The Duality of the Situation of Women in Taiwan

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?
Good Opportunities
Of the Cabinet, 8 are women or 20 percent and there are 34 female legislators, or 30 percent as of 2008. [1] 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%. [2] 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.

Destructive Practices
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. [3] 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. [3] 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. [4] 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. [5] The World Health Organization defined Taiwan as an “ageing” society, with above 7-percent of the population 65 years of age or older. [6] The Cabinet-level Council for Economic Planning and Development of Taiwan is predicting that by 2011 there will be a population growth of zero. [7]
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. [7]

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. [8] 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. [9]
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. [10] 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. [11] 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

Works Cited

1 Idiazabal, George. Taiwan Today, “State of play: Women’s political representation in Taiwan,” Taiwan Today, (Published 24 September, 2010),      <http://taiwantoday.tw/ct.asp?xItem=119269&ctNode=449>.

2 “Value of College and Graduate Degrees Declines.” Taiwan Today. Taiwan Today, 9 Feb. 2010. Web. <http://www.taiwantoday.tw/ct.asp?xitem=94040&ctnode=436&mp=9>.

3 Standing, Jonathan. Reuters, “Taiwan to allow small brothels in law change,” Reuters, (Published 14 Oct, 2010)        <http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE69D4SH20101014?loomia_ow=t0%3As0%3A            a49%3Ag43%3Ar1%3Ac0.139344%3Ab38330434%3Az0>.

4 Wang, Audrey. Taiwan Today, “Gap widens between male, female births,” Government Information Office, Republic of China (Taiwan), (Published 30 Aug, 2010),           http://taiwantoday.tw/ct.asp?xItem=115858&ctNode=454&mp=9)

5 Wang, Audrey. “Gap Widens between Male, Female Births.” Taiwan Today. 30 Aug. 2010.   Web. <http://taiwantoday.tw/ct.asp?xItem=115858&CtNode=454>.

6 HZW, Taiwan Today, “Taiwan’s marriage, birth rates continue to fall,” Government Information Office, Republic of China (Taiwan), (Published 14 May, 2010),          <http://taiwantoday.tw/ct.asp?xItem=103114&CtNode=419>.

7 “Late Marriage, Low Birthrate, and More Elderly to Care for – The China Post.” China Post Online – Taiwan, News, Breaking News, World News, and News from Taiwan. The China Post, 28 Mar. 2011. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. <http://www.chinapost.com.tw/editorial/taiwan-issues/2011/03/28/296357/Late-marriage.htm>.

8 KP-THN, Taiwan Today, “Taipei City to subsidize births, childcare,” Government Information Office, Republic of China (Taiwan), 2010. (Accessed 7 May, 2010),           <http://taiwantoday.tw/ct.asp?xItem=102101&ctNode=413>.

9 “Survey: Gender Discrimination for Women in Taiwan Are Not Happy – Thoughts.com Conversation Engine.”Thoughts.com. Thoughts.com, 7 Mar. 2011. Web. 27 Apr. 2011.    <http://www.thoughts.com/ssx817/survey-gender-discrimination-for-women-in-taiwan-are-not-happy>.

10 The WomanStats Project, 2001. <http://womanstats.org>.

11 “FEATURE: Technology Addiction Takes Its Toll on Asian Youth.” Taipei Times. AFP  SINGAPORE, 20 Apr. 2011. Web. 27 Apr. 2011.    <http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/world/archives/2011/04/20/2003501236>.

—by JFB 

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5 thoughts on “The Duality of the Situation of Women in Taiwan

  1. GoodReason says:

    Wow, that is a GREAT overview! Well done. Such a shame that for every step forward, there seems to be a step back . . .

  2. Crys says:

    This is a very interesting post to read while I am living in Taiwan.

    Your comment about fertility is interesting because i see tons of pregnant women here. (maybe it is just the area around Hisn Chu, but I have noticed that probably 50% of the married staff is pregnant or just gave birth. (so maybe things are starting to change. I have talked to several people about whether they prefer a boy or a girl…all indicated they did not care (younger generation who are pregnant or just had a baby) I asked if they would try again for a girl. The answer was yes. These answers seem incredibly hopeful to me. Or perhaps they think like this or feel this way, but in reality it is different.

    However, I have a theory that the younger generation has moved more towards equality. Older generations have made comments to me that men are smarter than women (female) men are better doctors then women (male and in a completely different conversation and situation).

    As far as degrees go. Having a college degree in Taiwan is not that big of deal. Many people are struggling to find jobs right now because everyone has a college degree. The average starting salary of $19,000 USD. The pay difference between a high school degree to a college degree is only $2,000. The goal of education in Taiwan is just to get the students to the University. But once they get into University, it is easy. A college degree is nothing special and not that difficult to achieve. There are so many colleges and Universities here you can get accepted anywhere. So the fact that only 35.8 percent of women are getting a degree is actually worse than it sounds. As it is easy, but in reality it is not as necessary. You can still get hired as a college graduate for the same jobs you would as a college graduate in many cases. (excluding doctors and lawyers). They have a saying here. Everyone that goes to college…gets a degree.

    As far as sex workers go. Even the police here are considered sex objects. I was teaching my english class and asking them to name careers and what they did. Police man, fire man. What do they do? Sexy women. What? they only hire beautiful women to cover these positions to represent the women well.

    • Crys says:

      As far as not marrying goes. I was scolded by a women the other day for getting married when I was 23. (She is now 30 and told me she waited until she was 28 to get married.) If only she knew what goes on at BYU. I have several older friends now who are un married women 30 and older. It is sad to note how most don’t have the skills necessary to date. IN many high schools relationships are forbidden. (according to a source at the school) Relationships are put aside in order to focus on school. so what happens? You end up with all these women who are incapable of dating.

      Women don’t know how to be mothers. I heard a story the other day of how a young teacher received a phone call from a parent who asked the teacher how they could be a good parent. The teacher was baffled. She was a 30 something un-married Taiwanese woman with no children. Why was this parent asking her how to be a good mother? They don’t know. The man came into the office yesterday. After some paternity leave. Someone asked him how his baby was. He answered. She cries all the time. Someone said, “Well they do that.” The man said well, I didn’t know. She cries all night. I didn’t know babies do that. (Isn’t that sort of basic information about a baby?)

      Anyways, I could go on and on about what I see here in Taiwan. Most of which goes along with what this blog is saying. I need more time here to feel I have a more accurate picture of life in Taiwan currently…so yeah. That is what I think. Great blog.

  3. Jules says:

    Thanks Crys! You are having some awesome experiences! Please keep a record and share when you return 🙂 It is interesting what you said about the rising generation, and conflicts with current data. The data shows that it is the rising generation (20’s and 30’s) who are not having children and are preferring boys. Maybe you live in a good area :-). But it is important to take in qualitative, on the ground data as well. The things you said about stereotyping, marrying late, and parenting were very common in Taiwan when I was a missionary, so that isn’t too surprising. And the degree part – I have talked with some who say it is actually quite hard to get into some of the colleges, and others who say that once you are in college it is really easy. I think it differs with area and who are talking to. You should find out more about this (data); I’d be interested to know.

    Thank you so much for sharing and have fun in Taiwan!

    • Crys says:

      It is difficult to get into colleges like Taipei University and the other “best” schools in Taiwan. These are the schools everyone wants to go to and parents and teachers put a lot of pressure for students to work to get there. However, other colleges are fairly easy to get into as there are so many of them….so I have been told by several Taiwanese teachers who participate in this world of education.

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