Human rights requirements

By upholding human rights and anti-discrimination legislation, schools can:

  • support a safe and inclusive school environment where the school community feels:
    • welcome
    • supported, and
    • physically and emotionally secure
  • ensure that their dress codes enable all students to participate fully in school life
  • increase the sense of belonging to and engagement with schools for students:
    • from all backgrounds including, religious, linguistic and cultural background
    • regardless of personal characteristics, such as, disability, health condition, gender identity.
  • model appropriate behaviour for resolving issues and promote mutual respect for all members of the school community
  • build effective relationships with:
    • parents or carers
    • students and staff from diverse cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds

Human rights and anti-discrimination requirements relevant to dress codes

Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic)

Requires that students are not discriminated against (directly or indirectly) on the grounds of personal characteristics, such as: age, disability, gender identity, physical features, race, religious belief, sex or sexual orientation.

  • Direct discrimination may occur where a school has different uniform requirements for students with different personal characteristics and this difference results in one group of students being treated less favourably than another.
  • Indirect discrimination occurs when treating everybody the same way disadvantages someone because of a personal characteristic. For example, a school's physical education uniform could discriminate indirectly against female Muslim students, if by wearing it, they were not able to conform to their cultural or religious requirement to dress modestly.
  • For a full list of personal characteristics protected under State equal opportunity law, visit: Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights CommissionExternal Link

Allows schools to set and enforce reasonable standards of dress and appearance for students.

  • The more extensive, engaging and collaborative the consultation process, the more likely it is to be considered reasonable.
  • A standard is considered reasonable if the school has taken into account the views of the school community in setting it.

Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006

Schools and school councils must act and make decisions consistently with human rights requirements.

  • Schools must treat students equally and need to balance the rights of individual students against the best interests of the school community as a whole when developing and implementing their dress codes

  • For more information on the Charter, including training modules and policy guidance see: Human Rights Charter.

Rights may be subject to reasonable limits that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society taking into account factors such as: the nature of the right, the importance and purpose of the limitation; and whether any less restrictive means could reasonably achieve the same purpose.

  • Where a school has good reason for restricting an individual's freedoms around dress and appearance, then the restriction of their rights may be considered reasonable.

  • A school should consider ways of accommodating individuals' rights while maintaining a suitable standard of dress and appearance, for example, through an exemption process, or through providing suitable options within the dress code.

Federal anti-discrimination legislation

It is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sex, gender identity, intersex status, disability, age and race.

  • This applies regardless of whether the views of the school community have been taken into account.

Note: Dress codes with gender specific requirements are not necessarily discriminatory under the law. However, schools and school councils are expected to develop, as far as practicable, dress code requirements that are similar for all students. Where options are available, they should be available to all students. In particular, all schools must allow girls the option of pants and shorts in their dress code.

Guidance chapter on the human rights requirements relevant to student dress codes, including anti-discrimination requirements

Reviewed 14 September 2021

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