Gender-neutral uniform: Is it something students want?

School reopening
Representational image: Nikhilraj P/Manorama

The proposal to implement gender-neutral uniforms for school students in Kerala has given rise to mixed reactions. Considering the opposition from a few quarters the State Government has now decided not to rush through the drastic sartorial change. The debate on such a measure, ostensibly aimed at promoting progressive ideals on gender neutrality, had commenced soon after a few schools introduced unisex uniforms — short pants and shirts — for all its students in the last decade. Though such early experiments were well-received, at least, in the local circles, then the move for same attire began to receive both bouquets and brickbats statewide after the Government Girls Higher Secondary School in Balussery, Kozhikode, introduced unisex uniform for its students, late last year.

Concerns are many. Will it be comfortable? Is it gender neutral when it is something usually attributed to boys? Onmanorama speaks to school students about what they think of this hot topic.

Anna Mangalathu, a 14-year-old student from Ernakulam, wants a school dress to be comfortable to the wearer.

“I now have pinafore and shirt as uniform. From next year it will be a shirt and pants with an overcoat. I like pants better; it has nothing to do with gender equality, but the convenience it offers. It is hard to run around confidently in a skirt. It makes us conscious. But with pants I am not bothered. Therefore, I think it is a positive move,” Anna states her stand on the contentious topic.

Alfa V S, a 17-year-old studying in a school run by a Muslim management in Thrissur, too shares a similar opinion.

“Instead of enforcing the same attire for all why not let students decide what to wear based on their comfort! In my school girls are expected to wear a headscarf and pin their shawls all the time, but the boys have no such concerns. That norm itself is an encroachment on our freedom. Uniform should not be the focus for the sake of gender neutrality. What is important is treating every children equally irrespective of their gender,” says Alfa.

Glen Jacob Saxon, another 17-year-old, professes an interesting view on the ongoing debate on gender-neutral uniform.

“I don't think clothes by themselves have any gender. It is something we attribute to them. In my school both boys and girls from class 8 have pants and shirts. It is the decision of the school. A few of my friends were initially hesitant to wear pants. So the question of comfort should also be taken into consideration,” the Koothattukulam native says.

Sethuparvathi, 16 years, of Kozhikode too expects comfort from the prescribed school dress. "The uniform has nothing to do with promoting gender neutrality. But wearing a pant is more comfortable for me than a churidar or a skirt. I am glad my school has this as a uniform," she notes.

Bhadra AR, 14 years, Kottayam, is against imposing any dress code. "My uniform is pinafore and shirt but once in a week we have track pants and t-shirt as the common uniform. I have never felt any discomfort or change in approach to us by anyone because of our uniform. Everyone should have the freedom to choose what they want to wear. It should not be imposed on us," says Bhadra making her point clear.

Nandana Nair S, 12 years, Mavelikkara, vouches for gender-neutral uniforms as they are easy to run around in them. "I had pinafore till last year and changed into churidar during this academic year. That itself is a relief but I think it would even be better we had pants," says Nandana.

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