Women and Public Facilities in Taiwan: Revising Policies on Public Spaces

By Bih, Herng-Dar | Women & Environments International Magazine, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Women and Public Facilities in Taiwan: Revising Policies on Public Spaces


Bih, Herng-Dar, Women & Environments International Magazine


Space is socially constructed, just like language. The arrangement of space reflects and reinforces gender, Ethnicity, and class relations in society. However, teachers and designers in the field have been utterly insensitive to gender. Only after the emergence of the women's movement and feminist thinking did people awaken from their 'gender-blind' consideration of public spaces.

Awakening, the first feminist organization in Taiwan, was founded in 1982. Many other women's groups were formed after the abolishment of martial law in 1987. Since then, 'gender and space' policies were promoted in three ways:

i) Legislation: for example, the Sexual Assault Prevention Act, the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act, the Gender Equality in Employment Act, and the Gender Equity Education Act were all passed within the last ten years,

ii) Participation in a Government Committee: the Commission on Women's Rights Promotion issued the Women's Policy Guidelines in Taiwan with a chapter on women's safety in public spaces.

iii) Social Movement: particularly the Women's Toilet Movement and the campaign for breastfeeding rooms, which I discuss in this article.

Although feminist thinking is still neglected in most educational settings within the fields of urban planning and architecture, the past decade has witnessed significant progress towards more gender-sensitive policies and their implementation in the areas of public restrooms and breastfeeding rooms. These are two factors which greatly affect women's ability to be mobile, to participate in the public domain and to engage in work outside their homes.

The Women's Toilet Movement: Demands for New Policies

In 1996, Wang Ching-ning, the head of the Women's Studies Club at National Taiwan University (NTU), was elected head of the National Taiwan University Student Association on a gender platform that included improving the women's toilets on campus. Also in 1996, Peng Yenwen, a graduate student at the Graduate Institute of Building and Planning, took an elective independent studio course focusing on toilet planning and design. During the term, Peng, the NTU Student Association, and the university's Research Center for Gender and Space joined hands to conduct a comprehensive survey of the more than 100 campus toilets. They surveyed the number of female and male toilet stalls and the availability of urinals, in addition to assessing floor space, lighting, ventilation, location, flooring, washbasins, coat hooks, waiting space, doors, and barrier-free facilities. Seizing the opportunity of Women's Day on March 8, the student association released its inspection report on campus women's restrooms at the campus entrance. It was called 'The March 8 New Position on Women's Toilets Allows Me to Pee at Ease.' Aside from announcing the survey results, a piece of street theatre was performed which caught the eyes of various television stations and print media. A successful press conference greatly encouraged the survey organizers. On May 4, together with the Coalition of Female Students of Universities, the NTU Student Association and Research Centre for Gender and Space held another press conference in one of the men's rooms at the Taipei Railway Station with the slogan: 'Seizing the Men's Rooms.' On May 5, they held a male versus female urinating competition at Ta-An Forest Park to measure the average time men and women take at a urinal and water closet. These two events brought to public attention the inequal gender distribution of public restrooms.

The women's toilet movement continued to gain momentum. With strong public pressure, officials at all levels and people's representatives, one after the other, expressed their concern. They demanded that the Construction and Planning Agency, which oversees public restrooms, change the existing regulations. On October 21, 1996, the Ministry of the Interior amended the relevant section of the 'Technical Regulations for Buildings - Building Facilities' and markedly raised the number of women's restrooms in public buildings. …

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