“Why can’t I wear pants like the boys?”
How do you tell a six-year-old that the reason she can’t wear pants at school is because she is a girl?
How do you tell a six-year-old that even if she feels uncomfortable running, playing soccer, kicking a footy with the other kids at lunchtime in her dress she has to lump it because she is a girl?
How do you tell a six-year-old that at her school the boys have more rights?
It’s a question a Melbourne mother of two is now grappling with.
And it’s a system she has decided she wants to change.
Asha Cariss via Facebook.
Asha Cariss, 6, is a grade one student at an unnamed Melbourne Catholic primary school. Her mother, Simone says that Asha is uncomfortable playing sport in her mandatory school tunic and thick stockings.
“My daughter loves the school and she's got a lot of friends there,” Simone Cariss told The Age.
She just wants to be allowed to wear pants.
Mrs Cariss went to the school principal to ask them to change the uniform policy so that her daughter could be comfortable at school.
She was told no.
"[Asha] basically asked, 'Why can't I wear pants like the boys?' " Mrs Cariss said.
"I'm not going to say to her, 'because you're a girl'."
So instead, her mother started a petition asking the Victorian Department of Education and the Catholic Education Department to legislate uniform gender equality in schools.
Simone Cariss and her husband, Blair with Asha via Facebook.
Mrs Cariss wrote on Facebook: “My daughter simply wants the right to wear pants or shorts at school - not just on sports days but everyday. It is 2016 after all and she is still forced to wear a dress (which is very different from choosing to wear a dress). It's antiquated, sexist and in my view discriminatory.”
“To some this may seem trivial, but to my daughter (and plenty of other kids) it makes it harder to get to school everyday, harder to join in playing soccer with the boys, harder to feel like herself as she doesn't ever choose to wear dresses and harder for all kids to avoid taking on society imposed gender stereotypes.”
She says she doesn’t want to name the school, as her daughter loves everything else about her education.
"I just want this to be changed for every little girl out there who wants to wear pants like half of their peers. It's not about naming and shaming the school,” she told The Age.
Mrs Cariss said she had two choices - a discrimination suit or a petition - and she decided to go for the latter.
“I am not the first to jump up and down about uniform gender equality and I sure as hell won't be the last (although how awesome would it be if things changed and I was the last!).”
A spokesman for the Victorian education minister James Merlino said students should have "options". Via IStock.
The Equal Opportunity Act says that a uniform is considered reasonable if the school has taken into account the views of the school community.
The Department of Education and Training told The Age school councils have the authority to implement dress codes for their students.
A spokesman for the Victorian education minister James Merlino said students should have "options".
"Government school councils are advised to develop dress code requirement that are similar for both sexes," he said.
"Generally speaking, options should be available to all students."
Catholic Education Melbourne executive director Stephen Elder told The Age decisions around uniforms were dealt with at “an individual school level.”
"This autonomy is one of the core components to making Catholic education great, providing our schools with the freedom and flexibility to act in the best interests of their students and families," Mr Elder said.
In NSW the Department of Education and Training (NSW DET) requires schools to consider current anti-discrimination laws when formulating a uniform the policy says that a "school's uniform policy should take into account the diverse nature of the student population in the school and not disadvantage any student.”
In Queensland, the Department of Education and Training suggests that schools “offer a gender neutral uniform option for students.”
But not all do.
Simone Cariss says that Asha ( pictured) simply wants to be treated equally to her peers. Via Facebook.
For Simone Cariss, its frustrating that the two bodies she has been trying to get answers from spoke to journalists but not to her. She says though that their answers are “typical watery, non committal jargon already on their websites.”
“Not good enough,” she writes on Facebook.
“When a school doesn't have a school board and the principal doesn't agree, as a parent I am then forced to make an anti-discrimination claim against the school to plead my case. That is wrong. When my daughter simply wants to be treated equally to her peers (including the boys). Why is the school system so far behind the rest of society???”
To sign her petition go here.