‘T-shirt of shame’ banned in Swiss region

Geneva schoolgirls protesting against the 'T-shirt of shame' on September 30. One of the girls is wearing a (customised) T-shirt, which says 'I am appropriately dressed'. Keystone

Schoolgirls who are judged to be wearing inappropriate clothing for class will no longer have to cover up in extra-large white T-shirts in canton Vaud, western Switzerland.

This content was published on October 5, 2020 - 17:40

A row ignited at the end of September when a dozen schoolgirls at a middle school in Geneva (with pupils aged 12-15) were told by the school authorities to put the T-shirts on after they came to school in crop tops. Had they refused, they would have been sent home, which is a serious violation of school regulations and could have had an impact on annual grades.

In reaction they held a demonstration in front of the school building and were joined by parents and representatives of feminist organisations.

Pupils in other cantons reported similar practices. “I was sent to the school secretary to get a T-shirt – these huge T-shirts down to my knees. We call them ‘T-shirts of shame’. They told me that I must put it on to protect myself, but from whom? I’ve never felt threatened by anyone,” Luna, a former pupil at a school in Sion, canton Valais, told Swiss public radio, RTS.

The practice was also used in some schools in canton Vaud.

On Monday Cesla Amarelle, head of the cantonal department of education and young people, said the department had conducted an investigation and found that the practice had been used in some Vaud establishments.

“There was no writing on the T-shirts like in Geneva, but it’s still perceived by young girls to be stigmatising. So we have decided to ban this practice,” she said.


Amarelle insisted on the need to establish a dialogue with pupils. “It must be made clear that there is a framework to be respected, including from the point of view of dress,” she said, pointing out that many schools in canton Vaud had found ways of resolving the issue without resorting to a punishment that was considered humiliating.

Amarelle also explained that it was necessary to listen to those young girls who rebelled against the idea of their bodies being sexualised at school. “This is also something the boys and teachers need to hear,” she said.

Pupils at state schools do not have to wear school uniforms in Switzerland – it is only common practice in a handful of private schools. However, many schools do have some sort of dress code.

Nevertheless, the debate over what constitutes “appropriate dress” looks set to continue.

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