We say “cycle”! We say “Stay safe!” Why are we asking children to risk their lives cycling in dangerous gear?

We Accept; Day 1; Appropriate Active Wear for Girls’ Active Lives

Active School Week 2021 Challenge: It’s the Active School Week Challenge; we are invited to set one for every day. So here goes. My son says “Stick to Trees!” in my posts; the thing is, planting trees is not enough to sort the climate and will only account for 1 degree of heat reduction. Decarbonising is a parallel task. Now that public money is being set aside to promote welcome cycling infrastructure, are we to tolerate 9 out of 10 teenage girls being structurally barred from using it on their school commute through discriminatory practice? Here is one solution. Our challenge for Active School Week to policymakers and school boards of management; Cycle wearing a school skirt? We would not dream of suggesting anyone carry out such a challenge because it is patently dangerous. Safety is a core value of our project. Adults; would you cycle in a long skirt? I expect not. Why are we permitting Irish school boards decree that this is what girls – only girls – are obliged to wear at the same time as encouraging cycling?

Monday; Our challenge; Any school which requires girls to wear a skirt school uniform with no option of trousers gets no more public money until they remove this antiquated rule unless they can prove the girls in their care can cycle to school safely wearing the uniform. See this picture of these Danish students, off on their bikes to their outdoor classroom? Now picture your typical Irish convent school girl on one of these bikes, her sweeping skirts getting caught in the chain before she reaches the school gate as has happened to me in such a skirt. By the way this gets oil on the skirt, can puncture it with holes, is not good for the chain and most importantly it can throw you off your bike possibly into the path of a passing vehicle.

And they wonder why so few school girls cycle? I have had girls turn up frequently to plant trees wearing long flowing skirts, shod in what are effectively ballet pumps. (They have told me that sensible shoes look well with trousers, not so well with a skirt. ) Not only is this a discrimination issue, it is an issue with consequences for the climate. Girls with bare legs; listen; what boy or adult goes around with bare legs in Ireland in the last half-century as they go about their work? Heating is bound to be more required and more of it when children are cold and since schools are barred from using heat-pumps this means burning of more fossil fuels. I actually campaigned with my mother for a trousers uniform at my secondary school as a 15-year-old and we won the right to a trousers option though the “dress” uniform of the kilt was retained. When my classmates and I left the school the option was removed and no there is no memory recorded by current pupils of this era as shown in a recent @IrishTimes article here; https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/why-do-we-force-girls-to-wear-skirts-to-school-1.4343921

At the time we campaigned for this option I and some of my classmates were quizzed by the teachers and nuns; did we not like the kilt? Now the kilt was fine on a warm day with knee socks but I had a commute which involved leaving home at 7.20 a.m. to stand at a bus stop and next a train platform followed by a 15 minute walk, not so fine on dark, wet, winter mornings. Why not wear tights, they asked? Listen if tights were comfortable, we would be all wearing them, men gave them up it seems in the middle ages. We found them itchy, saggy and expensive. There was an issue with skipping on the playground – apparently our kilts flying up was a problem for the Christian Brothers. Our new school had lovely carpeting so we could sit on the floor; not so easy to do in a relaxed fashion without complex draping in a little gaberdine skirt. Once we got the trousers uniform I switched to cycling and I could get to school and home much quicker and get exercise too instead of wasting that hour and twenty minutes either standing waiting or sitting on a bus or train. When my 3 daughters went to Holy Faith in Clontarf, I tried for years to get the school to allow a trouser option. I was totally mystified by the lack of enthusiasm. One past pupil of the school, then a school parent said that in her day they had had to wear a beret which had looked very smart and that the nuns had been very rigorous in enforcing the wearing of said beret and school scarf; she wished those days were back where her daughter would be made to wear these items too. The parents’ chairman said how he often drove by girls standing at bus stops on his way to work in his car and though the skirts looked very attractive. A teacher said there would be a discipline issue; if the girls were wearing trousers, they would not know whether the girls were Seniors or Juniors – they had 2 different colours of kilt at the time – and the girls could be using a staircase forbidden to their year-group and would go undetected. My son and most of his school friends cycled to school, none of my daughters did though they cycled to swimming, sea scouts and their friends’ homes. Their skirts blowing up on a bicycle – there is always a breeze on a bike – was an embarassment, in any event the skirts were very long and woolly. The school suggestion was that – though they had no locker to store this change – they would bring a change of clothes each day and change on arrival. The fact that their schoolbag already weighed well in excess of the safe limit to carry meant this option was never practical. As a teacher I am almost always in trousers, they are so practical for sitting on a floor of a gym or in a circle on a rug or on the grass or for yard duty on a cold day and they are the preferred outfit I notice for most women I have taught with in Ireland. To boards of management who insist on no alternative for girls in their schools and the decision makers who give them grant funding; I challenge you to a week in the garb of a typical Irish convent school girl hauling their equivalent weight and bulk of school equipment. I cannot advise you to cycle; anyone can see how dangerous it is to cycle in a long skirt.

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