Taiwan is an example of a nation simultaneously progressing and digressing on the policies and practices surrounding gender equality. In Taiwan there are more numbers of women working in government and civil work, high life expectancy, and good educational opportunities, and yet at the same time more numbers of brothels and prostitution are being allowed, female infanticide and sex selective abortions are rampant, and there is a plummeting birthrate. What is the current situation and what has led to this dichotomy that is also prevalent in other modern states such as the U.S. and Japan?
Of the Cabinet, 8 are women or 20 percent and there are 34 female legislators, or 30 percent as of 2008.  Last year, the number of females in Taiwan’s civil service hit a record high of 131,846 or 38.77%. Parity, or at least 1/3 of government seats filled by women is also being sought at the senior positions of civil service with women holding 25.4%. More women are running for important mayoral offices and seeking higher positions in the government. Although from different political parties all of these women have one thing in common: they are all single. Mothers are a small minority amongst the legislature and even smaller amongst senior positions.
In 2010 35.8 percent of women held a bachelor’s degree or above. This year there will be over 50% women in Taiwan employment. In general women make only 80% of the pay in the same position of a fellow male coworker, starting salaries for men are 18% higher than for women, and with seven to nine years of experience the gap is as large as 30%.  The women of Taiwan have greater opportunities to be educated and work, but still suffer from maternal disadvantages and a wide wage gap between the sexes.
Although many claim equality between the sexes has been achieved there are still important areas where the women of Taiwan lag far behind. Activists estimate that there are at least 600,000 people involved in sex-related work in Taiwan.  In 2010 the government reversed many of its policies and allowed sex workers to set up small businesses, considering brothels of three to five staff legal.  The government explained that regulation instead of criminalizing sex work was more effective.
Despite the absence of the One Child Policy that is enforced in the PRC, Taiwan’s skewed sex ratio is increasing rapidly and the birth rate is plummeting. In 2011 (spanning the first six months of the year) the imbalance was 110 boys to 100 girls between the sexes at birth. Over the same period in 2010 the figure was 108:100.  Indeed Taiwan is ranked as one of the most imbalanced in the world on the multivariate Sex Ratio scale, produced by our WomanStats project.
Along with Germany, Taiwan has the lowest birth rate in the world. In 2010 Taiwan’s total fertility rate was .91, meaning that less than one child is born to each woman in Taiwan.  The World Health Organization defined Taiwan as an “ageing” society, with above 7-percent of the population 65 years of age or older.  The Cabinet-level Council for Economic Planning and Development of Taiwan is predicting that by 2011 there will be a population growth of zero. 
Another determining factor is the decision many Taiwanese women have made to marry later or not at all. In 2010, 31 percent of women above the age of 15 were single, an all-time low for marriage, and the average age of marriage was 30.5. 
Analysis of Contradicting Trends
Most critics cite women’s rights and feminism as the basis for the true problems that face women, arguing that because women now have equal rights to employment and education they are not choosing to marry or have children. To the contrary, research has pointed to another direction which shows the necessity of gender equality but also parity in the home. In my analysis, to achieve the hopes of genuine gender equality, the women of Taiwan face three large obstacles: 1). Government policies have not caught up to women’s progress, 2). Gender stereotypes are still widespread, and 3. Parity has not been achieved in the home.
Firstly, the government is playing catch-up in areas of maternity and childcare policies. Only in the wake of the sex ratio imbalance crisis has the government instituted laws that provide childcare services and maternity leave.  These policies will inevitably take years to come into effect or make a reasonable difference. Another more frightening challenge is the widespread phenomena of gender stereotypes. Women in Taiwan are largely still seen as sex objects (as testified by the prostitution rate), only housewives, and disadvantaged mothers. A survey conducted for Women’s Day in 2011 showed that 62% of the women thought that the “traditional culture of gender discrimination” ought to be eliminated in Taiwan. 
The third challenge, perhaps the most difficult and yet most important, is the lack of parity within the home. In 2004, the female domestic work participation rate was well over 75%, while the male rate was only 31%. This rate includes the burden of domestic work, childcare, and care for the elderly.  Aside from obvious inequalities on the domestic workload, men in Taiwan are more prone to “technology addiction,” spending hundreds of hours playing video games or watching pornography.  It may be difficult for women to choose to have a large family or even be married while men are not willing to help in the home or commit to men who have heavy addictions that affect healthy relationships.
Because of these challenges, women are forced to choose one role over the other – that of wife and mother or employee. The government and husbands and fathers are not sufficiently providing for the modern opportunities that women in Taiwan are happily taking part in. As women move into the workplace, take part in education opportunities and fill important government positions, the family and the equal partnership found between men and women therein is being left behind. In order for Taiwanese women to fully achieve gender equality and strengthen the family, stereotypes must be quelled, the government must provide a more balanced policy package for families, and men and women must seek for more parity in the home.
The author with friends in Taiwan
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