Commentary: Longer uniforms not protecting our girls

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Mario Boothe is a young governance advocate, blogger and Occupy Jamaica activist, a governance watchdog group

By Mario R. Boothe

As our students return to school, again there have been familiar stories of students and parents having challenges with uniforms. This year, however, there has been less fuss about the lengths of the uniforms that are required for our school girls.

We must take serious stock of the messages we are sending to our children (boys and girls) and the wider society including those who sexually prey on our children every time we decide to make uniforms longer instead of standing up against the culture of gender-based violence, sexual abuse and assault in this country.

Seeing our girls in uniforms at ankle level should not be of comfort but rather alarm us, which challenges the idea behind these tunics – to offer some level of body hiding, chastity-like protection and rape shield?

I dare say that our school administrators and all who support these length measures are either slightly misguided or naive enough to think that a few extra pieces of cloth would have saved 14-year-old Yetana Francis from her attackers or make them think twice.

The Gleaner reported in July in an article entitled “Raiding The Cradles – Children Accounted For More Than Half Of Jamaica’s Rape Victims Last Year” that the police recorded 261 children were reportedly raped in 2017, out of the 470 rape cases total.

Will we add another few inches next year? Will we be seeing wedding gowns entering school gates? But unfortunately, even in countries where women “dress modestly” by wearing full body coverings, sexual assault and rape are still common.

Uniforms are also being used to temper and cover the development of a child’s body, body parts begin to expand and fill out, which in return usually elicits a response, not just from older predators but male peers. The solution is not just to make our girls more aware of these changes but altering how our boys choose to respond, which means changing attitudes and culture from entitlement and power over to one of appreciation and protection.

Let us return to the true purpose of uniforms, which is to give students a sense of belonging, ensuring equity and create an identity for the school in the community.

It is sad that perhaps our children may have to lead our #MeToo moment if we adults continue to keep silent.

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