by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Taoyuan Flight Attendants’ Union/Facebook

THE TAOYUAN FLIGHT ATTENDANTS’ UNION (TFAU) has criticized the Taoyuan city government’s gender equality committee for siding with EVA Air on a number of policies. This takes place at a time that the TFAU is campaigning for an end to gendered uniforms for flight attendants, seeing as female flight attendants are currently required to wear pencil skirts, stockings, and high-heels, while pants are not allowed.

The TFAU demonstrated in front of the Control Yuan against such gendered uniform policy in August. Namely, the Control Yuan houses the National Human Rights Commission, Taiwan’s highest government institution on human rights. As such, the protest criticized that the policies of EVA Air and other national air carriers violates principles of gender equality enshrined in the constitution.

The issue was further highlighted after a performance at a TPP rally in the same month involving female dancers dressed as flight attendants. This was a campaign event for campaign Chang Chi-hao, a TPP legislative candidate running in the Daan-Wenshan area in Taipei. Chang is a former pilot for China Airlines and his campaign has leveraged on this fact.

Statement by the TFAU on the Taoyuan city government’s recent decision

Afterward, the TFAU criticized the performance for sexualizing female flight attendants. The TPP denied that this was sexist, with a party spokesperson asking if the party would have been criticized as discriminating against Japanese or Koreans if the dance had taken place in kimono on Hanbok, never mind criticisms of cultural appropriation that have occurred elsewhere in the world. The incident did not help with regards to how party chair Ko Wen-je has a known history of misogynistic statements.

Indeed, with regard to the Taoyuan city government’s recent decision, the TFAU has criticized this as violating the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which was adopted by the United Nations in 1979.

More generally, as part of its campaign against gendered uniforms, the TFAU has been critical of how airlines treat female flight attendants as a product in terms of uniform design, contributing toward their objectification. This continues to be a pervasive issue in Taiwan’s airline industry, though with a wave of union activity in the airline industry since the historic China Airlines flight attendants’ strike of the summer of 2016, flight attendants and other airline workers have been increasingly empowered to take action.

In particular, the Taoyuan city government’s gender equality committee justified gendered uniform policy, claiming in a statement that the historical reason why female flight attendants wear skirts is for convenience when reaching up to adjust luggage in the overhead compartment. The TFAU has criticized this as sexist and untrue, seeing as during training exercises, female flight attendants wear pants.

Likewise, the TFAU has pointed to that subsidies and work evaluations for EVA Air favor men. Male flight attendants are given a stipend of 2,500 NT to purchase work shoes, while female flight attendants are only given 1,650 NT. To this extent, the evaluation system for flight attendants grades female flight attendants worse for taking menstrual leave.

Facebook post by the Taoyuan Flight Attendants’ Union on the performance at the Ko rally

TFAU has criticized the Taoyuan city government for otherwise claiming to adhere to CEDAW, including organizing activities to promote CEDAW. As raised by the TFAU, Taiwan does not compare favorably in this regard to other countries that have phased out skirt requirements for flight attendants, such as South Korea, which did so in 2013. The Executive Yuan itself ruled in 2014 that skirt requirements for female police officers and firefighters violated CEDAW in 2014.

Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen herself campaigned in the past on ending uniform requirements for female students that required skirts. However, there still continue to be cases in Taiwanese schools where students are mandated to conform to gendered uniform policy, and face corporal punishment if they do not.

At the same time, students themselves have been involved in demonstrations against gendered uniforms, as observed in a Banqiao high school allowing male students to wear skirts in 2020 after student protests in May 2019. In spite of this, some parent groups protested the school, in line with conservative pushback against efforts to legalize gay marriage. The May 2019 student protests were themselves timed to take place shortly before the legislature was to vote on gay marriage. In this sense, the issue of gendered uniforms continues to be one that exists not only in the airline industry, but in Taiwanese society as a whole.

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