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FEATURE/On Women's Day, Taiwan continues its pursuit of 'true equality'

03/08/2024 02:06 PM
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Medical center nurse Chen Yi-ting. CNA photo March 8, 2024
Medical center nurse Chen Yi-ting. CNA photo March 8, 2024

By Evelyn Yang, CNA staff writer

As Taiwan joins the world in marking International Women's Day on Friday, the spotlight is on the progress the country has made in its pursuit of gender equality. However, many women still face significant challenges in their day-to-day lives despite laws enacted to stamp out discrimination in schools and workplaces.

"The contemporary progress we observe has largely been propelled by women themselves," Secretary-General of the Awakening Foundation Chyn Yu-rung (覃玉蓉) told CNA in a recent interview, "not because of systems or policies that sufficiently supported them."

"And many women continue to be caught between work and family responsibilities," Chyn said, adding that they are often left to navigate these challenges alone.

Parental leave discrimination

Chen Yi-ting (陳怡婷), a nurse at a medical center in Taipei, resumed her role as a nurse in November last year after taking two years of parental leave.

Having worked as a nurse for almost seven years, Chen said she became pregnant unexpectedly six months after she and her husband tied the knot. She went on leave just before the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in 2021.

"I think women are affected by childbirth more than men, no matter the situation," Chen told CNA in a recent interview.

"I'm lucky that my husband is a great 'teammate,' but I know many of my co-workers lack a support network and have been forced to make compromises, like working in clinics instead of medical centers so they have more time to look after their children."

Chen went on to say that because she alternates between day and night shifts, her husband had to find a job with more stable hours so they could give their 2-year-old son the care he needs.

"My husband and I work pretty well together, and the caring responsibilities do not just fall on one of us."

Medical center nurse Chen Yi-ting. CNA photo March 8, 2024
Medical center nurse Chen Yi-ting. CNA photo March 8, 2024

Caught between career and pregnancy

In many aspects of life, particularly in the workplace, stereotyping and discrimination hit women before having a baby is even on the cards.

"I was asked during an interview how I would balance work and family if I were to get married," said Su Chin-ya (蘇靖雅), a 25-year-old engineer. "But a household should be taken care of by both partners; it's not solely the responsibility of women to do so."

Su now works as a research and development engineer at a high-tech company in Hsinchu, after studying for a master's in engineering and interning at a research institute in Belgium.

Although Su and her female colleagues are competent and professional, they still encounter barriers because they are women.

"My supervisor once asked my female colleague and I 'not to take parental leave at the same time' because that would be an inconvenience to the company," Su said.

"But that's my private life, you cannot determine how it will play out," Su said, adding that at that time, neither she nor her colleague were married, let alone thinking of having children.

She went on to say that she was teased by her male colleagues when she took menstruation leave, and often felt pressure to dress in a certain way, which was very different to when she lived in Belgium.

Engineer Su Chin-ya. CNA photo March 8, 2024
Engineer Su Chin-ya. CNA photo March 8, 2024

Nan, who is in her 30s and also works in the high-tech industry, currently works as a software engineer in the U.S.

Based on her experiences studying and working in Taiwan and America for more than 15 years, she agreed that all things related to marriage and children "significantly affect women in the field."

"They might have to temporarily leave their jobs due to family responsibilities," Nan explained, adding, "While some may say it is acceptable for women to take a career break, the acceptance, or lack of it, they receive upon their return can be a challenge."

She added that women often face dilemmas due to their age, "By the time they are ready to advance their careers, they might also be pregnant, which can be challenging."

The 'caregiver' conundrum

Regarding the situation, Chyn said, "Women are often expected to take on more caring responsibilities and face more obstacles because of outdated assumptions around gender roles."

Chyn added that women tend to drop out of the workforce in their 30s due to caregiving responsibilities.

Ministry of Health and Welfare data released in 2020 showed that around 21 percent of Taiwanese women leave their jobs after getting married. Only 60 percent of them subsequently return to the workforce.

Although some continue working, in part due to higher educational levels and a more open-minded society, the public is calling for more initiatives to be implemented to alleviate pressures on working families, Chyn said.

For example, more flexible ways of using parental leave should be legislated, so parents can take time off on a daily or hourly basis, Chyn said.

She added that civic groups are also calling for parents to be able to take their leave at any time before the child reaches 8 years old, a rise from the current limit of 3 years old.

Secretary-General of the Awakening Foundation Chyn Yu-rung. CNA photo March 8, 2024
Secretary-General of the Awakening Foundation Chyn Yu-rung. CNA photo March 8, 2024

Calling for more publicly funded care services

Taiwanese parents are also calling for more publicly funded childcare services, which suggests that lots of families are finding they need two salaries to raise a family, Chyn explained.

Along with other activists in Taiwan, Chyn is calling for the government to provide more publicly funded services, adding that "it's not just children who need looking after, but also the elderly."

In Taiwan people have a legal responsibility to ensure their parents are sufficiently cared for.

Chen, as a young parent, echoed the statement. She said that publicly funded care services are important because parents are afraid that they might hire incompetent nannies, or mistakenly send their children to substandard primary schools.

With the help of these services, parents can focus more on their careers and won't be forced to quit work to provide care for family members, Chen added.

She added that as people come together to celebrate the progress made towards gender equality on International Women's Day, it is important to remember that the issue is about more than just treating women fairly but is a broader topic that is linked to democracy.

"Living in a democracy means everyone's voice is heard," Chyn said, adding that the government needs to take everyone's point of view and experiences into account when formulating policy, including those of women.

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