Girls in Western Australia Gain Right to Wear Pants and Shorts to School


The dress code made it difficult to participate in athletic activities, Sofia said.

“I think it’s really unfair that my brothers have been allowed to wear shorts, and all through primary school I haven’t been allowed to except when I have sport,” she wrote in her letter. “I really love kicking the footy, netball and doing handstands at recess and lunch. It is annoying doing these things in a skirt.”

Ms. Ellery said that after meeting with the Myhres, she asked her department to ensure the policy was nondiscriminatory.

The change does not apply to private schools, but a number of private schools in Perth said this week that they planned to follow suit. “We are introducing trousers for girls next year, but it’s very much an option,” said Robert Henderson, principal of John XXIII College, a Catholic private school. “It’s certainly not throwing out the traditional uniform.” The decision came after consulting with employees, students and parents.

Here’s a look at the discussion around the policy.

How common is a mandatory skirt policy?

It is unclear how many schools across Australia require girls to wear skirts.

Girls’ Uniform Agenda is still compiling data. So far, about 70 percent of public high schools and all private high schools in Brisbane, Queensland, mandate wearing a skirt, said Amanda Mergler, a co-founder of the group, but a handful of private schools allow exceptions in the winter. That percentage is likely similar in other states, too.

Such a requisite, Dr. Mergler said, can perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes, leaving girls to believe that they should sit and look pretty, while boys may be perceived as active explorers. Dr. Mergler said she pulled her 6-year-old daughter from one school after a classmate told her she could not use the girls’ bathroom because she was wearing pants. “You look around schoolyards and where girls have had to wear dresses and skirts,” Dr. Mergler said. “They’re sitting down on the sidelines and watching boys run around and playing in shorts.”

One study in 2012 found that when 10-year-old girls wore sports uniforms over skirts, they were significantly more active during recess.

What’s happening in other states?

Most education departments let individual schools determine dress code, though they usually have a provision that the guidelines must comply with anti-discrimination policies. In New South Wales, for example, the department states that rules should accommodate the “diverse nature of the student population in the school and not disadvantage any student.” In Queensland, the uniform must be “gender neutral.”

Because of the ambiguity in language, Dr. Mergler said, schools can claim they are complying with the code by simply providing boys and girls uniforms. Parents in Queensland continue to lobby for an amended policy after an effort to allow girls to wear pants was rejected in May.

In Victoria, a petition to change the policy has drawn more than 20,000 signatures.

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Sofia’s letter pleading for change to the dress code in Western Australia.

Are there arguments for keeping skirts?

Most arguments seem to rest on tradition.

“I think tradition plays a strong part in our schools, and we often want to honor those traditions,” Mr. Henderson said. His school will provide the option to wear pants, he said, but that should be for schools to determine on an individual basis.

“Certainly in private schools, there’s an element of longstanding traditions and parents sometimes thinking, ‘I went to that school and I wore that dress, and I want my daughter to wear that dress,’” Dr. Mergler said. “And the uniform is quite symbolic.”

When she first broached the idea of amending the dress code at her daughter’s school, some parents defended skirts as a way to accustom girls to wearing dresses in the workplace.

“In the real world, women get to choose,” Dr. Mergler said. “I choose today whether I put on pants or skirts, and we want girls to have the same choice at schools.”

As for Sofia Myhre, her mother said that the exercise was a good lesson in effecting change. “I think she yelped in joy actually and jumped up and down,” she said of her daughter’s reaction upon learning the policy would be amended. “She was really excited.”

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