The perks of keeping it neutral

The government of our neighbouring state Kerala put an end to a debate involving dress codes for teachers, enforced by educational institutions that mandated women to wear saris to the workplace.
Representative image
Representative image

New Delhi

The State’s Higher Education Minister R Bindu came down hard on its couture police by clarifying there was no dress code in Kerala’s educational institutions and teachers were free to wear any attire of their choice. 
This development involving freedom of choice has come amidst discussions on fixing gender-neutral uniforms for school students, which has been transpiring in Kerala for a while now. 
In 2019, a 106-year-old government lower primary school in Valayanchirangara, Ernakulam, made headlines when it introduced gender-neutral uniforms for students. The school dropped the age-old combo of shirts and shorts (for boys), and shirts and skirts for girls, with shirts and three-fourth trousers for both boys and girls. 
Stakeholders have remarked in the past that female students had found it difficult to participate in sporting and athletic events in schools owing to the nature of the attire. The change offered a breather for many students who had to constantly look over their shoulders to adjust their uniforms.
Dress codes involving school uniforms had been left untouched for decades. But then, in 2019, a school in Taipei, Taiwan, turned things on its head by creating uniforms for the world’s first gender-neutral school. Project Uni-form witnessed the world-famous designer Angus Chiang reworking uniforms that celebrated equality while respecting all choices. 
The radical approach to curb bullying and ending gender stereotypes, also entailed students being allowed to wear uniforms of the opposite gender on one special day.
The progressive move found takers in Chennai too, but at a conservative threshold. Several private schools have opted for homogeneous uniforms for boys and girls, such as shirts and trousers. Not that such developments are without its critics. 
A few principals in the city had been vocal about how such adaptations were tearing up India’s social fabric. According to them, a salwar kameez with a jacket could serve the same purpose and that there was no need to tilt towards such foreign attire that contributed to the westernisation of the Indian educational system.
But if you were under the impression that such shifts towards gender neutrality were only taking place in the educational sphere, you would be mistaken. 
Globally, workplaces and high profile industries are reassessing the notion of form versus function in uniforms and office attires. 
Last week, a Ukrainian low-cost airline made waves when it decided to do away with skirts and heels for its female cabin crew members and changed the uniform to comfortable trousers and trainers. 
In fact, the airline industry has been at the forefront of several reforms after years of being accused of pandering to the male clientele by objectifying its staffers who were compelled to wear non-functional attire to work. A few airlines have since then, knocked off mandates about the wearing of makeup or pencil skirts, and permitted flats to be worn on-board.
Air hostesses in India too heaved a sigh of relief when they finally got uniforms in which they could actually work. Yes, serving cup noodles to a cranky toddler while dealing with turbulence every once in a while is hard enough, without being draped in a traditional outfit, which used to be India’s exotic calling card in flights back in the day.
It’s essential that in this day and age, women do not pay the price of patriarchy. For much too long, dress codes have been designed keeping in mind the comfort of men. It’s about time, we pay attention to the little details that make real inclusiveness a possibility in the years to come.

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