Discrimination in School Uniform Choice in Public, Private and Faith-Based Schools

The Australian Council of Human Rights Agencies (ACHRA) met to discuss discrimination in School Uniform Choice in Public, Private and Faith-Based Schools

Girls’ Uniform Agenda have been working with a number of anti-discrimination commissioners across Australia to explore what can be done about schools that force girls to wear skirts and dresses. Thanks to our advocacy, the issue of girls’ school uniforms was on the agenda when ACHRA met in Adelaide on 18 and 19 October 2018, to discuss human rights and equal opportunity issues within each state and territory and around the country.

ACHRA members commented that they have seen an increase in enquiries and complaints from girls, or parents on behalf of girls, who have been prevented from wearing shorts or trousers at school and told to wear skirts or dresses as a mandatory uniform requirement.

ACHRA noted while many schools nationwide have adopted uniform policies allowing choice for female students, others continue to discriminate on the basis of sex.

Age discrimination has also been a valid area of complaint, where younger female students have been allowed to wear pants, but senior students have not.

ACHRA members encouraged all government, private and faith-based schools to review school uniform policies to enable greater choice of formal and informal uniform options, including shorts and long pants, for girls.

Commissioners from various states and territories have met with their respective Department of Education and a number of school uniform policies and procedures have been amended to allow girls an option of pants or shorts. Commissioners have met with representatives from Independent Schooling Associations and Catholic Education Commissions and discussed the need to create uniform policies free from sex discrimination.

Girls’ Uniform Agenda are thrilled to see the anti-discrimination commissioners across Australia take a clear and unequivocal stance on this issue, stating that it is discriminatory for public and private schools to force girls to wear skirts and dresses. If your daughter is being forced into a skirt or dress at school, please lodge a complaint with your state anti-discrimination commission (details can be found on our website by clicking here). The more this happens, the sooner we will see uniform equity for girls.

Two selected cases that were discussed at the meeting

Co-educational private school – WA

Summary:A woman sent an enquiry to a co-educational private school, advising she was considering enrolling her daughter. She asked the school if there was an option for her to wear shorts/trousers because her daughter did not like wearing skirts. The woman was advised skirts were mandatory for girls and if her daughter did not like wearing skirts this school was not for her.

Outcome:The school agreed to add the options of formal trousers to the girl’s winter uniform and formal shorts to the girl’s summer uniform.


Co-educational private school – QLD

Summary: A mother lodged a complaint on behalf of her 10-year-old daughter who attended a private co-educational school.

The girl’s mother said the school principal had removed long pants from the winter uniform choices for female students, and that the school provided no option for girls to wear shorts during the summer. She claimed that the lack of uniform choice for girls meant that girls were hampered in their physical activity, sometimes subject to comments about their underwear, and lacked warmth in winter. She claimed that boys were not subjected to the same restrictions with their uniform options.

The reason given by the principal for the change was to address concerns that the uniform standards at the school had ‘slipped recently’.

Outcome: At the conciliation conference, the school agreed to: reintroduce pants into the girls’ winter uniform options; introduce shorts, and a girl-specific shirt, as a summer uniform option; and change the school uniform policy to reflect that girls were now able to wear pants or shorts on formal uniform days. The school principal undertook to make a statement in the school newsletter and at the school assembly supporting the changes. The uniform handbook would also include photos of girls wearing the new uniform options.