What it is like to be a woman in Taiwan

Two Taiwanese girls playing - Photo Credit: Mathilde Renault
Two Taiwanese girls playing - Photo Credit: Mathilde Renault

By Mathilde Renault,  political science student living in Taiwan.

The next Taiwanese presidential elections will take place in January 2016, and the new president could be a woman. Taiwan is a small island on the right of China. It is considered as a part of China since the consensus of 1992. This article looks at the place of women in the Taiwanese society.

Taiwan is considered as the best Asian country to live in for a woman. Indeed, in Japan women aren’t always accepted in the workplace and are often mocked. In China, women are only allowed to have a second child if their first is a little girl, like a second chance to have a baby boy. Even if Taiwan in geographically and culturally close to China, this tradition doesn’t take place in Taiwan and women are allowed to live as they want and not according to a traditional pattern, even if they do so every time they meet the family of their husband to make a good impression. There are a lot of traditions about women in Taiwan which are not always respected but interesting to know. Did you know that traditionally women weren’t allowed to enter a temple when they are on their period? This is considered as disrespectful toward gods because period is considered as a representation of evil which come out of the body.

Women in front of a statue in Taipei - Photo Credit: Mathilde Renault
Women in front of a statue in Taipei – Photo Credit: Mathilde Renault

In the traditional Taiwanese way of life, when a woman married her husband she had to leave her own family to live with her husband’s family and she had to act like an actual daughter to the parents, a woman marries her husband and his family. Nowadays, we can sometimes see the legacy of this tradition. During ‘Lunar New Year’ holiday, people usually go back to their home-town and gather with family. Daughters who are married must spend the first day of this holiday with the family of her husband. It is said that if a married woman goes back to their own family on the first day of lunar month, it means that she is having trouble in her marriage. On the second year, she has to visit her own parents and to bring them presents. The tradition says that if she doesn’t bring any present, her family will be poor for the whole year.

Taiwanese Women in a Market - Photo Credit: Mathilde Renault
Taiwanese Women – Photo Credit: Mathilde Renault

The Chinese language is interesting to study to understand the traditional role women had to assume. For example, the character 好 Hao, which means good, is composed of two parts: the radical of woman 女 and the word which mean son or 子. The good is represented by a woman who has a son. This character shows pregnancy gave women their power and their status in the society. Moreover, the Taiwanese girls I’ve interviewed for this article told me that nowadays, if a woman has no children she has to prove her value in work. This is interesting because China and especially Taiwan were previously aboriginal and matrilineality, women gave their name to their children and the legacy was given by the mother to the daughter. There are still few communities with this pattern in China, like the community of Mosuo (摩梭). Chinese gives us other clues about the traditional status of women. For example, you can find the radical for women 女 in a lot of insults. The word ‘bitch’ is written in Chinese 婊. This example doesn’t seem so relevant if you ignore that there is no special radical for men in the insults. Those examples show just how we can learn on the traditional way of thinking from the language.

Two Taiwanese girls playing - Photo Credit: Mathilde Renault
Two Taiwanese girls playing – Photo Credit: Mathilde Renault

We can find few marks of those traditions in the Taiwanese society nowadays, women are very free and the equality is very much protected by law. The girls I’ve interviewed Chenchen, 20 and Nadege, 19 consider they have never suffered from gender inequality in school and hope it will be the same in their future workplace. The situation is getting better.

Special thanks to Chenchen, Nadege, Chi-lin and Guo Laoshi.

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