Shooting for Equality: Taiwanese Women in Sports

Taiwanese women deserve the equivalent of Title IX legislation passed in the U.S., which guarantees equal funding for men and women’s athletic programs
Photo: Jenny Peng
Photo: Jenny Peng
Jenny Peng
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It’s hard to beat the confidence U.S. Women’s Soccer team had going into the World Cup finals against Japan. It’s the kind of tenacity and finesse that should make the Taiwanese government and people envious. When a country shows its commitment to one’s success with an effective policy, one stands taller, on foundation built on justice. Analysts are hailing the victory as a triumph for Title IX — a law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity in all federally funded programs and activities.

Missing from Taiwan’s progress to legally close the gender gap is a guarantee that government funding for athletic programs and activities is equally distributed between men and women at all education levels. It should be a policy similar to the Gender Equity Education Act (性別平等教育法) passed in 2004, which prohibits gender discrimination and promotes equality in academic settings.

The Gender Equality Committee of the Executive Yuan acknowledged in 2014 that despite improvements in allocating proportionate resources in the areas of health care and education, “unfavorable” factors to girls’ development are still prevalent. Among them are lingering traditional chauvinism, girls’ relative lack of participation in sports, and traditional ideas that certain school subjects are only suitable for boys.

A policy similar to Title IX could be a start for dismantling some of these traditional cultural barriers. Sports advocate Yu-Hsien Tseng (曾郁嫻), an associate professor at the National Taiwan University, has been battling the confines of gender stereotypes since her youth. In a recent ESPN feature, Tseng says she always felt like an outsider for choosing to play contact sports instead of playing with dolls. Even on the basketball court, where she was most comfortable, Tseng was often criticized for not being feminine enough.

“They want girls to look like sweeties,” she says, even when they’re defending a layup.

Tseng pointed to an expectation that female athletes look and act “ladylike” and to mandates that high school players have long hair tied back for games.

As we’ve seen during the World Cup, celebrating women and girls in sports liberates women from the rigid confines of cultural stereotypes. When qualities that are typically discouraged in society, like competitiveness and physical strength are embraced, it broadens the possibilities of what society believes they can accomplish.

Funding for sports at the grass roots level in Taiwan would also improve the level of female athleticism, and potentially lead to professional leagues where women can earn income as athletes. News of two female students from National Chengchi University playing in the men’s team on campus highlights how a legislation like Title IX could improve the development of sports, starting on school campuses.

In 2006, FIFA found that the U.S. had more registered female players (almost 1.7 million) than the rest of the world combined. Its youth participation was estimated at 1.5 million. China, on the other hand, has roughly 7,000 registered female players above the age of 12, according to the New York Times.

The glaring difference, as sports reporter Jeré Longman writes, “reflects a historic emphasis on elite sports for medals instead of grass-roots sports for everyone.”

In other words, the quality of soccer played at the highest level depends on a healthy pool of talents playing for the love of it.

Taiwan has made extraordinary strides in gender equity, most noticeably in the areas of employment, education, healthcare and politics. It’s time to focus on achieving its athletic potential through crafting effective policies in the spirit of Title IX.

 

Jenny Peng is a Vancouver-based freelance journalist specializing in global affairs and international reporting. You can follow her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/jennypengblog

2 Responses to “Shooting for Equality: Taiwanese Women in Sports”

July 08, 2015 at 4:07 pm, Mike Fagan said:

“When a country shows its commitment to one’s success with an effective policy, one stands taller, on foundation built on justice.”

That is just hypo-expropriation; there is nothing “just” about that whatsoever.

“Missing from Taiwan’s progress to legally close the gender gap is a guarantee that federal funding for athletic programs and activities are equally distributed between men and women at all education levels.”

What “federal funding”? Taiwan does not have a federalist government.

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July 08, 2015 at 4:26 pm, Mike Fagan said:

It is difficult to see how there is anything special about women’s sports not being taken seriously in Taiwan, when sport itself – irrespective of the sex of the participants – is not taken seriously. Schools in Taiwan, for example, cancel PE classes when there is a little light rain for five minutes one afternoon. Soccer fields lie unused on almost every school campus throughout the country, with the grass cut perhaps once a year. Swimming coaches (training mostly girls for competitions) outside of Taipei are left to beg and borrow to try to find the NT$100,000 per month costs of maintaining a full-size, heated swimming pool during the winter months. Even in private residences, the swimming pool at my former apartment block in Tainan was only open in July and August – apparently because the rest of the year was “too cold”. Beaches all over Taiwan are marked “no swimming” because most Taiwanese people cannot swim or think rationally about the risks of doing so. Local governments often celebrate their “bicycle lanes” which are actually just raised boardwalks only intended for middle-class families to ride a kilometer or two on sunny weekends. Only basketball (and to a lesser extent badminton and baseball) have any kind of large-scale grass-roots popularity among the kids, but there is no professional organization in Taiwan even remotely comparable to say the NBA in the States.

And you think the problem is there isn’t enough “federal funding” for girls?

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