Gender News in Taiwan
EDITORIAL: Milestone for gender equality

After Banqiao Senior High School’s “manskirt week” caused a stir in May, the school has done the right thing by announcing on Monday that male students would be allowed to wear skirts to school when the new semester starts in September.

Critics called it a mistake and asked whether male students wearing wigs and makeup is next, but it is encouraging to see the school continuing to stand with the students.

What was just an in-school exercise to challenge gender stereotypes turned into a national debate when New Taipei City Councilor Lin Kuo-chun (林國春) questioned the school’s principal and said that he did so on behalf of parents who might not want their children to attend the school.

Fortunately, the general reaction toward the students seemed positive. The school was supportive, while about 50 people showed up in skirts at New Taipei City Plaza on the last day of manskirt week. National Taiwan University and National Taiwan Normal University students also held manskirt events in support of the high schoolers. Even President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) voiced her support at a public event.

The school’s decision is unprecedented in Taiwan, and should be counted as another milestone for the nation’s achievements in promoting diversity and tolerance, despite a majority of the public last year voting unfavorably in two referendums about gender equity education, especially regarding homosexuality.

It has been 19 years since junior-high student Yeh Yung-chih (葉永鋕) died under mysterious circumstances after being bullied for his “effeminate” behavior, which led to the passage of the Gender Equity Education Act (性別平等教育法) 15 years ago, but it seems that some people’s opinions have not progressed much.

Parents remain overly cautious about gender equity education, often taking material out of context, while groups against LGBT+ rights last year spread rumors that such education would make students promiscuous or make them gay.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) and civic groups on Sunday called on the government to work harder to achieve gender equality in schools, saying that public opinion remains hostile toward teachers who try to implement gender equity education, making it hard for them to do their jobs.

It is understandable that much of society grew up at times when it was common to make fun of others for being different, but that is especially why educating children about gender equity and diversity is so important. The nation needs open-minded, creative young people who can think for themselves and respect diversity to take the reins when the time comes.

That the high school’s administration did not bow to pressure and instead amended its dress code shows that times are changing, and students’ voices are heard and respected. It sets an example for other schools and shows that even if opponents try to eliminate gender equity education in classrooms, the students will take it upon themselves to use activities such as manskirt week to promote tolerance.

Some might say that it is acceptable for high schoolers to speak up for gender equity, but that junior-high and elementary-school students are “too young” to learn about such matters.

Teaching material should be age-specific, but in this case it is never too early to learn about why it is okay for a boy to wear a skirt to school.

[Taipei Times, 2019-07-24]

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