I can talk to my children about their sexuality and sexual health on my own. I understand that teaching children about these aspects of life is very important. However, I do not want teachers, who may not share my values, to impart this knowledge to my children. I want to reserve the right to decide when and how to educate my children about these issues.
These were my sentiments on Ontario's Health and Physical Education Curriculum -- until I decided to make a video on the subject.
For my research, I went to Queen's Park in Toronto where many parents had gathered to protest against the curriculum this summer. Protesting parents had chosen to use the words "sex ed" in their chants at the rally for a heightened effect rather than the proper nomenclature for the curriculum. A mother who I spoke with took great pride in telling me that her two daughters, one in grade 5 and the other in grade 3, had helped her make the posters they were holding. One read: "Say no sexualization of our children."
Hesitant to bring this up in front of her young children, I tried to get her alone to ask, "Didn't they ask you what it means?"
"Yeah, they did," she smiled and added, "I told them it is something we should not talk about. That it is dirty."
I must have stared back at her with incredulity as she quickly added: "They were more busy with colouring in the words and stuff."
At that moment, I wanted to ask her if she really believed that a third or fifth grader who had been introduced to new words would not try to find out what they meant simply because they were told not to.
This was an eye-opener for me. I had to accept that my children would get exposed to information about sex much earlier then I might want them to. If related words were being flashed and chanted in the presence of young children by these parents -- who were arguing that the curriculum is age-inappropriate -- then what were the chances that my child wouldn't be introduced to these subjects sooner than later?
What else struck me at the protests was the absence of young boys and girls who may have recently graduated from school. There were parents at the protest and their young children who they had brought along. But where was the voice of the youth and young adults who had a bigger stake in the matter? What were their experiences?
As the next step in my research, I spoke to several young Muslim girls since I decided to focus on my own faith community. Most of them, including those who spoke to me off-camera, had turned to Internet or to their peers with their queries. They did so because they found their parents reluctant, ill-equipped or too judgmental to answer their questions.
Call me naïve, but I was surprised to learn that many girls in the community were turning to porn for answers, which was skewing their perception of matters like desirability and consent. From these girls, I learned about Snapchat, Tinder and similar apps -- and the opportunities they offered to online bullies and pedophiles. I had no clue about these apps. I felt groovy enough using Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. I realized that as a parent I would need a guide, a resource and a partner, to help my children understand issues around sexual health and safety just as I did for other subjects that they learnt.
#WeSayKnow -- Muslim women respond to protests against Ontario's Health and Physical Education Curriculum
And then there is consent. You may teach your child about consent but it will not ensure their safety until I teach my child about it as well. Many girls mentioned to me that they wish someone had taught them about consent and how to deal with inappropriate touching by close friends and relatives.
All these insights changed my stance on whether schools should teach children about sexual health and safety. There is a need for a standard curriculum to be taught to all children and it needs to be done in an educational environment. Of course, this doesn't excuse a parent from their role of supplementing this education and instilling values that are part of their faith or culture. Parents can use the education provided at school as a framework to build on and guide their children instead of doing so without resources on their own.
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