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Girls & Women

Pants or Skirts — Regardless of Gender, Students Should Have a Choice in School Uniform

Flickr - Fox Shumacher

There has been a long tradition of school uniforms in Australian schools. But it’s only been recently that there has been discussion about why in many schools, it is still mandatory for girls to wear skirts or dresses.

It's exactly this topic that Amanda Megler's debating in a recent column in The Age.

In her op/ed, she runs through the various factors as to why girls should have the choice between wearing skirts or shorts.

Wearing skirts can restrict movement, and studies have actually shown that girls do significantly less physical exercise while wearing a skirt.

While Australian state education departments require schools to comply with anti-discrimination legislation, it is largely left up to schools to form individual uniform policies and a large amount still require girls to wear skirts or dresses.

A Melbourne mother recently started a petition after her daughter was refused the right to wear pants at her school. The amount of signatures shows growing support and concern for uniform equality in Australian schools.

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Two years ago a Brazillian transgender school student Maria Muniz was fined for wearing a skirt to school.

"For me, wearing a skirt was about expressing my freedom over who I am inside and not how society sees me," Muniz told Orange News. In protest all her classmates — both boys and girls — decided to wear skirts to school on the same day. After the protest the fines were dropped and the school’s principal announced they were considering changing their strict dress code.

uniform protest copy.jpg

While examining “unconscious inequalities” in schools, in an article for The Guardian, Laura McInerney said, “Uniforms should do what their name suggests: unify students, instead of dividing them.”

She recalls the moment when new uniforms were announced including different colour ties for male and female students. McInerney points out that for students struggling with gender identity, it would not have been as simple as buying a red or orange tie but rather an excruciating and perhaps embarrassing process.

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This week we saw a new trend continuing to emerge at the Golden Globe awards — women rocking the pantsuit.

"I wanted girls and women to know that [wearing a dress] is not a requirement," said Evan Rachel Wood. Hopefully this trend of dressing for oneself rather than for the expectations of others will spread more widely.

Regardless of their gender, it’s time both male and female students were given the freedom to choose between pants and skirts.

Uniform equality is not just a fashion choice, it’s about teaching girls they are no different from boys and have as much right to play sports, move freely and not be restricted by their clothes.

How we treat girls throughout their education sets the tone for how women are treated in the workforce, boardrooms and government.

If we are going to end extreme poverty by 2030, achieving Global Goal No. 5 — gender equality and empowering women and girls is a must. And that starts by allowing girls to have the same freedom as boys, at school.