Legislators and gender equality groups yesterday urged the Ministry of Education to investigate cases of schools demanding female students provide medical proof of a gender identity disorder if they want to wear trousers instead of skirts to school.
Taiwan Gender Equality Education Association secretary-general Lai Yu-mei (賴友梅) told the legislature that the association received a letter last month from a female student at a municipal vocational high school in Greater Kaohsiung, saying that she was not allowed to wear trousers to school and was asked to apply for “pants permission” if she insisted.
“The school told students who wanted to apply for ‘pants permission’ that they need a ‘signed document from a doctor [or psychiatrist]’ in order to apply,” the student wrote in her letter asking for the association’s help, adding: “I only hope the school won’t look at girls wearing pants with discrimination. It really hurts our self-esteem. We are not sick.”
Lai said during visits by the association and other gender equality groups to the reported schools, they found out that principals, teachers and military instructors often respond to the issue of suitable school attire by stating that they are only enforcing the rules to maintain discipline.
“Many educators seem to be unfamiliar with the laws regarding the issue,” Lai said, adding that similar cases have been reported in recent years.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) said an amendment to the Gender Equality Education Act (性別平等教育法) in June last year stipulated that schools cannot punish students because their hairstyles or clothes do not meet with gender stereotypes.
DPP Legislator Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君) said that the Martial Law era is long gone and regulations which prohibit such school rules have been enacted, which means schools must stop discriminating against girls at a formative period in their lives.
“Good discipline does not equate to destroying individuality ... schools are responsible for educating students and should not try to make them all look the same ... uniforms can be diverse, but made with the same fabric,” Yu said.
According to the ministry, if schools violate the regulations and punish students for not conforming to stereotypical gender appearances then funding for private schools can be cut while the performance assessment score of the principals of public schools can be affected, Yu said, asking officials from the ministry to respond to the issue.
Lin Chung-bing (林忠賓), a school inspector at the ministry’s Central Region Office, said that it was true that so far no school had been punished for the enforcement of such discriminatory rules, but the ministry is now planning an all-round investigation of vocational high school rules to gauge the situation.
In addition to the investigation, students can report school violations directly to the ministry through its e-mail service, Student Affairs Committee section chief Eric Ker (柯今尉) said, promising that the ministry would contact all schools, instructing them not to limit the rights of students to decide their school outfits.