MEXICO CITY — A proposal to allow children in Mexico City to decide whether to wear skirts or trousers to school has caused a swirl of controversy in a country long regarded as a bastion of Roman Catholic family values.
Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexico City's new leftist mayor, unveiled the "gender-neutral uniform" initiative on Monday to promote gender equality in schools.
"The era when girls had to wear a skirt and boys had to wear trousers is behind us, I think it's passed into history," Sheinbaum told a news conference. "Boys can wear skirts if they want, and girls can wear pants if they want."
Criticism erupted swiftly.
Leonardo Garcia, president of the National Union of Parents, a group that describes itself as a defender of parents' rights to educate their children, said the initiative did not tackle inequality or problems in education.
"Now it's a neutral uniform. What happens tomorrow? Neutral toilets? The day after that, boys disguised as girls in the girls' toilets? I think it's a very serious mistake," he said in an interview on Mexican television.
The proposal was a "guideline" and not an obligation, said a city official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to comment. Parents should be consulted about the scheme, the official told Reuters.
Asked for his opinion at his regular morning news conference, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador declined to comment, noting only that the proposal dealt with "very controversial issues" and the public should be consulted.
Former President Vicente Fox did not hold back.
"They're robbing us of the freedom to decide how to dress, how to educate our own children," Fox wrote on Twitter. "They behave like a 'sect' following the high 'priest' Lopez."
Many social media users defended a more flexible dress code, arguing that school girls for years had to wear skirts in Mexico, where women secured the right to vote in 1953.
Mexican social mores for years were steeped in the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, though its influence has waned as secular reforms advanced during the 20th century.