A school in one of India’s state outdoor a gender-neutral uniform for its students recently. The school now allows girls to wear trousers and shirts just like the boys. Although the practice is not new to the Indian education system since some private schools allow girls to wear trousers and shirts, it is a first for a government school. But some people, particularly from India’s minority Muslim community, are against the uniform. They believe that boys and girls shouldn’t wear the same outfits. In their view, it is important to maintain distinctions between girls and boys. What would a Uniform Change take away from an African Education?
But, I disagree with them. Many of the gender distinctions we maintain as societies are impractical and unreasonable. The uniform change is a step in the right direction. A gender-neutral uniform such as the one the Indian school adopted for girls is long overdue in many non-Western societies therefore the Indian government school who made the change did well by daring to start it. I wished the basic and high schools I went to gave me the opportunity to wear safer and more comfortable clothing. That is why I am happy that a government school in India has gathered the courage to give girls this freedom.
I have been thinking of fighting for a gender-neutral uniform for basic schools and senior high schools in Ghana for as long as I can remember. Even last week, I mentioned it to a friend and we debated it. A gender-neutral uniform system in Ghanaian schools will mean allowing girls to wear shorts, trousers and shirts just like boys. As a child, I was not happy that my fellow girls and I were constantly reminded to close our legs. Instead of concentrating on what we were being taught in class, a good portion of our attention went into making sure that we sat well. Many of you my readers can attest to this. Any girl who didn’t want to be embarrassed by a teacher (and other body police officers) must always remember to sit well or sit at the back to avoid embarrassment.
By the time I went to the university and could wear whatever I wanted, I always sat at the front. I like the front. It’s easier to hear everything the teacher is saying. So, since I could wear jeans trousers, I sat at the front and forgot about worrying whether my “under” was showing or not. Looking back as an adult, I wish girls had the clothing freedom I experienced at the university much earlier in life. It would make so much difference. One unwarranted self-thought I have been entertaining is: imagine how easy a skirt or a dress is easy to lift compared to trousers and shorts. Maybe then men who “slap” girls on the floor, easily “raising” their clothes to abuse them in would think twice.
In addition, if nothing on girls’ bodies prevented them from wearing trousers and shorts, and gender-neutral clothing creates a safer space for them and allows them to concentrate on their studies, why would we let so-called cultural and religious norms stand in our way? One of the protesters in India’s current situation says that the new uniform policy is against their religious beliefs. But how true is this when compared to the practical safety and comfort a uniform change brings to girls’ learning?