Thu, Jun 25, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Gender equality in schools scrutinized

NOT GOOD ENOUGH Activists gave the government a 'B minus' grade and said progress needed to be made on verbal abuse and sexual and ethnic tolerance

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Five years after the Gender Equality Education Act (性別平等教育法) took effect, gender equality groups and activists yesterday gave the government a “B minus” grade on promoting gender equality in schools.

“I would give the government a ‘B minus’ because, though gender equality has progressed a little in schools, it’s not enough,” Taiwan Gender Equality Education Association secretary-general Lai Yu-mei (賴友梅) said at a news conference in Taipei yesterday.

The law was enacted on June 23, 2004.

Lai said some of the progress the government had made included allowing pregnant students to take maternity leave, increasing gender equality awareness in college courses and setting up channels so that students could report on-campus sexual harassment.

“But there is a lot of catching up to do,” she added.

One of the issues still remaining, she said, was allowing female students to choose whether they want to wear pants or skirts as part of their uniform.

“The Ministry of Education promised us last October that students would be free to make that choice on all campuses by July, but we haven’t heard anything concrete so far,” she said. “In fact, we’ve received complaints in the last few days from several high school girls that their schools have forced them to wear skirts as part of the summer uniform.”

Lai also said that the ministry’s budget for gender equality programs was insufficient, noting that such programs only accounted for 0.37 percent of the ministry’s total budget last year, which meant that there had only been a 0.25 percent growth in spending over four years.

Meanwhile, Taipei Association for the Promotion of Women’s Rights board member Chen Yi-chun (陳怡君) said that schools were still reluctant to deal with cases of verbal harassment.

“Many people spread sex-related rumors or refer to girls as ‘bitches’ on personal blogs, in e-mails or in online messenger services. Such incidents are verbal sexual harassment or verbal bullying and they can create psychological harm and feelings of isolation in victims,” Chen said. “However, schools rarely take such incidents seriously.”

Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association secretary-general Cheng Chih-wei (鄭智偉) criticized the ministry for failing to teach students to respect people with a different sexual orientation.

“Many gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender students still face serious discrimination at school — even from their teachers,” he said.

Chao Wen-chin (趙文瑾), a member of the Awakening Foundation, said she was shocked by what schools teach students about immigrant spouses.

“The education authority seems to consider families containing immigrant spouses a ‘problem’ for society — immigrant spouses are described as a ‘second choice’ for men who cannot find women to marry, and students are told immigrant spouses are women who married their Taiwanese husbands for money,” Chao said, holding a piece of paper with an excerpt from an elementary school textbook.

The text read: “In recent years, as many people were unable to find ideal spouses, the number of families that include an immigrant spouse has increased rapidly.”

“How do such textbooks make children of immigrant spouses feel?” Chao said, urging a complete review of all textbooks as a first step toward building an education system that teaches respect for diversity.

In related news, statistics published by the Ministry of Education yesterday showed that there had been a improvement in terms of the right of women to education.

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