Uniform Gender Equality In Schools needs to be legislated
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MY DAUGHTER'S STORY
My daughter's primary school in Melbourne has declined a request for my daughter to wear pants as part of the winter uniform. Pants are approved school uniform for the boys only. Girls must wear a tunic in winter and a dress in summer (apart from sports uniform days).
My daughter, like many other girls, simply wants the choice to wear pants like half of her peers, with the warmth and freedom to be active at school and travelling to/from school. She constantly asks "why can't I wear pants like the boys?" "Because you're a girl" is not something I am prepared to say to my 6 year old daughter. A daughter who I have raised to believe she can do and conquer anything, regardless of her gender, and that she can like what she wants to like and not what gender stereotypes dictate she should like.
GIRLS ARE ACTIVE TOO
Dresses disadvantage girls like my daughter who want to play footy, run, climb and ride a bike to school. The boys get to wear pants and shorts which facilitate these activities far better than a dress. I won't stand for a policy that only encourages and promotes girls to be active on sports days (at my daughters school this is twice per week). What about the rest of the time?
The Australian Government recently launched a new campaign prompted by alarming research showing girls are only half as active as their male peers by the time they become teenagers. This campaign called “Girls Make Your Move” is a fantastic initiative. However it flies in the face of our young girls who are forced to wear heavy, long tunics and uncomfortable tights in winter and dresses that risk bearing their underwear in summer should they want to be active like their male peers.
I have noted many of the perceived complexities around anti-discrimination legislation and have read the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into dress codes and school uniforms in Victorian schools that was conducted in 2007. At that point the inquiry acknowledged that gender discrimination in relation to uniforms may be an area of risk for schools (legally) but refrained from recommending that a gender neutral uniform option be legislated for.
I however struggle to see the complexities in the legislation. It is against the law to discriminate based on gender. It seems pretty clear to me that anti-discrimination legislation is in breach when schools can so blatantly enforce that girls must wear a dress when there are other options available to other students in the same school (i.e. the boys get to wear pants).
It is now 9 years on from that enquiry, the year 2016, and the issue of gender discrimination and gender equality has not gone away, in fact it is more poignant than ever. It's time to change, most schools have, but not all.
I digress to bring up a publication called 'Change the Story'. It is a framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and children. In their words “what this framework makes clear is that gender inequality is the core of the problem and it is the heart of the solution.” I would encourage all interested parties and key stakeholders to read the framework if you haven't already.
Imagine the impact on our most impressionable young people of a single policy. A policy that REQUIRES schools who have uniforms to offer options that do not discriminate based on gender. In effect diminishing core gender stereotypes before they even begin.
UNIFORM GENDER EQUALITY NEEDS TO BE LEGISLATED
The purpose of this petition is for policy makers to stand up and legislate that ALL schools that require students to wear a uniform MUST offer options that don't discriminate based on gender. What is offered to one student should be offered to all. So for my daughter if she wants to wear a dress she can but is not forced to. If she wants to wear pants/shorts she has the choice (not just on sports days). And this needs to NOT be at the discretion of individual schools.
My daughter's school does not have a school board or council to take our concerns to. The alternative is to make an anti-discrimination claim against the school. This is likely to be a stressful process for all involved. Not to mention that my daughter loves her school in every other way and wishes to stay there. Of course this still remains an option but I hope this petition is one of many voices that can lobby for this simple but fundamental change that is well overdue.
PLEASE SIGN AND SHARE, SHARE, SHARE! #girlswearpantstoo
My daughter will appreciate your support - as I'm sure generations of children will in the future. #girlswearpantstoo
If you have read this far you may be interested to know I have reached out to the following organisations:
Victorian Department of Education – no response
Catholic Education Department – no response
The Anti discrimination and human rights commission – response within 1 business day and general advice offered. Advised next step is to make formal complaint against our school.
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