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Gender equality in Taiwan still has a long way to go

Publication Date : 10-03-2014


March 8 was International Women's Day, making it a perfect opportunity to praise women for the hard work they do and to reflect on ways to improve gender equality in Taiwan in the future. The international event has been observed since the early 1900s, a time of great expansion and turbulence that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies in the industrialised world.

Although much progress has been made to protect and promote women's rights in recent times, there is still no place in the world where women can claim to have all the same rights and opportunities as men, especially in Taiwan. A recent survey conducted by a local Chinese-language magazine shows that only 23 per cent of high-ranking executives in local companies are women, even if their education levels are now higher than their male counterparts'.

Not surprisingly, caring for children or elderly family members remains the main responsibility of women in 74 per cent of households. They also do all the housework in more than 60 per cent of cases. Even among double-income families, data show that men share housework with women in just 10 per cent of couples.

Another survey by the Ministry of Labor also indicates that women are paid 16.1 per cent less on average than men in Taiwan. This means that women need to work 59 days more than men per year to earn the same level of income. It is clear that the heavy burden of housework and unfair treatment in the workplace have combined to suppress the creativity of many women.

According to the Gender Equality in Employment Act of 2007, female employees in Taiwan may apply for parental leave with up to 60 per cent of their salary for six months. Yet, complementary measures still haven't been implemented and most women are afraid of losing their jobs when returning to work. Taiwan should be inspired to follow the example of states like Finland, Norway and Sweden, which place a high priority on family-friendly policies. Norway, for example, provides a combination of 12 months' paid parental leave with universal access to childcare at highly subsidised rates.

The unexpected pregnancy of teenagers is another growing issue in Taiwan. Problems related to teen pregnancy such as abortion, unemployment and lack of adequate finances, not only harm young women but also their children. Teen mothers are more likely to be isolated from friends and to even stop pursuing higher education. Taiwan health authorities should know that proper sex education in the Netherlands has successfully reduced the rate of teen pregnancy. According to a study dating from 2011, there are only 1.67 teenage pregnancies out of a thousand Dutch girls (15-19 years old), while the birth rate among Taiwanese teen moms is about 3.68 per cent.

In fact, women contribute to the economy as much as men in today's knowledge-based era. We should thus expect society to adopt a new mindset with regard to gender roles, so as to make full use of the ability and energy of both sexes to create a richer and better society. Yet, it is sad to admit that Taiwan's society is still not fair to women.

Women in Taiwan still suffer for the Adultery Law that was meant to protect women in the first place. In recent years, the percentage of women charged of adultery has been increasing, not because they are more unfaithful, but because Taiwanese society keeps pointing the finger at “unfaithful women.” In other words, wives are more likely to drop the case against their husbands but not against the mistress, who is often still charged with adultery. In order to get evidence of adultery, women sometimes commit more serious crimes such as trespassing and infringement of digital privacy. In many countries, adultery is legal and just a matter of morality. Legal equality doesn't mean equal treatment to women.

The same is true when it comes to inheritance. According to statistics from the Ministry of Finance from 2011, 63.3 per cent of women waived their right to an inheritance while only 36.7 per cent of men did the same. Among those who paid their inheritance tax, female heirs only account for about one-third of the total. Why? According to tradition, only males can pass down property and the name of the family. Even though Taiwanese males and females are equal before the law and have an equal right to inheritance, females are often under pressure from relatives to waive their right to an inheritance. That is unacceptable.

The opportunity to fulfill dreams and win respect based on their ability and courage should not be limited to a small number of women. Women are girls first. That's why, on International Women's Day, we should celebrate all the girls who are changing the way things work. That was exactly the theme of this year's celebrations: “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures,” helping them to fulfill dreams and win respect based on their individual merit. That should not be limited to a small number of women anymore.


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