Thu, Apr 22, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Laws ensnare immigrant spouses

By Bruce Liao 廖元豪

The Control Yuan has been looking into the issue of Chinese spouses and has issued a report on the laws governing them and their social implications. The report points out that these laws are both unconstitutional and in breach of their human rights. It also says prejudice against Chinese spouses still exists in Taiwanese society.

This came just as Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) made some cutting remarks about these spouses, accusing them of trying to divorce as soon as they receive citizenship. Chen also criticized any suggestion of amending the law to give them more rights.

I often hear people using similar arguments against female immigrants to support the assertion that the government should not guarantee the rights of spouses from China or any other foreign country. They also argue that the government should not reduce the number of years these women have to wait until they can get citizenship, the rationale being that withholding citizenship keeps them looking after the elderly people in the family and performing their duties as a wife and mother — so the argument goes.

Taiwanese men are going off to China, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia in search of a wife to take care of them and act as baby-making machines. This wife is expected to know her place and not complain. Naturally, the idea of divorce to follow her own dreams is out of the question, and the state has created laws to enforce these expectations.

This sort of portrayal of such women smacks of a male chauvinism best consigned to the past. How many people in Taiwan today would apply such “standards” to Taiwanese women? Taiwanese women left behind the demure Oshin character we saw on TV many years ago and have learned to demand their rights and create the future they want. Taiwanese men, too, are well aware that they need to treat their partner as an equal. The days of expecting Taiwanese women to be obedient baby-making machines are in the past, and there’s no going back.

It does appear, however, that foreign spouses are taking on the “traditional role” of the Taiwanese woman. Taiwanese men are now picking foreign women who they believe are going to do as they say and many Taiwanese women seem to be happy to allow these “outsiders” perform a job that they themselves do not want to do. Taiwanese men and women enjoy equal rights in this country; is it acceptable to deny these same rights to others simply because they are non-Taiwanese?

The legal system is complicit in this. As the law stands, the residency status of these immigrant spouses is far from certain until they actually obtain Taiwanese citizenship. It is an endorsement of traditional patriarchy, effectively saying that the woman has to “behave herself” because if her husband files for divorce she will be sent “back to where she came from.” These women undertook to begin a new life in a foreign land, so they are likely to be strong and capable people. Ironically enough, before they obtain Taiwanese citizenship, they are more often than not expected to suppress themselves and play the submissive woman.

In other words, laws like these which work to restrict new immigrants create inappropriate expectations among Taiwanese: that it is OK to ensnare women because of their immigrant status for a period of servitude defined by the time it takes them to receive their citizenship. If the Taiwanese man goes looking for a foreign spouse with this kind of attitude, can we really blame these women for viewing the moment they obtain Taiwanese citizenship as the end of their contractual obligations?

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