Sunday, August 13, 2017

While comparatively better, Taiwan is not a paradise for women

A casual reader of this blog might come to the conclusion, after a few posts where I defend or even praise Taiwan for being as I've called it "the best country in Asia for women", that I think of Taiwan as some sort of elysian idyll for women where gender equality is the norm and women's rights are universally respected and defended as equal to men's.

However, I'd like to add this as a reminder - perhaps a periodic one, with more to come - that when I say Taiwan is a "good" place for women, I mean that it is comparatively good. For instance, many people talk about foreigners who choose Taiwan over China and Hong Kong due to dissatisfaction with life in a "closed off and racist" (and politically unfree, and polluted) society. I would add something here: I chose to leave China and eventually make my way to Taiwan because I found China unrepentantly and unbearably sexist, and Taiwan less so.

Being better than the rest of Asia is a low bar to clear, however: most if not all of the world still struggles with the basic concept of women's equality, and while Asia is not the total smoking dumpster fire a lot of Westerners think it is vis-a-vis women (remember pretty much every country here has a home-grown feminist movement), it is hardly a shining paragon of gender equity.

To take just one tiny example, despite women having more equality in the workforce than other Asian countries, very few of them are among the nation's top earners. Yet I doubt too many people care about this outside of a core group of activists: rather like in the West. And rather like in the West, many people who think they have good intentions and egalitarian principles will wave these figures away saying it's a "choice" women tend to make to pursue something other than high-earning, high-stress careers (that stupid ex-googler is a good example of this - not even going to link it). Then the issue is left to rot, with no consideration beyond those core activists that no, it is not really a choice if you are pushed into it by societal factors, or if the profession you choose to enter is lower-paid not because it is low-stress or less necessary, but simply because it is dominated by women. Remember that coding and programming were low-paid fields when they were dominated by women, and that teaching was a well-paid, high-status career when it was dominated by men.

This country is not perfect, and still has a long way to go before it can even approach a country like, say, Sweden, despite slow steps toward progress such as hosting a Council for Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) summit for the first time - something that would not likely have happened in the previous administration which was not so much anti-woman as they simply ignored women's issues, nor, perhaps, the one before that despite former vice president Lu being an active feminist (and person with otherwise crazy views - old link but relevant).

In politics, it's not so much that people disagree on deficiencies in women's rights, it's that they just don't care. Take, for example, the way that the National Congress on Judicial Reform ignored important changes, all urgently needed, to issues affecting women and children. A rape shield law? Ignored. Ending the criminalization of adultery? Ignored.

I doubt that every member of the judicial reform congress thinks rape shield laws are a bad thing, or is still under the impression that criminalizing adultery is meant to help rather than harm women. Some of them probably are deeply sexist enough to believe these things, but most likely they ignored the report in question because they just don't give a damn and don't think any of it is particularly important. Casual sexism rather than virulent sexism.

That's how Taiwan often operates - while the US seems to lean headlong into worsening its problems, Taiwan simply ignores them. While I wouldn't want to live in a place that was trying to actively persecute its women - as many places in the US are doing in their attempt to roll back reproductive rights and equality initiatives - nor can I conscientiously accept the attempts of many American politicians to redefine rape (and those who, on the very far right, even advocate legalizing it), this isn't great either.

A quick primer on why criminal adultery laws hurt women can be found in this excellent article which I strongly recommend you read.

The funny thing is that these laws were originally conceived to protect women. Well, some women. Married women. Presumably with children, as people around the world seem to have difficulty imagining a married child-free couple for some reason. Those women, apparently, are worth protecting. I'm guessing the people who put those laws in place thought of them as real women, unlike those evil adulteresses, who are, I dunno, un-women?

The divorce laws also need to change - the idea that one might not be granted a divorce is simply unacceptable. The idea that a no-fault divorce petitioned by only one spouse might not go through - so that a judge gets to decide if you ought to remain married or not despite how much you might not want to be - is unacceptable. A marriage contract is not the same thing as a contract with a landscaper, a contractor or a boss. You aren't expected to spend your free time with your boss, raise children with a graphic designer you hired or be intimate with your landscaper. It's just not the same. I'm in a happy marriage, with zero intention of divorcing, yet I would not marry under laws that wouldn't give me the right to do so (I also have no intention of having an abortion, but I would not live in a country where my right to do so was impinged upon. I do worry that that may soon be the case in the country of my birth).

As for why rape shield laws are important, that ought to be obvious and I'm sad that I even have to say why they are important, but I probably do. Essentially, when a rape charge actually goes to court (which is rare enough - most cases never do), without a rape shield law, the defense is able to turn the court proceedings away from the alleged crime being tried and instead make the trial all about the sexual history of the plaintiff. All of those garbage defenses like "well she has sex with lots of guys" and "how can you believe her, she's a slut and anyway look at what she was wearing" are suddenly inadmissible, because they aren't dealing with the rape in question and are essentially irrelevant. There are some strong and nuanced counterarguments (this is an interesting read) but ultimately, we do need laws that put rape cases on equal footing with trials for, say, armed robbery: if you wouldn't bring up the history of an alleged victim of robbery as someone who always showed off their flashy possessions and even gave them away in the past, then you shouldn't be doing that to an alleged rape victim either.

My point is, if I sound overly optimistic or cheery about women's issues in Taiwan, it's because I'm comparing Taiwan to the rest of Asia. On that rubric, Taiwan does well. But in terms of overall women's equality, we still have a very long way to go.

1 comment:

Am fear eile said...

I wonder if this allowed the expectation to grow that decriminalisation of adultery would take place by default, without anyone having to put a head above the parapet of public condemnation?

"In 2011, Taiwan signed the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)." (As the link suggested, drawing attention to discrimination would render the law immediately illegal.

In Taiwanese society, the approach to conflict seems to be like that in Scotland - ignore it first, and work round it until it becomes unavoidable, and then tackle it thoroughly. Maybe it's the same everywhere, though - except for that strange experiment in social engineering known as the USA. (I blame the "Ulster Scots"!)