‘Boys and girls have equal freedom’: Kerala backs gender-neutral uniforms | India

It’s break time at Valayanchirangara major faculty and the pupils run freely beneath the mango bushes and palms. Girls race in opposition to the boys, hitching up their knee-length shorts, cargo inexperienced for girls and teal blue for boys, as they go.

It’s been three years since this small authorities major faculty launched gender-neutral uniforms for its pupils, and in doing so set in movement a quiet revolution that’s now sweeping throughout the south Indian state of Kerala.

“I really feel very thrilled and comfy with the uniform. It’s fairly distinct from that of my pals finding out in close by faculties. I can play properly with this costume,” mentioned 10-year-old Sivananda Mahesh.

Impressed by the Valayanchirangara mannequin, greater than a dozen faculties in Kerala have shifted to gender-neutral uniforms and the state’s ruling Communist celebration of India has pledged to help the motion being carried out throughout the state. A number of girls’s rights teams have additionally come out in help of the unisex uniform initiative, saying it would assist bridge the gender hole. Kerala has India’s highest literacy fee, however there’s nonetheless a better literacy fee for males than girls and gendered and patriarchal expectations proceed to be positioned on girls in society.


Nonetheless, this initiative to deal with gender inequality at a younger age is now going through stiff opposition from a bit of Muslim organisations in Kerala, which accuse the faculties of forcing western costume on their youngsters and denying girls the precise to put on what they deem to be acceptable female garments.

In December, a protest rally was organised by the Muslim Coordination Committee in Balussery, a city in north Kerala, when the native secondary faculty launched a unisex uniform of trousers and shirts for boys and girls.

Distinguished Muslim organisations within the state warned the state authorities in opposition to imposing gender-neutral uniforms in different instructional establishments in Kerala, a state that’s 26% Muslim, saying it might be un-Islamic for girls to put on trousers.

The choice at Valayanchirangara major got here after Benoy Peter, the previous head of the parent-teacher affiliation, observed the difficulties that girls usually confronted carrying skirts within the playground and whereas enjoying sports activities. The varsity enlisted the assistance of a neighborhood dressmaker Vidya Mukunda to create a gender-neutral uniform that had “model and magnificence”.

Students of Valayanchirangara primary school wearing gender-neutral uniforms.
College students of Valayanchirangara major faculty carrying gender-neutral uniforms. {Photograph}: RK Sreejith

The varsity, which has 756 pupils who’re largely Christian and Muslims, mentioned just one father or mother objected to the uniform, and after the advantages of the initiative had been defined, particularly how it might make it simpler for girls to maneuver about comfortably, the resistance was dropped.

“When the concept got here up, we had been fearful concerning the response of fogeys preferring their girls’ carrying skirts. However we had been capable of implement it simply and with none protests,” mentioned KA Usha, the college’s former headteacher.

Usha mentioned the uniform had not solely bolstered the efficiency of pupils, however dad and mom had been flocking to ship their youngsters to the college. “Dad and mom are eager to get admission right here as the brand new uniform evoked plenty of goodwill,” she mentioned.

The varsity has additionally pushed its gender-equality initiatives past uniforms. After considerations that the college supplies had been full of content material “usually in battle with gender parity”, they created their very own gender-neutral textbooks, that are designed to sensitise youngsters to gender equality from a younger age.

“We made our books with lecturers writing the content material and a former pupil doing the drawings. The books carry photographs of girls driving autos and males cooking within the kitchen. The books convey the message that no job or activity is gender-specific,” mentioned Usha. The varsity has additionally designed a brand new brand with the picture of a lady and a boy to unfold the message of gender equality.

KP Suma, a trainer on the faculty, mentioned: “Now the boys and girls have equal happiness and freedom. The uniform has boosted their confidence. Gender sensitivity is on the coronary heart of the college, and we’re making certain simple mingling of boys and girls with out bothering about gender.”

After the successes of Valayanchirangara major, the state schooling minister, V Sivankutty, mentioned he was decided to see unisex uniforms rolled out throughout Kerala. “We’re anticipating related makes an attempt at each instructional establishment within the state. On its half, the state authorities is dedicated to selling gender equality in schooling and different fields,” he mentioned.

Kerala, India map

At Kerala’s Balussery faculty, the positioning of the all-male uniform protests this month, the principal, R Indu, mentioned it was college students who had heard concerning the Valayanchirangara experiment who prompted her to evolve gender-neutral uniforms. This yr, the college launched the uniform with approval from the employees council and PTA.


Indu mentioned Balussery college students who want to put on shawls for non secular causes had been nonetheless allowed to take action, and there could be no interference in non secular id.

“The opposition in opposition to gender-neutral uniforms is not going to final lengthy. My Muslim neighbours really feel nothing improper with it. Solely the orthodoxy is opposing it. My youngsters can do any exercise with ease utilizing this uniform,” mentioned V Vivek, the PTA’s president. Many feminine Muslim college students additionally praised the unisex uniforms on social media.

However Jafer Neroth, a frontrunner of the Islamic organisation Sunny College students’ Federation who was main the protests, mentioned the uniforms had been “political instruments”.

“The federal government helps the implementation of liberal ideologies on college students and with out session with non secular leaders. Biologically, males and girls are totally different, and it’s the denial of range,” he mentioned.

Sivankutty mentioned the protests from some Muslim teams wouldn’t halt authorities plans to make gender-neutral uniforms the norm in Kerala. “We’re unmindful of the protests from the orthodoxy,” he mentioned.

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