New Zealand’s secondary school teachers’ union has called on all schools to offer gender-neutral uniform, toilet and changing-room options. All students should be able to “choose from a range of shorts, trousers, skirts of different lengths and styles, with both tailored and non-tailored interchangeable shirts... access to specific uniform items [should not be] not limited on the basis of biological sex or perceived gender identity”.
The union also calls on schools to provide “individual toilet and shower units with lockable doors and floor-to-ceiling divisions” and “options for students to change and shower in privacy”. The school principals’ federation president Whetu Cormick has backed the teachers’ union call, and the country’s Ministry of Education (under a conservative government) has also backed gender-neutral uniforms. 70 per cent of NZ schools have a uniform. Of them, 77 per cent let girls wear shorts and 36 per cent said boys could wear skirts. Some schools have gone further.
Dunedin North Intermediate School in the South Island, a year after saying girls could wear trousers, moved on to say explicitly that all students can choose between shorts, culottes, a kilt, and long trousers, and gender makes no difference to uniform. Head teacher Heidi Hayward says that students have welcomed the new options: in fact the shift came as a result of pressure from the school’s students, aged 10 to 13. “The kids weren’t really fussed about it. It’s adults that have taken a while to get their heads around it — they’ve asked lots of questions”. On the latest figures, some 80 state schools across the UK, including 40 primaries, have introduced gender-neutral uniform policies.
As one deputy head teacher says: “It’s about recognising the rights of students who feel they might not fit into the binary genders. It’s less of a big deal to the students than you might think”.