Johannesburg – The Department of Basic Education (DBE) said it was disappointed with the continued media reports about plans to introduce unisex toilets in schools.
This is based on an initial draft discussion document from the consultations that are currently underway on the Guidelines for the Socio-Educational Inclusion of Diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identity, Expression, and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) in Schools, following consultation before it is published for public comment. The plans have faced heavy criticism.
The department said this was a matter blown out of proportion.
"The narrow focus on ‘unisex toilets’ is unfortunate as it misses the bigger debate on the elimination of gender discrimination in all spheres of society and specifically creating a socially conducive and welcoming environment in schools," DBE said.
The department added that it was not entirely true that it was proposing unisex toilets. Instead, the department is investigating relevant response mechanisms to ensure the constitutional obligation for sexual minorities' social and educational inclusion while avoiding the currently overwhelming litigation.
DBE said what gave rise to the graft guideline was the violation of human rights and discrimination of diverse sexual and gender identities, whether intentional or unintentional; the litigation that the provincial education departments had to deal with relating to this matter; and the school governance issues faced by School Governing Bodies on these matters.
"It was clear that, although we have an unambiguous constitution and inclusive education policies and legislation, schools needed an instrument that would help them avoid violation of children’s rights," the department said.
"The department also needed to ensure children of diverse sexual and gender identities enjoyed the education system like any other child."
DBE said petitions conducted by political parties are premature because a formal public engagement process will take place once the current phase of consultations is concluded.
"The department appeals for calm as the matter is still being processed in terms of the normal protocols. The guidelines are still undergoing district consultations as recommended by the Council of Education Ministers and will be published in 2023," the department said.