PARENTS at a Middle Swan Catholic school say a policy banning girls from wearing pants is outdated and discriminatory and are preparing to overhaul the rules for all Catholic schools in WA by taking their fight to the Equal Opportunities Commission.
Midland mum Heidi Nagel has spent the last 12 months requesting a review of the uniform policy at St Brigid’s Primary School to allow female students the option of wearing pants if they wish.
She says having a skirt-only policy is impacting the girls’ ability to play freely and is enforcing gender stereotypes that are out of touch with the rest of society.
“It’s sad that the schools don’t say, these are the times, let’s reflect,” she said.
“I would have thought now, with people going towards nature play and all that kind of stuff, that you’d be more forward thinking if you look at kids’ comfort and different learning styles.
“But this is a bigger issue as well.
“There is research already that shows girls stop playing earlier than boys and I think that has a lot to do with this uniform, not to mention the impact of harmful sexual behaviours in society.”
St Brigid’s did change its uniform policy last year to allow girls in years 1 and 2 to wear the school sports uniform all year round, of which pants is a component, but claims there was little support for extending the rules to include children in years 3 to 6.
“The school consulted all year 3 to 6 students about the uniform policy with a small proportion of responses requesting the introduction of a pants option,” St Brigid’s Primary School principal Paula Mackenzie said.
“The School Advisory Council considered the request, along with the level of support and cost of introducing such a policy.
“The decision was taken not to extend the uniform policy at this time.”
Ms Mackenzie said she was confident the uniform policy reflected “the wishes of a majority of our students” but Jane Brook mum Fiona Doherty, whose daughter and son attend St Brigid’s, says that is not the point.
“Why can’t we have the option?” she said.
“If the majority don’t want to wear pants, that’s fine, but why can’t the ones who do?
“There was no conversation about it, that’s what is really disappointing.”
Schools that enforce a skirt-only rule for girls are now in a minority in WA with all state schools, many other Catholic schools and even some of the top private schools, making the move to allow girls to wear pants if they wish.
Matthew Gibney Catholic Primary School in High Wycombe is one of them.
“We are currently revising our school uniform policy to include an option of trousers for the girls,” principal Therese Hussey said this week.
“A parent committee is working with the Uniform Centre Manager to organise trousers that are designed to suit the girls.
“Unfortunately, there is a delay with uniform supplies, but we are hoping our trousers option will be available for our girls commencing in 2023.”
But unlike state schools that have their uniform guidelines set by the Department of Education, Catholic Education WA (CEWA) has stated it is up to individual schools to determine what their students wear.
However, Ms Nagel believes they could intervene if they wanted to.
“Catholic Ed have a child safe framework that’s supposed to be adapted by all schools,” Ms Nagel said.
“They have Catholic Ed policies that have to be adapted by all schools, why would they not be able to do that with the uniform?
“Not to dictate exactly what the uniform is, but the simple fact is that it should be equal.”
Both mums are now planning to take their case to the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).
In October 2020 the EOC released a statement claiming that schools must provide appropriate choices for both genders at school as indicated by the Equal Opportunity Act (1984) WA.
“When it comes to schools, gender neutral uniform options help place all students on the same playing field and that is something I support,” Acting WA Commissioner for Equal Opportunity Dr John Byrne said at the time.
The St Brigid’s mums say they are not afraid to take their case all the way to the Commission to challenge the skirt-only policy until they see change for their daughters.
“A movement is occurring,” Mrs Doherty said.
“My girl needs to see a positive role model advocating for her.
“I’ll do it for her.”
By Rebecca Peppiatt