The Valayanchirangara government lower primary school in Kerala's Ernakulam district has set an example by switching to gender-neutral uniforms for both boys and girls. All students now come to school in shirts and three-fourths.
The move has benefitted the girls by allowing them to move without any hindrance. The decision is seen as the result of a quiet revolution initiated by a few village people, teachers, and the parents of students. They call it the 'three-fourth revolution'.
The pre-primary and lower primary wings of the school have a total of 746 students. The gender-neutral uniform was first initiated in 2017 for pre-primary kids and has now been extended to 1-4 grades, India Today reported.
"Being a teacher, I was worried about girl students being over conscious about their school uniform. They were reluctant to participate in outdoor sports donning frocks," said C. Raji, headmistress of the school when dress code was introduced.
Parents Support Decision
Raji said that the teachers discussed the dress-code issue at a parent-teacher meet and got their support. "The mothers specially asked for a change in girls' dresses. They wanted their daughters to feel safe and secure in their uniform and were ready to pay extra money for new uniform," Raji said.
The introduction of three-fourths has helped in boosting the confidence of the girl students. "We find a visible change as more girls have now started taking part in outdoor and sports activities. The new dress code, of three-fourths and shirts, has offered them great freedom," says K.P. Suma, current headmistress of the school.
Initially, the dress code was planned to be initiated in 2019 but the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 delayed things. The parent-teacher association then decided to implement it from November 2021 when offline classes resumed. "Our school has 378 girl students. Most of them belong to poor families. Still, the parents agreed to pay for new uniform. The girls are delighted," said Suma.
The school has also prepared gender-sensitive texts for the children.
"Despite being a progressive state with highest literacy rate, Kerala has been changing from a matrilineal to a patriarchal society through the years. Whether it's workplaces or homes, males have an advantage over females. Even in families, we teach our girls to obey their younger brothers, make sacrifices, and follow their father or brother. We felt such mindsets need to be changed—and we must begin with the dress code itself," said Dr Binoy Peter, chairman of the academic committee at Valayanchirangara school.
Dr Peter, an expert on migration and gender sensitivity issues, reworked the curriculum by introducing gender-neutral texts four years back in 2017. "We attempt to foster an inclusive society and a gender-neutral module to sensitise both students and parents," he said.
Ministers And Celebrities Appreciate The Move
Lauding the school's efforts, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said that the girl students should get the freedom to choose their school uniform as per their comfort level and should not be bound by school rules. The girls should have multiple choices like a skirt, churidar, and trousers, half saree and be allowed to wear what makes them feel confident about themselves. Also, they should not be forced to wear pants, he stated.
Similarly, Minister for higher education R. Bindu said that the rule of specific uniforms for different genders should end. She said that one should follow a uniform pattern that suits their climate. "Many engineering institutes have already implemented gender-neutral uniforms. This will help develop a feeling that all are equal which gradually leads to gender equality too, she expressed.
Minister for education V Sivankutty also supported the campaign and appreciated Valayanchirangara school through his Facebook post. He stressed that the textbooks will be audited to ensure gender equality and justice in the content which might result in revolutionary changes in the long run.
Apart from state education minister V. Sivankutty and higher education minister R. Bindu, the school's moves have impressed various Kerala celebrities, including Olympian Anju Boby George and film star Manju Warrier.