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Current Status of Women in Taiwan

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Awakening: Yenlin Ku

August 8,1986


According to a 1988 world-wide study on women's status conducted by the Population Crisis Committee in Washington D.C., Taiwan ranks relatively high in health and education, but lags far behind in legal, political and social status. The 1994 Report on Human Rights Indicators publicized by the Chinese Human Rights Association (in Taipei) indicates that our protection for women's basic rights failed in every aspect: personal freedom, safety, employment, marriage and family, and social participation, with education being the only exception. The following facts and analysis will provide you a general picture of the current status of women in Taiwan in the areas of population and health, education, employment, politics, women's groups, and law.

Population and Health

Facts and Statistics

  female male
Total Population 20,408,798 (1991)
Sex ratio 107
Birth rate 1.616% 1.670%
Death rate 4.14% 5.20%
Sex ratio at birth 110.3(1992) 105.6(1947-56)
3rd & 4th birth order 129
Infant mortality rate 5.54% 6.24%
Life expectancy at age 0 76.48 71.10
4 women died of miscarriage
36 of childbirth related diseases
Sex ratio at age 55-59 108
Sex ratio at age 65-69 136
Sex ratio at age 75-79 105
Sex ratio at age 85+ 64

Analysis

It is true that improvements in public health, medical technology and living standard have been reflected in the health related statistics. For example, life expectancy for women has increased from 71.45 in 1970 to the present 76.48. But a closer look will reveal the adverse effect economic development and technology advancement have on women. The sex ratio at birth, especially for the third and fourth birth order, has increased dramatically as ultra-sound technology becomes available for detecting fetus' sex, and, as a result, a higher proportion of female fetuses was aborted each year. With the provision of high technology, legalized abortion, better education and economic opportunities, which are all social indicators of improved women's status, many women are still psychologically subjected to a misogynous ideology and prefer sons to daughters. Technically, better-informed and higher-income women would have better control of their bodies, but these advantages are sometimes used in negative ways. Another effect of advanced medical technology on women is the problem of aging. Studies reveal that it is usually women in the family that take care of the disabled and diseased. Who would take care of the surviving old women who have spent a whole life looking after others has become a serious social problem. We need social policies that take women's needs at different ages into serious consideration.

Education

Statistics

Compulsory education 9 years

Women at different levels of education (1992-93) Percentage (%)
Kindergarten 47.7
Primary school 48.4
Junior high school 48.7
Senior high school 46.7
Vocational school (3 years) 53.3
Vocational school (5 years) 45.5
Junior college (3 years) 44.8
Junior college (2 years) 55.9
University 44.7
Master's 27.9
Ph.D. 16.6
Total 49.1

Women's Position in the Government (1992-93) Percentage (%)
Women passing higher civil service exam 41.4%
Women passing general civil service exam 72.5%
Women in high-level executive positions in the government 0.8%
Women in medium-level positions in the government 1 9.8%
Women in low-level positions in the government 79.4%
Women in minister positions 3 (1996)

Analysis

Education and diploma have traditionally been valued in Chinese societies. Both men and especially women have benefited from rising educational opportunities due to better family economic resources and decreased family size since the 1950s. In the 1950s, women made up only 10% of college student bodies, now they amount close to 45%. But their number decreased sharply in Master's and Ph.D. programs as women are not expected to attain the same educational achievement as men, and higher degrees often jeopardize women's marriage prospect but benefit men's. Besides, college women are concentrated in humanities and social sciences, fields considered compatible with women's "temperament" and traditional roles but not leading them to high-paying jobs.

The major passage to civil service, besides winning the election, is through taking civil examinations. Although the government has set up special requirements and gender quota in favor of men, the number of women civil servants is still increasing. Compared with 10 years ago, they are moving up slowly from low-level positions to higher ones. We are pressuring the government to take measures to promote women to decision making positions to balance the sex ratio.

Employment

Statistics

Women's labor force participation rate (by year) Percentage (%)
1965 33.11
1970 35.45
1975 38.66
1980 39.25
1985 43.46
1990 44.50
1992 44.83

Women's participation rate in different job categories (1992) Percentage (%)
Technical 72.4
Administrative 12.0
Supervisory and assistant 118.7
Sales 62.3
Services 102.2
Agriculture, forestry, fishery and pasturage 40.5
Operator 40.3

Women's monthly salaries compared with men's (1992) Percentage (%)
Administrative 93.8
Technical 72.7
Supervisory and assistant 61.3
Sales 70.6
Services 70.7
Agriculture, forestry, fishery and pasturage 53.1
Operator 57.3
Average 66.0

