January 10, 2017

Why do we still make girls wear skirts and dresses as school uniform?

While the wearing of school uniforms has a long history across Australia, we are only just starting to talk about the expectations around what girls wear to school.

From discussion about the lack of change in girls uniforms over time, to questions about why schools need to divide students down gender lines at all, various groups are asking why girls are still required to wear skirts and dresses at schools.

Girls’ uniforms and physical activity

For some parents, requiring girls to wear skirts and dresses to school is an outdated expectation that amounts to gender disadvantage and discrimination. As Research shows,

skirts and dresses “restrict movement in real ways; wearers must negotiate how they sit, how they play, and how quickly they move. Skirt-wearing, consciously and unconsciously, imposes considerations of modesty and immodesty, in ways that trousers do not”.

Wearing a skirt can also inhibit a girl’s ability to participate in sports.

A study conducted in one Australian primary school in 2012 found that girls did significantly less exercise over a two-week period when wearing a school dress than they did when wearing shorts.

Research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that young women do significantly less physical activity than young men.

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Reasons given for this include the fear of being judged or ridiculed, and the tension between wanting to appear feminine and attractive, and the sweaty, muscular image attached to active girls.

It can be argued that making girls wear skirts and dresses plays directly into this tension and their fears.

In an attempt to support girls exercising more, the Australian government launched a campaign in February 2016 called “Girls Make Your Move”.

The focus on girls is important, as regular physical activity and exercise is associated with improved school performance, a greater sense of personal responsibility and group cooperation, and reduced drug and alcohol consumption.

While expensive education and awareness campaigns may encourage more girls to engage in sport, a simple change to what they are required to wear to school could have a far greater impact.

Education policy

While state education departments have the power to enforce uniform policies that are equitable, they largely leave it to individual schools.

All states require schools to comply with anti-discrimination legislation. In Queensland, for example, the Department of Education’s school dress code guidelines requires that “student dress codes offer gender neutral uniform options for all students”.

However, these policy documents are often wordy and wishy-washy. This leaves schools with a lack of clarity about exactly what is required.

Principals and parents may be confused by the language used in policy documents, and can conclude that allowing flexibility for students who request “special circumstances” is enough.

When this occurs, it is highly likely that most school children will continue to wear the same uniform as the majority of their same-sex peers, as fitting in is crucially important for children and adolescents. This means girls will likely continue to wear skirts and dresses.

While principals may be open to allowing “special circumstances”, it could be argued that the right of girls to wear shorts to school needs to be a given, and not a privilege that needs to be argued for in each individual case.

Will legal challenges be the way forward?

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission identified school uniform policies as an area where schools could find themselves vulnerable to legal action.

The commission said that,

“requiring female students to wear dresses instead of pants may amount to direct discrimination”.

Despite this, a large number of schools continue to require girls to wear skirts and dresses.

To date, there has been no reported case of a school having to remove its requirements for girls to wear skirts and dresses as their only option in order to align with Education Department policy. But the desire for change is growing among parents.

A Melbourne mother recently created a petition on Change.org after her daughter was refused the right to wear trousers to her Catholic school, despite the fact that boys had this option. The petition called for the Victorian Department of Education to legislate that all schools must offer non-discriminatory gender uniform choices.

With 17,951 signatures supporting the petition, the issue is proving to be one that a number of parents think is important.

Will a school need to face legal action before all schools move to have uniform policies that allow girls to be as comfortable and free to move as the boys sitting beside them?

The ConversationImage via Getty

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


  • This is BS. Girls have many more options available to them than boys – including pants in most schools.

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  • I have read a lot of the comments and am confused when my children boy and girl went to school and high school girls had skirts and shirts for summer and track suits for winter and they went to a private christian school we found this to be so good for both of them. Boys had shorts shirts and track suits or long pants for winter with jumpers and or jackets.

