Why do you think investing in education is important regarding treatment of marginalized communities in our society?
The general conclusions of the analyses we have done in the past are that textbooks and learning materials in secondary and higher education contain discriminatory and stigmatizing contents towards marginalized communities (drug users, sex workers, LGBT people and people living with HIV), in addition to incorrect contents regarding drug use and criminalization of drug users.
Very often contents of similar nature appear in university textbooks that are part of the curriculum in the education of professional staff (social workers, legal counsellors, psychiatrists, police officers etc.) who continue to work with drug users or even assist them in the treatment. We cannot expect quality drug treatments or ending police brutality against drug users when textbooks in our education are burdened with prejudices, stigma and criminalization of drug use.
Another aspect in the importance of detection and correction of such teaching contents is the human rights aspect. Education itself is a human right and an essential requirement for the realization of other human rights. Education as a human right is prescribed with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26, which apart from guarantying the right to education to everyone (Article 26 (1)), also prescribes that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms (Article 26 (2)). Education should serve as a tool for the promotion of human rights, instead of being a source for their violation.
The right to education carries four fundamental characteristics: availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability. A state is considered to respect its obligations regarding the right of education only when it has realized these characteristics. Availability, as one of education’s characteristics, implies provision of functional educational institutions and programs adapted towards the needs of all people with regards to their differences and characteristics. Accessibility provides prohibition of discrimination in education. This means that discrimination in education is prohibited on any basis and education has to be adapted to everyone, particularly to the most marginalized groups. Acceptability implies that education, including curricula have to be relevant, of good quality and appropriate. Adaptability implies that education has to be flexible so it can adapt to the social changes and needs of pupils and students within their social and cultural diversity.
Such regulation of the right to education clearly eliminates all incorrect, irrelevant and outdated information and statements that contain insults and discrimination for entire groups of citizens. Education must not be construed as a propaganda tool, conveying only the bad side of the drug use story with exaggerations not deemed as believable even by small children nowadays, particularly in the context of textbooks applied in scientific disciplines which by default are based on human rights, as for instance social work.
Can you share some of your efforts towards eliminating discrimination, stigmatization and exclusion of marginalized communities from educational programs?
The Coalition in 2011 issued the analysis “Homosexuality in Education in the Republic of Macedonia,” and the analysis “Drug Use and Living with HIV in Education” in 2015.
In “Homosexuality in Education in the Republic of Macedonia” we analyzed several secondary and higher education textbooks and we established heterosexists and discriminatory contents on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It was further determined that the textbook authors are not aware of or seem to purposefully avoid contemporary literature and research while working on the textbooks. Among the listed resources in some of the textbooks was literature from more than 50 years ago. After the analysis, we sent four petitions to the Commission for Protection against Discrimination against the textbook authors, in two of which the Commission established discrimination. However, in our experience the Commission proved that, despite the positive decisions regarding two of the petitions, it is not consistent in its practices, hence the different decisions regarding similar textbook contents. Accordingly, the Commission cannot be considered as an efficient instrument for dealing with discriminatory contents in textbooks.
Naturally, we also addressed the Rector’s Office of the St. Cyril and Methodius University, the Ministry of Education and the Bureau of Education Development to retract certain textbooks with discriminatory contents and to revise all textbooks and learning materials in secondary and higher education. Unfortunately, we are yet to receive a response. These institutions, pursuant their competences and their role in education development have to bear the responsibility, to filter the textbooks and replace them with new contents in accordance with the universal goals of education in order to promote respect of human rights, as well as in accordance with contemporary science.
We shall continue to submit petitions to the Commission for Protection against Discrimination on the basis of the findings in the analysis “Drug Use and Living with HIV in Education” and shall continue to remind institutions to do their job.
What were the general findings of the analysis “Drug Use and Living with HIV in Education”?
We analyzed 22 textbooks and learning materials from secondary and higher education in the field of sociology, pedagogy, ethics, psychology, psychiatry, criminal law, criminology, penology and clinical toxicology. The higher education textbooks are used in medicine, law, sociology and social work, psychology, pedagogy, philosophy, security and related studies.
Almost each of the analyzed textbooks contained terminology which constitutes hate speech towards people who use drugs and use of wrong constructions for HIV and AIDS. People who use drugs are most often called “junkies,” or terms like “narcomania,” “narco-addict,” “enjoying opioid drugs,” “toxicomania,” “junkie use,” “addict passion,” “doing drugs” and “addicts.”.
Regarding the terms used in relation to living with HIV, in most of the textbooks the authors do not differentiate between HIV and AIDS. Therefore, PLHIV, HIV and AIDS in the textbook are called: “aids,” “plague of the 20th c.,” “ill from AIDS“, “Aids,” “carriers of the virus” and “risk groups.” Not only are these terms incorrect, but they also very clearly indicate to the authors’ lack of knowledge about the differences between HIV and AIDS. It is most likely that some of them are not even acquainted with the antiretroviral therapy which has existed since the end of the 1980s. Furthermore, homophobia is inevitable when writing of HIV, so instead of speaking about risky behaviour, homosexuals are represented as the main culprits for the HIV infection.
In general most textbooks negatively present drug use and the people who use drugs. The classification of the subjects themselves in the textbook is problematic, hence drug use is mentioned in chapters entitled “social deviations,” “deviant behaviour,” “negative occurrences in sex life,” “pathologic, socially negative occurrences,” “forms of deviant behaviour,” even drug use being classified under “crime.” The presentation of people using drugs varies (at times even in the same textbook) from people with no moral, mentally ill, unfortunates, even bullies, criminals and murderers. Regarding criminalization of drug use, the most voiced view is that drug use leads to criminal behaviour.
There is also arbitrariness when presenting people addicted to drugs as patients. In the Psychiatry Textbook, volume 1, the author presents people addicted to drugs as patients with discouraging therapeutic results and “low treatment motivation”. This attitude is random and the guilt is located in the patients instead of questioning the existing programs for treatment of addiction disorders.
Finally, drug use from a human rights aspect and patients’ rights aspect seems to be absent from textbooks. The authors, instead of talking about stigma and discrimination towards people who use drugs contribute towards its increase. Regarding HIV, basic, relevant information are missing, from spreading incorrect information regarding HIV to not mentioning the existence of antiretroviral therapy. Naturally, health rights violation of people who live with HIV and stigmatization is nowhere mentioned.
Interviewer: Irena Cvetkovic