OUT LGBT Well-being applauds the Eastern Cape Provincial Office of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for its comprehensive inquiry and report on the regulation of learners’ appearances and school uniforms.
In its findings, released on Thursday this week, the Commission concluded that uniform policies that reinforce traditional gender norms lead to discrimination and challenges for gender non-conforming and transgender students.
Furthermore, the Commission asserted that “the enforcement of gendered school uniforms constitutes unfair discrimination, as it impairs human dignity, perpetuates stereotypes, and restricts learners’ rights to express their gender identity freely.”
The Commission’s directives for immediate remedial action include: “All learners must be allowed to wear any item of clothing that forms part of the approved school uniform regardless of their sex or gender/gender identity. Gender-neutral uniform options must be provided to accommodate gender-nonconforming learners.”
Moreover, the Commission has directed national and provincial education departments to rectify their uniform policies and guidelines within six months. These authorities are also required to submit reports detailing their compliance with the Commission’s directives within eight months.
OUT, one of the stakeholders consulted in the SAHRC’s inquiry, has been a vocal advocate for the Department of Education to establish binding guidelines that eliminate outdated and inflexible uniform policies that create an unwelcoming and exclusionary learning environment for LGBTIQ+ learners.
“The SAHRC has now made it unambiguously clear that it’s time for South African schools to be inclusive of all learners, in line with our Constitution and the Equality Act which prohibit discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation,” says Sibonelo Ncanana, OUT’s Human Rights Coordinator.
OUT has over the years received numerous reports in which learners were shamed and humiliated for wearing uniforms that reflected their gender identity or expression. In several cases learners were sent home and denied education until they complied with the school’s dress code.
A 2016 OUT report revealed that 56% of surveyed LGBT South Africans encountered discrimination related to their sexual orientation or gender identity while attending school.
“To flourish in an educational setting, learners must feel secure and free to express their true selves. Institutionalised policies that serve no legitimate educational purpose and only restrict the right to education and dignity must end now,” adds Ncanana.
OUT urges all public and private schools, as well as education departments, to immediately implement the SAHRC’s recommendations and directives.