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Mon, Jan 24, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Women at mercy of employers

GENDER DISCRIMINATION While two recent incidents have revealed how little support is available in society for victims of sexual harassment, a bill providing for concrete measures remains pending in the legislature after 10 years

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Two sexual harassment cases have made national headlines recently and rekindled public concern and debate about women's rights in the workplace.

On Jan. 18 a female nurse, surnamed Yang, at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital (長庚醫院) filed a civil suit for violation of personal dignity against anesthesiologist Shen Chin-hua (沈青華). Yang said her action was prompted by dissatisfaction over the way her employer handled the case.

Even though Shen later resigned under media pressure, the hospital reportedly had asked Yang to make an out-of-court settle-ment. The hostile working environment that she encountered after the incident forced her to request a transfer to Kaohsiung.

Yang also filed an employment discrimination complaint with the local government's Employment Discrimination Review Committee (就業歧視評議委員會), making a record claim for NT$1 million in compensation, even though this is unlikely to be granted.

There are currently no laws in Taiwan regarding punishment for sexual harassment in the workplace. The only effective regulations against sexual harassment are included in the Law on Gender Equality in the Workplace bill (兩性工作平等法) which has been pending in the legislature since it was first introduced some 10 years ago.

The bill proposes that companies should set up guidelines and committees to take charge of sexual harassment complaints.

In another incident, a 20-year-old student at the National Taipei University of Technology (國立台北科技大學) went public on May 26, 1999, with an accusation of sexual harassment after meeting with indifference by officials at both her university and the education ministry.

She claimed that the university had tried to shelve the investigation and had sought to persuade her to give up the fight, and that the ministry had decided not to release its own report on investigations into the allegation.

Even though the Control Yuan demanded on Jan. 12 that the university and the ministry punish the officials concerned for misconduct, the student said it is hard for those who had never experienced such fear and despair to understand what she has gone through.

Academic institutions are currently required by the education ministry to form a gender equality education committee on campus to handle charges of sexual harassment. Even though the ministry made the announcement in March 1997, procedural guidelines were not handed down until March 1999. In addition, academic institutions are not subject to any form of disciplinary measures if they fail to comply with the orders.

Courage and compassion

While sexual harassment has always been a problem for women, only in the past two decades have women come forward in large numbers to demand remedies and institutional changes. But even today, only a small number of feminist litigators have won acknowledgement that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination.

According to Peng Yen-wen (彭渰雯), secretary-general of the Awakening Foundation (婦女新知基金會) in Taipei, there have been only two sexual harassment lawsuits that have successfully made it through the courts.

A female court staffer was granted NT$200,000 in compensation in 1998, and a travel agency employee was awarded NT$100,000 in compensation the same year.

Although more women have come forward with complaints, many are still reluctant to reveal their identities. It is almost as if they feel they are the party at fault.

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