Analysis

With some minor fluctuations, women's labor force participation rate has slowly increased since the 1960s, reaching the highest in 1986 (45.51%) and slightly dropped in the 90s. Concentrated in occupations which provide less prestige and fewer chances for promotion, women receive an average monthly salary that is only 2/3 of men's. Studies show that after the variants of human capital, work site and the nature of work have been controlled, men's average salaries are still higher than women's. Sex discrimination prevents women from enjoying the equal opportunities in the labor market in terms of entrance, training, salary and promotion. And sexual harassment is an old problem that only recently catches public attention in the 90s. The Awakening Foundation drafted the Equal Employment Bill and had it introduced in the Legislature in 1989. But it has been sitting there ever since because of the strong opposition coming from the industry and business community.

Women in Electoral Politics

Facts and Statistics

Before 1987: One party rule (KMT) + Martial law + Long-seating parliament + Local elections
Now multiple parties
3 Major Parties: KMT, DPP, and the New Party
Reserved seats for women: 1955 township elections 0.2%-->8.6% (lost significance since 1970s)

Year Category Total Women Percentage (%) Reserved seats
1996 National Assembly Members 334 61 18.0 29
1995 Legislators 164 23 14.0 13
1994 Governor of Taiwan Province 1 0 0 0
1994 Provincial Assembly Members 79 16 20.3 9
1994 Taipei Mayor 1 0 0 0
1994 Taipei City Councilors 52 12 23.1 5
1994 Kaohsiung City Mayor 1 0 0 0
1994 Kaohsiung City Councilors 44 6 13.6 5
1994 Mayors and Magistrates 23 1 4.3 0
1994 Local Councilors 842 128 15.2 94
1994 Township Mayors 309 6 1.9 0
1994 Township Councilors 6,317 937 14.8  

The results of recent elections show that a higher percentage of women are elected where the competition is not so keen. For instance, more women entered the National Assembly than the Legislature which controls more political power. And women's chances of winning executive offices, where they have to compete for a single seat with men, is still slim. The reserved seat system, originally designed to guarantee the minimum representation of women at about 10% no longer serves its purpose. Many women politicians now complain that this system is working against their chances of being nominated at the early recruitment stage within their own parties, which are generally reluctant to nominate more women than the number of reserved seats. Therefore, the quota system which once provided a floor for women to enter electoral politics in the 50s and 60s now has become a ceiling for women's entrance. Beginning from 1986, the majority of women are popularly elected and they won more seats than what were reserved for them. But the system is still targeted by male politicians and political scientists for practicing tokenism or reverse discrimination. It has also caused heated debate among women's groups, especially during election times. Not wanting to give up what has been fought for by our predecessors and feeling the gap for women's political participation still needs to be amended, a number of women's groups first proposed a plan in 1989 to gradually expand the quota to a maximum of 40% for either sex. For each election the increment of the reserved seats will be calculated on the basis of the votes won in previous elections. This year, the Commission for Women's Development of the DPP proposed to reserve 20% slots for women both within the party decision-making bodies and for the nomination for public offices. Although rejected by the party leadership, it is a move in the right direction for women who try to work inside party politics.

It is obvious that women are under-represented in electoral politics, which is a power system designed and operated by male politicians. However, political participation does not have to be limited to local and national elections. When we look at the organized efforts at changing political discourse and, consequently, public policy in favor of women, we can find an area where women are quite active. We are witnessing a growing number of women's groups that are trying to raise women's political consciousness and change the political atmosphere.

Women's Groups

1. Party affiliates

The Chinese Women's Anti-Aggression League (KMT)
Taiwan Provincial Women's Association (KMT)
The KMT Women's Department
The Commission for Women's Development (DPP)

2. Church affiliated

Buddhist, Taoist, Christian
Presbyterian Church (e.g. Rainbow Project, Taipei Women's Development Center)
Tsi-chi Charitable Foundation-- 1966

3. Branches of international organizations

YWCA, ZONTA, BPW, LION

4. Grassroots

Name Founded in
Awakening 1982-
Warm Life 1984-
Homemakers 1987-
Women's Rescue 1987-
Progressive 1988-
Women and Children Protection Ass. 1988-
Women Workers United Production League 1988-
Angles Eccentric 1989-
Contemporary Women's Foundation 1989-
National College Women's Action League 1990-
Between Us 1990-
NOW 1990-
Feminist Studies Association 1993-
Fembooks 1994-
Pink Collar Workers Association 1995-

Analysis

The women's groups in Taiwan fall into 4 categories:

  1. affiliates of political parties, such as the Commission for Women's Development of the DPP, the Women's Department and Chinese Women's Anti-Aggression League of the Nationalist Party (KMT) ;

  2. affiliates of churches, such as Taipei Women's Development Center and other religious groups.

