Call to abolish girls' dorm curfew answered amid hunger strike

2016/06/02 19:04:02 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
Call to abolish girls' dorm curfew answered amid hunger strike

Taipei, June 2 (CNA) A student leader at Fu Jen Catholic University (FJU), along with a group calling itself "FJU Cinderella," have finally had their voices heard, after she embarked on a hunger strike in late May to protest against the practice of schools imposing curfew at girls' dormitories.

Responding to the call of the group, led by Liao Yu-wen (廖郁雯), head of the FJU Students Association, for the abolition of the midnight dorm entry control, the university's management decided Thursday to end punishments for female students who return to their dorm rooms after midnight.

The FJU Cinderella group blasts the dorm curfew as a violation of gender equity because it does not apply to boys' dormitories.

The cancellation of punishments was one of four conclusions reached in a school affairs meeting at Fu Jen, situated in New Taipei's Xinzhuang District, after the hunger strike movement drew public attention over the controversial issue.

Other conclusions included adopting an electronic entry control system for dorms, starting in August this year; promising to allow student self-governance by allowing students to elect dorm management executives; and conducting a review of the controversial role of dorm-keepers.

The new measures won applause on the FJU Cinderella Facebook page, with some posters commenting that "hard work finally pays off."

Education Minister Pan Wen-chung (潘文忠) said he was glad to see satisfactory results after dialogue between the protesting students and the school.

He promised that a platform will be established within one month, on which experts in law, gender equality and other concerned people will be invited for discussions on the issue of the part the Gender Equity Education Act plays in dorm controls.

Pan contended that a national principle for entry controls at night should be established to prevent different schools from adopting different measures.

Earlier, at a hearing of the legislative Education and Culture Committee, the minister was bombarded with questions from lawmakers on the controversial curfew at the Catholic university, which has entry controls for the girls' dorm but not for the boys' dorm.

Ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Su Chiao-hui (蘇巧慧) cited a student survey as saying that 26 percent of universities and colleges in Taiwan have gender discrimination regulations in their dorm management, with Fu Jen being one of them.

She asked the Ministry of Education to determine whether or not the acceptable different treatment based on gender can be applied in the field of dorm controls at schools.

Su was referring the 14th Article of the Gender Equity Education Act, which stipulates that schools shall not discriminate against students on the basis of their gender, gender temperaments, gender identity, or sexual orientation in its instruction, activities, assessments, rewards and penalties, benefits, or services.

"This requirement does not apply to matters suitable only to persons of a specific gender, gender temperament, gender identity, or sexual orientation," the act says.

Another DPP lawmaker, Hsu Chih-chieh (許智傑), invited Pan to sign his name on a placard reading: "I support Abolition of the Curfew at Fu Jen Girls' Dorm," which he had also signed, but Pan refused.

As a father, Hsu said, he does not want his daughter to come home late, noting that this is out of wanting to protect rather than discriminate.

However, Fu Jen's discriminatory rule that female students will be kicked out of the dorm if they violate the curfew twice is too much, he said, suggesting an electronic door control system should be enough for parents to know their children's movements.

Instead of agreeing to encourage schools to abolish their dorm curfew measures, Pan only said that making sure students are safe is the common consensus of society, but there is more than one way to achieve this in terms of dorm management.

There should be complementary measures before abolishing the controversial curfew, Pan said, calling on Fu Jen to communicate with students and parents thoroughly on the issue.

He said he believes people should first know clearly what is the highest value of gender equity. Therefore, his ministry will establish a platform of experts to discuss the subject, Pan said at the legislative hearing.

Liao, a senior student studying public health, began the hunger strike May 30. She said one more person would join her for the strike each day until the school answered their calls, which include abolishing the curfew system for girls' dorms, installing electronic door control devices, and lifting a roll call at the beginning of the curfew.

Other demands are to clearly define the authority of the nuns and girls' dorm keepers, and holding elections to select students to be in charge of dorm affairs.

The student leader argued that the curfew is not just a problem of gender equality, but also affects the rights of dorm tenants, most of whom are from rural areas and financially disadvantaged, who cannot afford a privately rented room.

National Chengchi University student Lin Chung-chih (林宗志), who supports Liao's movement, said that while Fu Jen justifies its curfew by saying "it is all for safety's sake," no female students are in a "more dangerous" situation than their male counterparts when returning to their dorms at night at his school, in which there is no dorm curfew.

He contended that criminals who prey on women at night are a national security problem, which should not be attributed as a "women's problem" and used as an excuse to restrict women's freedom.

A survey conducted in November 2014 by the University News -- published by National Chengchi University's Department of Journalism -- in November 2014 showed that 32 percent of the students who responded said their dorms had entry controls, and that the most-applied deadline for entry was 11 p.m. (38.4 percent), followed by midnight (25 percent).

(By Chen Chih-chung and Elizabeth Hsu)

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