Girls’ Uniform Agenda are leading a movement across Australia to challenge and change current school uniforms. Many schools across Australia, at both the primary and secondary level, require girls to wear dresses and skirts to school, and turning up in shorts or pants will see girls given detention. As girls wear shorts and pants in every other aspect of their lives in Australia, and boys wear shorts and pants to school, it is direct discrimination to refuse to allow them to wear shorts and pants to school because of their gender.
There are many reasons why girls should be allowed to wear shorts and long pants to school, but one of the most notable is that skirts and dresses restrict how active girls can be. Toward the end of 2016, Active Healthy Kids Australia (AHKA), a collaboration of physical activity and health researchers from around the nation, released its second Report Card on the Physical Activity of Children and Young People.
The Report Card assigned a grade of D- for both Overall Physical Activity and for Sedentary Behaviours. Schranz and Vincent (2016), from AHKA argue that “the solution to this problem … requires the involvement of parents, schools, communities, local, state/territory and federal governments. We need a culture shift that sees physical activity being prioritised every day”.
Allowing girls to wear shorts and long pants to school every day, and not just on ‘sports days’, would go a large way to increasing their likelihood of doing physical activity. To continue to force girls into skirts and dresses as their only option completely undermines the cultural shift that Schranz and Vincent describe, and sees school actively undermining the physical activity of girls.
Mary Barry, the CEO of Our Watch, the national organisation to prevent violence against women and their children, wrote in The Age on March 28, 2017, that, “continuing to enforce limiting clothing regulations on girls is one of many ways they are reminded of their unequal status. It is seemingly “small” issues like this that, taken together, create a broader landscape of gender inequality across our society. But we can change this – a refreshing new approach to uniforms is just one example of how small changes can have a big impact, helping to break down restrictive stereotypes and enabling all children to be free to discover the world without unnecessary barriers. What better place to start than in schools? And what better time than now?”
Girls’ Uniform Agenda (GUA) is a national group comprised of parents, academics, public health executives and researchers. We are working to create the change we wish to see in girls’ school uniforms by placing pressure on Education Department’s and individual schools to bring uniform policies into line with current state policy and community expectations. Additionally we are working with principals, teachers and related education bodies to make change happen school by school.
GUA also strives to empower girls and parents across the country to request uniform changes in schools where the rights of girls in this area are not being upheld. If you would like to access the resources we have available for parents and students, sign our petition for change in this area, or contact us to request or offer support, please go to our website.
Members of the Girls’ Uniform Agenda Executive include: Dr Amanda Mergler (QLD, co-founder), Ms Simone Cariss (VIC, co-founder), Assoc. Prof. Susan Thomas (NSW), Alison Boston (NSW), Dr Diane Caney (TAS), Ms Krystina Myhre (WA), and Dr Sarah Cohen-Woods (SA).
Senior Lecturer, School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education, Queensland University of Technology