Gender-Neutral School Uniforms to be Debated at Youth Parliament

Sunny Liu
Education Reporter
YMCA Youth Press Gallery

Overnewton Anglican Community College team members
Overnewton Anglican Community College team members

A team of students from Overnewton Anglican Community College is sponsoring a bill for gender-neutral school uniforms at the 2015 YMCA Victorian Youth Parliament.

The YMCA Youth Parliament program is at its 29th year. It aims to give young people aged between 16 and 25 the opportunity to express their voices at the Victorian Parliament House on a wide range of current issues.

Since its establishment, the 25 bills that have passed the Youth Parliament have become law in Victoria.

The bill sponsored by the Overnewton team aims to introduce gender-neutral uniforms at Victorian schools.

Students come with a diversity of body types, religions and gender identities. Some students may feel unwelcome in their societies or face gender-related pressure when they are forced to dress in a certain way at school.

The goals of the current bill are to create a more inclusive school environment and help to address mental illness issues resulted from gender confusions among young people.

The media leader of the Overnewton College team, Megan Spiteri, said having gender-neutral uniforms was a “very important issue, not just for youth but the broader Victorian society”.

“We have become aware of students who have felt uncomfortable wearing either the ‘male’ or ‘female’ uniforms … and it could even impinge on their learning.

“We are hoping to change and create awareness for this issue so that all students are able to feel comfortable and accepted in their place of education,” Ms Spiteri said.

Ms Spiteri said the media attention and public debate aspects of the Youth Parliament could help spread young people’s word of concerns on this issue and deliver their “message of equality”.

According to the Victorian Government’s website, inclusive schools “recognise and respond to the diverse needs of their students and accommodate different styles”.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne told an education policy roundtable in August 2014 that schools should have the “theoretical understanding” and “practical experience” to support children with additional needs.

The New Zealand Ministry of Education has suggested that schools in New Zealand should offer gender-neutral uniforms.

The New Zealand sexuality education guidelines said that schools “may consider offering gender-neutral clothing choices” because school uniforms “can reinforce gender norms”.

This suggestion has received many opposing responses from New Zealand schools.

Peter Brooks, the principal of Freyberg High School in New Zealand, said gender-neutral uniforms were unnecessary in secondary schools.

“The vast majority of boys are obviously not going to wear dresses and most of the girls are quite happy to wear the dresses,” he said.

This ‘gender-neutral school uniform’ bill will be a very contentious topic at the Youth Parliament next week. If the bill is passed by the Youth Parliament, it was be presented to the Minister for Education for consideration.