  3. branches of international organizations, such as YWCA and Zonta; and

  4. grassroots organizations, such as Awakening, the Warm Life Association and the Homemakers' Association.

After the martial law was lifted in 1987, grassroots organizations mushroomed. They often formed coalitions on different issues and initiated group actions to agitate for social change and bring women's issues into public consciousness. In election years, they write women's platforms and campaign for the candidates who subscribe to their planks. Recent movements include a series of anti-sexual harassment actions, campaigns for political reforms, introducing the Equal Employment Bill and Revision of the Family Law in the Legislature, and making demands for women's equal access to public toilets. The impetus of the grassroots groups have motivated political parties to pay more attention to women's needs. For example, the Women's Department of the KMT organized a series of conferences and put out the White Book on Women's Policy last year in reaction to the Feminist Studies Association's project of White Book on Women's Situations in Taiwan. But it remains to be seen whether their concern will remain lip service or will be turned into government policy and actually get implemented.

Legal Status

Constitution passed in 1947

  • Article 7: All citizens of the Republic of China, irrespective of sex, religion, race, class or party affiliation, shall be equal before the law.
  • Article 134: In the various kinds of elections, the number of women to be elected shall be fixed and measures pertaining thereto shall be prescribed by law.
  • Article 156: The state, in order to consolidate the foundation of national existence and development, shall protect motherhood and carry out the policy of promoting the welfare of women and children.

Constitutional Amendment passed in 1994

  • Section 5, Article 9: The state shall preserve women's dignity, protect women's safety, eliminate sex discrimination, and promote substantial equality between the sexes.

Eugenic Protection Law passed in 1984

Abortion is legally available under the conditions when:

  1. the woman's life is endangered,
  2. the fetus is deformed or may have hereditary disease,
  3. the pregnancy is a result of incest or rape, or
  4. the maternal mental health or family life is endangered

However, a woman has to obtain the consent of her spouse or guardian before having a legal abortion.

Labor Standards Law passed in 1984

  • Wages: equal pay for equal work
  • Working hours: In principle, women are forbidden to work between 10:00pm and 6:00 am.
  • Maternity leave: 8 weeks

    Family Law first revised in 1985, now under the second revision

    1. Conjugal property: the husband and wife have the joint ownership of the property but the right to manage, use and collect fruits from the union property rests with the husband.
    2. Divorce: Divorce can be effected by mutual consent and registration at a district office.
    3. Custody and alimony: The guardianship of the children rests with the husband unless otherwise agreed upon or ruled otherwise by the court. There is no provision of alimony in the case of a consent divorce, but the injured party may claim compensation from the party at fault in a judicial divorce.
    4. Child's surname: The child assumes the father's surname. In case the mother has no brother and the father gives his written consent, the child may assume the mother's surname.
    5. Legal residence: The wife takes the domicile of the husband as her domicile unless otherwise agreed upon.

    Analysis

    The formal equality guaranteed in the Constitution very often fails to be translated into the reality of women's daily existence. There are a number of reasons:

    1. the laws reflect the power structure and dominant ideology of the society which is still male-centered and male-controlled;
    2. the principle of formal equality (such as equal pay for equal work) fails to remedy or compensate for the inequality women already suffered (such as being concentrated in certain types of occupations), and, therefore often serves to perpetuate the unequal status.

    The 1985 Revision of the Family Law still automatically places man as the head of the conjugal family by preserving his authority over the management of the conjugal property (although his wife has equal ownership), place of residence, and the child's surname. The present revision, drafted by several women's groups, attempts to give the wife an equal say in the management of property and choice of residence and to recognize the economic value of housework.

    Conclusion

    Compared with 10 years ago when I prepared the country report with Dr. Nora Chinag for the 1st Asian Women's Conference in Davao in 1985, the status of women in Taiwan seems to have improved to a large extent. The Constitutional Amendment embodies the achievement of our women's movement of the past two decades, that is, women's dignity, safety and needs are finally recognized by the society at large, at least in principle. However, the substantial equality upheld in the amendment still remains an ideal that is far from reality. How to translate the concept into behavior, the dream into social reality is the testing ground awaiting feminists in Taiwan.

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All Rights Reserved by Professor Yen-Lin Ku at National Chiao-Tung University. Any non-academic citation or use must obtain the written agreement from the author.

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