Hong Kong’s school sector will see a “major shock” if the city’s equality watchdog upholds a complaint from a secondary school student over a ban on long hair, the vice-chief of a pro-Beijing teachers’ group has said.

Tang Fei. Photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

Tang Fei of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers said on Commercial Radio on Friday that schools in Hong Kong did not design and implement dress codes based on gender stereotypes. Instead, school rules reflect the requirements imposed by the Education Bureau, as well as traditional values and the missions of the school’s sponsoring body, he said.

Tang’s comments came after 17-year-old student Nathan Lam complained to the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) that their school –  Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Wong Fut Nam College – allegedly breached the Sex Discrimination Ordinance by “pressuring” them to cut their long hair.

The Form Five student cited gender dysphoria in explaining why they did not wish to have short hair, adding that they wanted to tell the public that barring male students from wearing their hair long was “unreasonable.” The EOC said its role was to mediate the conflict, rather than “judging right from wrong.”

Nathan Lam Chak-chun. Photo: Nathan Lam Instagram screenshot.

On Friday, Tang, also a lawmaker, said regulating students’ hairstyles was similar to requiring them to wear school uniform, as a way of avoiding “competition.” He said the long hair ban on male students was not a “strange” rule, as many schools in Hong Kong adopted similar dress codes to underline tidiness and modesty.

The legislator urged the EOC to publish the result of the mediation, including whether the school’s actions amounted to sex discrimination and imposing gender stereotypes. If the EOC substantiates the complaint and the school “makes a compromise,” it could shake up the school sector, he said.

“It will definitely bring major shock to the school sector,” Tang said, adding the Education Bureau would need to issue “clearer” guidelines.

Asked how he would handle the issue if he were head of the school at the centre of the controversy, Tang, who is the principal of Heung To Secondary School (Tseung Kwan O), said he would handle the matter in accordance with the established school rules. Only if the education authorities and society’s mainstream opinion agreed that the ban on long hair should be eased should schools be expected to amend their dress code, he said.

Students going to school. Photo: GovHK.

Tang added that males and females were different physically and psychologically, and thus they would be treated differently “to a certain extent.” Male students “sweat more,” he said, which was why they should wear their hair short.

“If this difference in treatment is being seen as a gender stereotype or even sex discrimination, does that mean all requirements for boys and girls should be standardised?” Tang asked.

The School Administration Guide issued by the Education Bureau states that schools should design dress codes based on the Racial Equality and School Uniform guide by the EOC. The document asked schools to be “inclusive” and “avoid gender stereotypes” in devising school uniform rules.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.