Canada: Petition Launched Against Segregation of Menstruating Girls in Public School


"My concern is the Toronto District School Board (is) using tax money to tell girls that they are second-class citizens," Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, told the Toronto Sun. He's talking about the District's decision to allow a Muslim Friday prayer session in the Valley Park Middle School cafeteria, where it forces girls to sit behind the boys, and sends menstruating girls to the back where they can only listen, but not participate.


In just the past few hours, over 2000 people have signed a petition started by a Toronto resident, Tim Das, asking that the misogynist prayer sessions end -- that if the school wants to provide religious accommodations, it must still uphold its own gender equity policy and the terms of Ontario's Education Act. "The moment I read this story, I was aghast -- as a first generation Canadian and child of South Asian immigrants, as a Toronto resident whose hard earned tax-dollars were being used to facilitate this extreme misogyny, and most of all as the father of a sweet, spirited six year old girl in the Toronto Public School system," Das told "After receiving an unsatisfactory response from the Chair of the School Board, I knew I had to do more." That's when he decided to start the petition.

The Muslim Canadian Congress is so strongly opposed to these gender segregated prayer sessions, it's threatening legal action. Alia Hogben, Executive Director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, has also spoken out against the school's segregated prayer sessions. Major Canadian papers on the right and left of the political spectrum have published editorials denouncing this practice, which gives school sanction to isolating and embarrassing young girls for a basic bodily function.

The school district is hiding behind the excuse that it's just providing religious accommodation -- yet major organizations that represent members of the religion in question say that segregating 12-year-old girls is not okay. Does this make sense? “How did the TDSB pick the worst form of gender separation and say this is Islam?” Fatah questions.

In criticizing the school's decision, Fatah argues that the reason for these sexist prayer sessions is "white, liberal guilt," stating in no uncertain terms: "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." That's a serious condemnation, especially coming from the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress.

One Trustee, Michael Couteau, has already told the Toronto Star that he believes that the prayer sessions should be conducted in accordance with the district's gender equity policy, which is all that Tim Das' petition is asking for. "A school should be a safe space for all children," the petition opens. Now, supporters just need to convince the rest of the Board that this is in the best interest of students. You can stand up for girls and sign his petition by clicking here.

Photo credit: Zainub

by Alex DiBranco · July 20, 2011

Alex DiBranco is a Editor who has worked for the Nation, Political Research Associates, and the Center for American Progress. She is now based in New York City.