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  • With Winter Uniform they can wear a short or long sleeve T-shirt she same colour under their uniform shirts. They othen have uniform jumpers or windcheaters. They at least give them more warmth. The girls can wear petticoats under dresses or skirts.
    Beat this: One Catholic School in SA has a no hat, no play policy and the kids wear them during some sports lessions. The hats are kept at school. They aren’t allowed to wear them to and from school. The Monitors on school crossing duty don’t wear hats. “So much for duty of care”.

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  • I used to play basketball as a kid and when I was starting out the boys used to wear shorts and the girls wore bloomers. At the age of 7 I decided I wasn’t going to wear what looked like “undies” anymore and made my parents buy me shorts. My Dad, being a lawyer, checked the competition rules and noted that there were only rules regarding colour of bottoms and not the type so as long as my shorts were black it was okay. After that the whole team started wearing shorts and eventually our club changed the uniform to shorts. In the years that followed all clubs changed their uniforms to shorts for girls. This was nearly 30 years ago… why haven’t the schools made similar changes?

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  • I went to an all girls catholic school with this type of uniform. A good friend of mine suffered burns as a baby and had scars all over her legs. She lobbied hard for years to get the uniform changed so that girls could wear pants if they wanted to. She wasn’t ashamed or wanted to hide her scars, but she wanted to have that choice. The school never change their uniform and 20 years later they are still only allowed to wear skirts and dresses and this saddens me.

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  • The primary school my kids attended had the same uniform for boys as they did for girls. Knee length shorts and sun safe tops.
    What used to drive me crazy when i was in school…in Winter in freezing cold NZ…the teachers were all rugged up to keep warm but we had skirts and were not allowed to wear stockings, scarves or hats. The boys were in shorts. NOT fair at all.

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  • The uniforms were oudated back when l was in school,time for a change!

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  • Yes I think the uniform policies are outdated indeed.
    Not to speak about the looks of the skirts, culottes and dresses.
    Who in the world would dress their girl in a uniform type dress or skirt with white socks and the old fashioned stiff type of black shoes out on a Saturday or Sunday morning ??
    And then kids are expected to wear their uniform with pride ?
    We just moved so I don’t know what we’re facing at the new school, but at the old school my girls could wear a legging type of trousers with a skivvi type of top in the winter (mine wore them in the summer as well).
    I come from the Netherlands and I never wore school uniforms and till the date of today kids don’t have to wear school uniforms there. Wish it was like that here !

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  • our school recently changed their uniforms back to no pants for females, it is ridiculous, our weather gets down to -3 degrees c and they poor girls have to wear dresses or skirts! Make the teachers wear the same uniforms as the kids and see how quickly they change their tunes


    • It is ridiculous and lacks commonsense. What is their argument for the girls having to wear uniforms that expose their legs during cold weather. Surely these policies are made by ‘dinosaurs’. These ridiculous and stupid standards for girls is the start of how girls ‘should’ look which is another issue that needs to be combated.

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  • It was like this 30 years ago when I was at school. Girls wore a skirt all year round, tights in winter. Boys had shorts and trousers. Girls had short sport skirts boys had shorts or track pants

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  • i dont believe this is that true…many schools (like my daughters) allow shorts (which are skirts and shorts combined) and any parent that buys a dress for their daughter should have also bought bloomers or bike shorts to go underneath so they are comfortable moving around in them….sorry but i honestly dont think it is outdated or sexist. Just some forward thinking and getting some bloomers would solve all this!
    It is only sexist if you make it that way.


    • In saying that they should also be allowed to wear what they want…be it a dress, skirt or pants. Same for the boys!

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  • I think girls should have a choice. I was lucky enough to have the choice between pants or woollen skirt in Winter.

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  • Girls should be able to wear trousers and policies need to be changed. Wearing skirts and dresses is outdated and policies need to be changed. Schools need to be progressive and have the same standards for all students. Equity for all students regardless of gender.

    Reply

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