A mom in Australia has just shown her daughter how powerful women and girls can be when we set our minds to it.
When Simone Cariss’s 6-year-old daughter, Asha, asked to wear pants to Our Lady Of The Nativity Primary School in Melbourne so she could run, play, climb trees, and play soccer more easily, she was denied, told that she had to choose between the mandatory tunic or dress.
If you’re like me, the sound of screeching tires just echoed through your head. How could a school in a nation like Australia refuse to allow a little girl to wear pants? What is this, 1960? But it turns out, gendered uniform rules for girls aren’t all that uncommon. Not long ago, a group of students at Newtown High School of Performing Arts in Sydney won a battle to allow students their choice of any school uniform garment, regardless of gender.
The Sydney Morning Herald quoted one former Newtown High student as saying, “From about the age of 10 or so I would wear [a] sports uniform to school everyday, until I was told to wear the dress.” That student, who identifies as not having a specific gender, found a work-around, wearing pants under the required dress. But it was far from a satisfactory solution.
The change at Newton High School was a particular victory for LGBTQ students, but the gendered uniform issue affects learning even at very young ages, before most issues of gender identity even come up. In this day and age, little girls expect to be able to play sports alongside boys, and to have the freedom to be as comfortable as boys, inside and outside of the classroom. Sexist uniform policies tell them, very explicitly, that they are not equal to boys.
As a parent, Simone Cariss was not comfortable telling her daughter that she should simply sit by and accept sexist rules. So she created a change.org petition, explaining, “’Because you’re a girl’ is not something I am prepared to say to my 6-year-old daughter. A daughter who I have raised to believe she can do and conquer anything, regardless of her gender, and that she can like what she wants to like and not what gender stereotypes dictate she should like.”
The petition also calls for changes in sexist uniform policies across the region, which are necessary to not only allow girls to take a more active role in play during the school day, but also to help make LGBTQ students more comfortable in being able to make whatever clothing choices are most comfortable for them.
While the Australian government has a policy for equality in public government-funded schools, private schools are legally allowed to force girls to wear dresses. Cariss believes this is discrimination, and that the government should step in. After all, whether you’re a private or public institution, you are still not allowed to discriminate against people based on gender.
On Monday, Cariss was contacted by the school’s principal and told that her daughter, along with the rest of her classmates, can now wear pants. While these changes are crucial to helping kids feel more comfortable in school, the actions of parents like Cariss do a lot more than just gain their kids the opportunity to wear what makes them most comfortable. They also show all kids that their rights are worth fighting for. Every child in Cariss’s daughter’s school has learned that the actions of just a few people can make change for a great many. And that’s a life lesson that can have far-reaching effects.
For little Asha, her school day will soon become more comfortable and fun, but even more importantly, she now understands on a very personal level that she does not need to sit quietly in the face of injustice.
I have a feeling this little girl may grow up to do a lot of good for the world some day. Nice job, Mum.More On