Girls can wear shorts and pants to school – the mission of Girls’ Uniform Agenda

September 6, 2017

Amanda's story is the latest in our ChangeMakeHer Career Stories, where we interview incredible women creating powerful change in their respective fields about their stories and share their advice on how you can do the same. One of the biggest factors as to why girls tend to shy away from fields such as STEM, tech, entrepreneurship and leadership roles is quite simply that there is often not enough representation. After all, it’s a lot harder to become something you can’t see. So, here at ChangeMakeHer, one of the ways we’re working to change that by interviewing amazing women out there, and showing that you’re just as capable of doing things like them!


So, without further ado, let us introduce to you: Amanda Mergler!

Dr Amanda Mergler is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education at QUT, and a registered psychologist. Amanda’s research focuses on delayed school entry, the values of pre-service teachers, student wellbeing, and school uniform policies. In 2017, Amanda co-founded Girls’ Uniform Agenda with Simone Cariss to advocate for choice of shorts and pants for all girls at all schools.

Girls’ Uniform Agenda (GUA) is an Australia wide group comprising parents, academics, educators, and researchers. Our aim is for all schools throughout Australia to establish school uniform policies that facilitate gender equality. While these options may be vast, they should, at a minimum, include shorts and long pants for female students.

Girls Uniform Agenda has the support of psychologist Steve Biddulph, parenting expert Maggie Dent, researchers Active Healthy Kids Australia (AHKA) and Professor Dick Telford, and elite athletes Catherine Phillips, Karen Paxman, Emma Kearney and Claire and Jared Tallent.

Girls’ Uniform Agenda was co-founded by Dr Amanda Mergler (QLD) and Ms Simone Cariss (VIC), and includes Associate Professor Susan Thomas (NSW), Ms Alison Boston (NSW), Dr Diane Caney (TAS), Ms Krystina Myhre (WA), Dr Sarah Cohen-Woods (SA) and Amy Blain (ACT).


Tell us about your story and what you do day-to- day!

As an academic I research, teach and mentor research students every day. Because I am in the

Faculty of Education, I consider important issues that affect children and young people in school,

and work toward changing things for the better.

Because of that, I cofounded a national group called Girls’ Uniform Agenda. We advocate for

choice of shorts and pants for all girls in all schools. It started with my own daughter being denied

the right to wear shorts to school in Grade 1, and I channelled my anger into writing a piece for

The Conversation. From that I was contacted by a range of parents across the country also angry

about the discrimination being faced by girls in school uniforms. One of these parents was Simone

Cariss from Victoria, and after Skyping with each other we decided that if we combined our

strengths and fought this together we would be far more powerful. Using our contacts we found

like-minded others and created Girls’ Uniform Agenda, a group with members across Australia

who fight for the rights of girls to have choice in their uniform options.


How did you get to where you are today?

I was raised by a single father who always believed in me, and I have always been unable to

accept social injustice. After finishing Year 12 and wandering aimlessly for a few years, I decided

to try my hand at university. Once there I fell in love with learning and have never been able to

stop thinking critically. I have had the support of some very kind and generous people throughout

my life who have told me to believe in myself and that my power is limited only by my own self-

imposed limitations.

I became a psychologist and worked with young people in crisis, and realised that I wanted to do

my PhD in helping young people understand themselves better. I wrote and taught an education

program in a high school that explored personal responsibility in adolescence, and as I finished my

PhD I took up a lecturing position in academia.

The longer I work in the area of educational research the more I realise that our education system

needs to transform. Students need to be given more power and control over their learning and the

range of issues that impact on them in schools. Uniform is just one of these, but for girls it is an

essential one. The forced requirement that girls wear skirts and dresses undermines the message

that girls are powerful and poised for leadership. No female leader is forced into a skirt or dress,

and for schools to place this requirement on girls completely undermines their narrative that they

are empowering young women.


What advice would you give to young girls looking to get into your field of work?

The world of academia has many advantages including flexibility and the ability to largely self-

direct your research and focus. It also allows you to position yourself as an advocate for areas that

you feel passionate about. If you love to write and are passionate about an area where you feel

there are many questions that need answering, academia could be for you.

The best piece of advice I would give is to find a female academic in an area you are interested in

and email them. Ask them to meet you for a coffee and talk about what they do and how they find

it. Having an informal chat with someone who is already doing what you think you might want to do

is a great way to get some inside knowledge. If you are lucky, the informal coffee might turn into

more formal mentoring.

What would you do if you were 18 and about to graduate today?

I would gather all my fellow female school friends and explain to them why it is imperative that girls

are offered the choice of shorts and pants as every day school uniform. I would then write a letter

outlining why this matters and get all girls to sign it. This would then be delivered to my principal.

The day following the delivery of the letter, I would have all female students arrive at school in

shorts or pants. And I would keep up this activism until my principal changed the uniform policy to

allow all girls to wear shorts and pants every day. I would not let another day go by where the girls

in my school were discriminated against.

And then I think I would take a gap year! I took a year off after finishing Year 12 and went to New

Zealand to live. It was a truly wonderful time and it taught me how to be independent and pay my

own way. It gave me some space for everyone and everything that had defined me during my

childhood, and enabled me to find out more about myself. It was a truly life-changing experience.


Who are your biggest inspirational leading women?

I had an outstanding boss when I was working with at-risk teens, Michelle McBride. She was

strong and believed in herself, and made her dream of creating a support house for teenagers a

reality. She made things happen, and cared deeply about disadvantaged teenagers, and she

inspired me. I admire Jane Caro for her outspokenness and bravery, and Gillian Triggs is truly an

empowering role model. She has strength, courage and grace under fire, along with a fierce desire

to protect those who are vulnerable.

Where can girls find you? (social media pages, businesses, website)

I would love all girls to come and find me at Girls’ Uniform Agenda. The voices of girls at school

will be critical in getting uniform change across the country.

We have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a website. We can be emailed at

We are extremely keen to hear from girls who want to change their school uniform policies so that

girls can choose shorts and pants as every day school uniform. We want to encourage all girls to

support and encourage each other so that we empower all girls to demand the right to choose.

I can also be found at Queensland University of Technology in the Faculty of Education.

My staff profile can be found here.

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