, including medication. We are hopeful today that our government will respond to the needs of people and not the financial interests of pharmaceutical and insurance corporations.

While the creation of a national drug agency and a national formulary is a step towards creating a universal Pharmacare strategy, today’s announcement failed to answer our most important questions. Will a national formulary cover the full scope of all drugs needed to support sexual and reproductive health choices? Will it be a universal single payer system or a patchwork system? A National Pharmacare Strategy must cover all drugs and be universal to ensure that all people, including young people and vulnerable people, can claim their right to health.

Read Action Canada’s briefing for the National Pharmacare Implementation Committee’s Consultation on SRHR and Pharmacare