Victorian girls will soon be free to wear pants and shorts to school every day after the state government announced it was stepping in to make it clear to schools that dresses-and-skirts-only policies are not okay.
It comes less than a fortnight after WA’s government made a similar announcement and is a fantastic win for little girls and teens in Victorian public schools who are currently forced to wear skirts and dresses. Unfortunately, though, it will not affect private schools that have restrictive policies in place.
Melbourne mum-of-two Simone Cariss has been campaigning for national change to school uniform policies since she was told last year her daughter Asha could not wear pants or shorts to her Catholic primary school.
“I was floored… Despite my best efforts, it was still a ‘no’. So I felt very passionate that this shouldn’t be something that every little girl should have to fight for,” Cariss told Mamamia.
She launched a petition to create national change, which later led to her teaming up with university lecturer Amanda Mergler to form advocacy group Girls Uniform Agenda.
As the co-founder and Victorian rep, the Essendon mum has been pushing for legislative change so that schools are only able to dictate their uniform policy within the guidelines that it will provide equal opportunity to both genders.
She says she’s thrilled that local girls will be able to wear what ever they want, but wants to see the change rolled out Australia-wide, as there are states that are falling behind society’s expectations of what girls and women can wear.
"We looked at the data in Brisbane and 70 per cent of public high schools don't offer choices for girls, which is really, really high, so we're trying to work with the state education department up there to tighten up the wording of their policy, which is not enforced," Cariss says.
"My friend in Sydney has not been able to find a public school in her area to send her daughter to that gives her the choice of pants and shorts, so she's had to send her to a private school where they don't even have a uniform."
Meanwhile, Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said he would move to introduce rules that would require schools to allow girls the option to choose pants and shorts by the start of next year.
"The vast majority of schools provide the option of wearing pants or shorts for female students, but some don't," he told ABC Radio Melbourne.
"There's been a campaign — many parents' organisations, students contacting me, contacting the Government — and I just thought this was a common sense decision to make."
But why is it so important?
Cariss tells Mamamia that propagating the rigid gender stereotype that girls wear skirts and boys wear pants can be doing more damaging than parents might think.
"It sends the message that how they look is more important than how they're able to function - and that's the wrong message to be sending to our young girls," she said.
"We want to be setting them up to take on careers in STEM - we don't want to hold them back. It's really crucial that our girls have the choice."
However, she said the primary reason was that wearing skirts and dresses held girls back from physical activity in the playground.
Listen: Are there some changes we should be making to the canteen as well? (Post continues...)
"The research shows girls wearing dresses and skirts exercise far less than girls wearing pants and shorts," the mum explains.
"To that is the modesty issue. Girls become aware of not wanting to flash their underwear and so they stop playing on the monkey bars and stop doing cartwheels.
"Dresses are really restrictive, so they just stop participating particularly in that incidental physical activity."
Bafflingly, Cariss said a common argument she came up against from schools was that they were "preparing girls for the world of work".
To demonstrate to schools that women in the workplace actually wear pants Girls Uniform Agenda has launched a campaign asking women to share photos through their Facebook page of them wearing pants at work.
- Why do we still make girls wear skirts and dresses as school uniform?
- “School uniforms are harming our kids and need to go.”
- This is why girls’ school uniforms really need to be on the agenda.