All pictures were published on the Facebook page “Teaching Schools a Lesson in Equality”.

Israelis have sweated through several heat waves over the past month, leading many schoolgirls to rebel against dress codes and wear shorts, arguing that it is unfair that boys can wear them but not girls. The result? Scores of suspensions, and a nationwide debate on whether male and female students should be held to the same dress standards.

Protests started flaring up at schools around the country during the first heat wave in early May. They gained momentum when students started posting photos of themselves wearing shorts on social media, many of them sharing their experiences on the Facebook page, “Teaching Schools a Lesson in Equality”.

In Israel, there is no one dress code governing all public schools; according to the education ministry, individual schools decide on what is appropriate with input from parents and students.

"Teachers argued that dressing this way would distract the boys"

Niv is a sophomore at a public high school in Guedera, about 40 kilometres south of Tel Aviv.

A few weeks ago, on a day when it was 45 degrees celsius, we started to question our school’s policy – the boys wear shorts, so we thought, why not the girls? It’s simply awful to go to school in long pants in such weather.

On May 4, about half of our class – 60 students, both girls and boys – organised a protest in which we all showed up in shorts. The boys were let into the school but not the girls. When we started to complain, the teachers began screaming at us, saying that we were disrespecting ourselves by wearing shorts. I thought this was pretty strange, seeing as many of the teachers themselves wear shorts to class. It made me feel like they were the ones disrespecting us. They also argued that dressing this way would distract the boys…

Female students outside their school - and a fellow male student inside. 

Not only did they send us home, they suspended us for the next day. But that didn’t stop us. We spent another week protesting and trying to go to school in shorts, but each time the same thing happened. I fell behind on my studies a bit, but have since caught up.

Not all of the teachers were nasty to us. One of my teachers even supported us – and she’s 50; some of my younger teachers did not.

The dress code seems really silly to girls my age. We wear shorts all the time outside of school – some religious people in the street will stare, but we don’t care. I have friends who go to a high school at a kibbutz just 15 kilometres away and their dress codes allows shorts; it doesn’t seem to cause any problems at all, and they respect themselves just fine! I think all public schools should treat boys and girls equally. Unfortunately, I think a lot of them, including mine, may be influenced by the fact that they have wealthy donors who are very religious. The school year is almost over, but our protest is not – we plan to try again next year.

The debate has moved from school hallways to the halls of the Knesset, where a group of student protesters plans to deliver a pro-shorts petition in two weeks. Knesset member Rachel Azaria spoke out in favour of the students on Facebook: “We cannot raise a whole generation of young women who think that their bodies are a problem. We need to raise a generation of young women and men who are confident in themselves, see themselves as equals, and believe in who they are and what they can do.” Menashe Levy, the head of Israel’s school principals’ association, also spoke out in favour of equality, saying that if girls cannot come to school wearing shorts, then boys should not be able to do so either.