• Dresses disadvantage girls who want to run, climb and tumble just like the boys. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Simone Cariss started an online petition to push for gender-neutral uniforms at her daughter's school - and succeeded.
By
Mikey Nicholson

16 May 2016 - 2:59 PM  UPDATED 16 May 2016 - 4:10 PM

Simone Cariss has used a petition to score a major victory in every parent’s nightmare - getting the kids dressed for school. 

Cariss’s six-year-old daughter, Asha, attends a Catholic school in Melbourne and has always struggled to get ready during winter because of a strict tunic dress code for the girls. 

“She [Asha] finds it really challenging to wear winter tunics that are uncomfortable and stop her playing with her peers,” Cariss tells SBS. “She never chooses to wear a dress and is more comfortable in pants and shorts outside of school.

“Last year was her first year of school and the winter months were difficult to get her up and dressed because she didn’t want to wear the dress. Asha had numerous reasons why she didn’t want to wear the dress but would always ask, ‘Why can’t I wear pants like the boys?’

"And I wasn’t prepared to say to her ‘because you’re a girl’. It flies in the face of everything I’ve tried to teach her about gender, gender stereotypes and gender equality.” 

Initially, Cariss went to the school with her concerns but hit a brick wall when they refused to budge. 

“I decided to start the petition because I don’t think every little girl should have fight to wear pants. It’s accepted in the community for girls to wear pants. They’re not forced to wear dresses in the work place so why should it be different in schools?"

“When I asked the school and got a flat no, I did have the option to let it go," she says. “But it was never going to be an option for me and my daughter.

"In terms of gender equality I don’t think it’s fair that the school gets to dictate that half the students get to wear one thing and the other half get to wear another thing - ie, pants.”

“I decided to start the petition because I don’t think every little girl should have fight to wear pants. It’s accepted in the community for girls to wear pants. They’re not forced to wear dresses in the work place so why should it be different in schools?"

She doesn't know why it's even a topic in 2016.

The near-10,000-strong petition, which declared #girlswearpantstoo, has had the desired effect.

“The school has called me and reviewed their position on the matter," Cariss says. "A school uniform committee will be established to work out a way to roll out pants for the girls and if Asha wants to wear pants from tomorrow, she can.

“I’m not entirely sure why the school has changed their position but I think they’ve caved into the public pressure."

But school principal Anne Doherty denied a change of heart due to the petition: "While my response may have come across as a blanket no during the initial contact from Simone, I had already started having conversations and investigating alternatives to the uniform and was taking up her concerns."

And she said, "The uniform shop is already on to sourcing female-cut pants. We like working with parents instead of putting up brick walls."