This morning as my daughter played at the park, I looked around at what the girls were wearing. Overwhelmingly, I saw shorts, tights and long pants. I saw one girl in a skirt, and not a single one in a dress. You are probably not surprised. When girls want to be active and play, they put on shorts and pants.
In Australian schools however, a large number of girls are required to wear dresses and skirts. An analysis of secondary schools in Brisbane, for example, found that 70% of public schools, and 100% of private schools did not offer girls the option of shorts and pants. This means that many girls who have the freedom and comfort of wearing shorts and pants everywhere else must relinquish this right at the school gate.
As girls enter high school we see their physical activity levels decline. Figures collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics demonstrate that adolescent girls do significantly less exercise than boys (those boys running around at school in their shorts). A number of recent articles have pointed to the fact that girls’ school uniforms, due to their restrictive nature, may be at least partly responsible for this problem.
In addition, articles have surfaced that argue that to deny girls the right to wear shorts and pants to school is to engage in gender discrimination. The inability to move freely, and the concerns of modesty that come with wearing skirts and dresses has also been widely discussed, with many commentators pointing out that boys are not subjected to the same restrictions.
Currently, state education departments offer wish-washy advice around uniform policy, and ultimately leave final decisions up to each school. The haphazard way in which choice for girls may or may not be offered, and the fact that a change of principal at a school can result in a removal of choices in girls’ uniform options, highlights the need for clear policy and legislation in this area.
A school system that refuses to allow girls a choice of shorts and pants at school is not one that I can accept. With co-founder Simone Cariss, I have created Girls’ Uniform Agenda to advocate for uniform choice for girls.
Girls’ Uniform Agenda is an Australia wide group, comprising parents, academics, educators and public health executives. We aim to:
1. Support parents and girls who seek to have uniform policy changes implemented in their schools;
2. Encourage school leaders to recognise that girls should be offered a range of suitable formal and informal uniform options, including shorts and long pants;
3. Work with uniform suppliers to increase the range of girls’ shorts and pants options available; and
4. Campaign for legislative and policy change in this area.
The Girls’ Uniform Agenda website provides a range of resources that parents and students can edit and use as they seek to generate change in their school’s uniform policies. We have detailed the relevant Education Department policies and legislation for each state, and provide advice and direction on arguments that can be put forward to support the rights of girls to dress appropriately at school.
You can find out more about Girls’ Uniform Agenda via Facebook, Twitter and our website. If we all work together, we can bring schools into the 21 st century, and ensure that girls are offered shorts and pants as part of their everyday school uniform. Then we will see girls continuing to play, climb and swing at school, just like they do in the parks.
Author Bio: Dr Amanda Mergler
Amanda is a mother to two children, Benjamin aged 8 and Sophie aged 6. She is a Senior Lecturer in Educational and Developmental Psychology at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and a registered psychologist. She co-founded Girls’ Uniform Agenda after her daughter was denied the right to wear girls’ shorts and pants to primary school.