In this series we have a chat with activists, advocates and stirrers making a difference for women and girls. In our first “5 minutes with..” we caught up with Amy Blain, the ACT rep for the Girls Uniform Agenda (GUA) to talk choice and equality in school uniforms, the GUA campaign and what you can do to get involved.
Tell us about GUA!
Girls Uniform Agenda is an Australia-wide campaign for girls to have the choice of wearing shorts and pants as part of their school uniform.
What drew you to GUA?
I remember seeing the Girls Uniform Agenda petition and sighing! How are we still debating girls being able to wear pants/shorts over two decades after I had the very same, tedious arguments at school, back in the UK? I’m a passionate gender equality advocate and a full-time parent to a vibrant nearly four-year-old. I fiercely guard against gender stereotypes limiting children being who they want to be. I’m determined that my daughter will not face the same restrictions because there’s actually no good reason for girls not to have the option of wearing shorts and pants.
What was your experience of campaigning for the right to wear pants at school?
I was Head Girl at my girls’ grammar school back in 1996. It had become a running ‘joke’ for a long line of Head Girls at our girls grammar school, that every year rep, at every school council meeting, would raise, as the very first thing, without fail, that they wanted to wear trousers (pants). And after a quick check that this was still true, we’d move the meeting on with: “Apart from being able to wear trousers, what are the things that you want to see changed at school?”
It seemed crazy to me that we would ask the girls what they cared about most and then ignore it. There were so many reasons they wanted it changed: winters in the UK are freezing; girls wanted to be comfortable (especially when they had their period); they didn’t want to feel pressured to roll their skirts up; hated wearing tights; hated wearing skirts, hated sitting crossed-legged in assemblies.
I challenged the head teacher and distinctly remember the disappointment of her saying: “Yes, we know that’s what the girls want, but it just can’t happen.” I raised all of the good reasons from the girls and the head teacher gave no good reasons in return. It was ‘just the way it was’. Girls can now wear trousers if they want to. It stuns me that in 2017, we’re still having these conversations in the UK and Australia and still meeting resistance.
So many fabulous feminist campaigns have been built around this concept of women wearing whatever they want; do you see GUA as fitting in with that broader story/tradition?
We’re seeing girls who are more “lone uniform warriors” rather than being embraced by their school community, which is really sad.
Absolutely! Ideally, we’d be seeing girls wearing shorts and pants to school if they want to irrespective of rigid uniform policies that tell them they can’t. We saw boys in the UK putting on skirts to protest the unfairness of not being able to wear shorts. It would be wonderful to see more girls and boys in Australia welcoming girls choosing pants and shorts. We’re seeing girls who are more “lone uniform warriors” rather than being embraced by their school community, which is really sad. We’re also hearing that other pupils point out that girls are wearing the ‘boys uniform’ or saying that they now need to use the boys’ bathrooms. We need a shift to accepting what children want to wear that’s practical and comfortable for them and not judging the difference. We want girls to be focused on their education and to be active; if skirts and dresses are distracting them from doing that, then we need to change that. We’re also seeing some very exciting strategic action from young girls here and in the UK – you can read about Marlie on our website – they’re making their case to principals and winning. They get to wear shorts. In the UK, one school principal showed amazing leadership in response to a young girl, Izzy’s, incredible advocacy – embracing and celebrating it. We need to see more principals like Principal Payne empowering young girls:
You made a difference. Our world is now a little more of an equal place just because of you… (extract from Principal Payne’s letter to Izzy.)
I definitely want my 4-year-old to go to school and focus on her education and wear whatever makes her comfortable and warm – if that’s trousers – give me a good reason why not.
How can people support GUA?
- Please sign the petition calling for pants and shorts to be mandated for all girls in all schools around Australia
- Access the Girls’ Uniform Agenda websiteand download our editable letters and information sheets that can be sent to principals and P&Cs/P&Fs/school councils, outlining why you want to see uniform policy changes
- Meet with your principal and attend your school’s P&C/P&F/school council meeting to discuss the issue of adding shorts and pants to your school’s uniform policy. Check out the “Why Options?” page on GUA website to arm yourself with research and strong arguments
- Download our template letters for the Education, Health and Women’s ministers in your state, use them to tell your story and send them to each minister. The more letters they receive, the more likely they are to understand this issue is important and requires them to act. Posting personalised letters, rather than just emailing them, seems to receive a better response.
- If you have tried to create change in your school and have been refused, consider lodging a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination body in your state. We have information and links here to assist you. If you decide to lodge a complaint, email us at GUA so we can support and guide you
- Follow us on Facebook and Twitterand share our posts. A key avenue to creating change is increasing awareness of this issue, and getting more voices to join the cause
- Write a case study for our website. We are collecting the stories of women, parents, and schoolgirls across the country who want to see this change happen. Case studies are very useful in highlighting the “realness” of this issue when we meet with politicians, principals, and others with the power to make change.
(Amy pictured in year eight with her class)