Although gender inclusivity in many of the country’s schools is not a commonly discussed topic the basic education sector, a high school in the Western Cape stands out for its implementation of gender-inclusive policies. Here is how their approach to becoming gender-inclusive has shaped the school.
One of the Western Cape’s most well-regarded secondary schools, Westerford High’s reputation goes beyond its students’ academic achievements.
In terms of social progress, the school is viewed favourably. One of the factors behind this, according to deputy principal, Alison Gray, is the school’s gender-inclusive policy, which naturally grew as a result of providing pupils more freedom to make their own decisions.
She went to say that most of the changes have been the result of efforts by the learners themselves, who collaborated with the faculty. This was done in order to try to take into account the types of things they would like to see in their school that reflect who they are.
However, the school’s gender inclusive policies are not always well received, as throughout the course of her interview, Gray had to respond to a caller who was strongly opposed to LGBTQ beliefs being taught in schools by outlining how Westerford managed this environment and the culture of openness at the school.
We talk about these things extensively, as well as sexism and gender issues between boys and girls. I’d like to think that in subjects where these kinds of topics lend themselves that teachers do allow the conversation to happen.
She continued by saying that even if it might not be a great setting, not everyone supports what they are doing. Although she would like to believe that the opposition they currently face is handled respectfully and in an accommodating manner, it is not necessarily without opposition.
Regarding the exact policies put in place by Westerford to encourage social inclusivity, Gray stated that at first, allowances were made for the equality of jewellery and hairstyles, and that this eventually led to more gender-neutral policies and settings.
As a result, the school upholds a gender-neutral dress code, allowing both boys and girls to wear skirts and allowing both genders to use the two gender-neutral facilities. The policy has improved for boys, which may have come as a surprise.
The Deputy Principal also noted that although boys who exhibit more feminine qualities face social backlash more frequently than girls do, the school’s policy aims to address this.