Yep, it’s 2017. And yep, Australian girls were still being forced to wear skirts to school — until now.
The phrase “girl power” may have been popularized in the 1990s, but the sentiment is alive and well in the Land Down Under. Recently, authorities in Western Australia instituted a rule change that allows girls to wear pants and shorts in public schools in the state. The change, which bucks decades of tradition, was prompted by an impassioned plea from Sofia Myhre, an 11-year-old student in Perth, Australia. Sofia’s handwritten letter to the state’s education minister, Sue Ellery, argued that being limited to skirts and dresses is “really unfair.”
“I think it’s really unfair that my brothers have been allowed to wear shorts, and all through primary school I haven’t been allowed to except when I have sport,” the tween wrote. “I really love kicking the footy, netball and doing handstands at recess and lunch. It is annoying doing these things in a skirt.”
Sofia’s mother, Krystina Myhre, is a member of Girl’s Uniform Agenda, a group that advocates for expanded dress code options for girls throughout Australia. Myhre encouraged her daughter to write to the department of education to express her feelings about the antiquated rule.
Sofia Myhre's letter to Western Australia's education minister.
“My daughter and her friends have been quite unhappy about it for some time,” Myhre said. She argued girls regularly opt out of sports and other physical activities because they don’t feel comfortable undertaking them in a dress. On the Girl’s Uniform Agenda website, Myhre’s group asks, “The wearing of dresses and skirts is no longer an expectation of women in society — so why do we continue to force this archaic stereotype on school girls?”
Apparently, Western Australia's state education minister agreed.
“An 11-year-old girl should be able to wear shorts to school,” Ellery told Perth Now. “In 2017, girls should be able to wear clothes that don’t restrict their ability to participate in physical activity at school.”
The rule change doesn’t apply to all of the schools in Western Australia, however. Private schools are exempt from having to offer female students expanded uniform options, and institutions in other parts of the country have been slow to adopt the measure. According to The New York Times, 70% of schools in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia's third largest city, require girls to wear skirts or dresses to school, which is likely similar in the country’s other states.
Still, momentum for nondiscriminatory uniform practices is growing. Recently, the education minister of Victoria, James Merlino, promised to ensure female students in the state will be allowed to have the option to wear shorts or trousers to school.