An SDLP motion to stop schools enforcing gendered clothing restrictions on students passed through Derry and Strabane District Council on 29th October, with an almost complete backing from councillors.
The motion, brought forward by Foyleside Councillor Shauna Cusack, supported “the choice of students to wear trousers as opposed to skirts, and vice versa”. It also resolved that the council should “contact all schools in the City and District, of both primary and secondary level,” to encourage rule changes that allow for this option.
Councillor Cusack said in her proposal that it was “almost hard to believe…we still have uniform policies which do not reflect our advances in fairness and equality”. Recalling her own past experiences, the councillor said she still remembers “walking up the Curly Hill freezing in a wee skirt” in the winter months, and then facing “abuse [from the] sexual jibes and innuendo” of passers-by.
Despite being happy for her role in proposing the motion, the SDLP Councillor said “all credit” should be for the North West Ministry of Youth, an activist group made up of young people in the Derry/Londonderry and Strabane District. Councillor Cusack was one of several councillors who praised the group’s campaigning and petitioning that reportedly accelerated this motion being brought before council.
The motion received a large amount of backing, with Sinn Fein Councillor Aileen Mellon offering to be the policy’s seconder, and DUP Alderman Hillary McClintock describing forcing young girls to wear skirts as “ludicrous, in this day and age”.
There was one opposer to the motion, that being Councillor Anne McCloskey from Aontú. Councillor McCloskey stated that her opposition was not because she disagreed with the actual concept of removing gender-specific clothing rules, but that she believed “uniform policy should be the job of schools and parents” and that a matter like this was “not the business of government”.
Councillor Cusack’s motion would go on to decisively pass with thirty-seven votes for it and only one vote against.