As I've written before, living in Taiwan as a woman can often feel like having a split personality (skip to #11 here). On one hand, I feel safe walking around at night and don't get cat called on the street (though honestly as a 35 year old frumpy lady I rarely get cat called in the US either, which is a welcome relief from my twenties - the myth that you miss it once it stops happening to you is false, at least for me). It is the most progressive country in Asia for women, women are highly participatory in politics and can expect a measure of equality in their lives, most of the time. When they don't receive it, they usually have some access to potential recourse. It's not perfect - neither is the USA or any country really - but it's not bad, as things go.
On the other hand, every once in awhile you learn something that makes you sit up in horror. A short history of things that have caused this reaction in me:
- Learning that a host of important women's rights initiatives weren't passed or modernized until 1998 or 2000 (right around the time the KMT lost power for the first time). That is a shockingly short time ago.
- Finding out that abortion, while legal, must be accompanied by the consent of the husband if the woman is married, and must come with one of four "acceptable" explanations if she is not
- Knowing that the lack of no-fault one-sided divorce was originally aimed at protecting women from husbands who might abandon them, but now keeps women equally trapped in marriages they don't want to be in, can't get consent from their spouses to leave, but can't prove any fault to push for a unilateral divorce.
- Knowing that, as adultery is still (somehow) a crime, it is rare but not unheard-of for a woman to refuse to grant a divorce to a philandering husband while at the same time pursuing criminal charges against his mistress
- Pointing out that while birth control is available over the counter (apparently - I have been told this but I have never seen it sold), higher-end birth control not generally found in pharmacies but gotten from an OB-GYN is not covered by National Health Insurance. This means that women who can't tolerate over-the-counter pills, can't afford the prescription stuff and can't for whatever reason use condoms (see: controlling/abusive partner, latex allergies) are SOL just because of a misguided idea that covering birth control under NHI would hinder attempts to increase the fertility rate (which I am not all that sure needs to be increased - the population is already too dense and the money spent on promoting child-bearing should be used to help this generation of senior citizens manage their affairs as we reset to a lower overall population).
- Reading about how certain issues, like the China Airlines strike, are often dismissed (or the opposition attempts to dismiss them) if the protesters and activists happen to be young, often attractive, women.
- Watching (awesome) women protest and ultimately win against sexist rules at university dormitories (the part that causes me to despair is that the rules existed in the first place)
- Reading ridiculous coverage of the fact that our new president wore pants at her inauguration as though that is important in any way at all
- The lack of acknowledgement of the most important issue in the discussion of Taiwan's low marriage and birth rate: that sexist family expectations are keeping a lot of women from marrying or having children because they don't want to get stuck on that road - it seems like everything BUT this key central issue is trotted out as a reason
It can lead one to have wildly disparate feelings, on a day-to-day basis, about the state of women's rights in Taiwan. That's true of course for any country but I happen to live here, and I would argue the two sides of this issue are more polarized than in many other countries.
And then there's this: unmarried women in Taiwan may adopt, but they may not receive fertility treatment.
I would take a stab at explaining why but I really can't. I can't even go the "some people feel children need to be raised by a couple" route (not that I agree with it, but a lot of people feel that way) because it's OK to adopt!
This makes no sense whatsoever. This, like forcing women to justify their reproductive decisions vis-a-vis a non-sentient ball of goo in their uterus, has no place in a modern society. Taiwan, with its newly-elected progressive female president, can, should and must do better. It has a unique opportunity in Asia as a free and - for the region - progressive society to lead the way in a whole host of social issues, from LGBT rights to historical preservation to women's rights. This is a stone-age law, not fit for a modern society and frankly, the Taiwanese government should be embarrassed and ashamed that it is still on the books at all.
At least this time there is something you can do - sign the petition! Get it in front of President Tsai. Help make this happen, so that one small thing in a whole host of issues Taiwan is still facing might be re-examined and hopefully changed.