EDITORIAL: Working toward gender equality

Fri, Mar 09, 2018 - Page 8

Nearly five decades since the emergence of the nation’s women’s rights movement in the 1970s, Taiwanese are able to celebrate slow, but steady progress in gender equality — at least in the workplace.

The Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics has since 1979 been studying the relationship between women’s employment and marital status based on their identification card data. In its first report, published in July 2000, the agency found that the labor force participation rate among married women aged 15 to 64 was 49.73 percent, an increase of 14 percentage points from 1981.

Nearly two decades later, the figure rose, albeit at a slower pace, to 57.24 percent in October 2016, based on the latest data available.

The percentage of women quitting their job after getting married dropped from 35.97 percent in 2000 to 29.92 percent in 2016. In addition, more women are rejoining the job market after starting a family, with the ratio rising from 29.92 percent to 51.1 percent during the same period.

These results are cause for celebration, as they signify that an increasing number of educated women do not have to sacrifice their careers for family, as many of their older counterparts did, and that they can put their knowledge and talent to good use.

As for equal pay day — or how far into the year women have to work to earn what their male counterparts did in the previous year — it improved from 73 days in 2005 to 52 days.

A report by the Ministry of Labor in 2016 also suggested that Taiwan fared much better than its neighbors in narrowing the gender pay gap. In 2014, Taiwan had a pay gap of 15 percent, compared with South Korea’s 31.3 percent and Japan’s 33.5 percent.

Despite these numbers, one cannot afford to be complacent because there remain aspects of gender inequality and stigmas that cannot be measured and translated into statistics, but are nevertheless felt by women on a regular basis.

That could be people assuming that the woman walking next to a man in a suit is his secretary, or making eye contact only with the oldest man in a meeting room due to the presumption that he ought to be the one calling the shots.

It could also be servers automatically giving the larger plate or check to the man instead of the woman at the table.

Those default assumptions largely stem from biases that need to be removed through education at home and in school.

Many biases are formed unconsciously and learned in early childhood. It might be a mother habitually asking her daughter rather than her son to help out in the kitchen, or a teacher encouraging only male students to be physically active.

Such education and re-education efforts must target both adults and young children.

Adults should take off their biased glasses and learn to look at the younger generation through genderless lenses, whether they are assigning work or talking to them about their dreams for the future. Schools should also adopt zero tolerance toward gender discriminatory remarks and actions.

A reform of the adult mindset would create a virtuous cycle, as the chances of children growing up to be reinforcers of gender inequality would be far lower after being exposed to fewer biases when they are small.

It is a long process, but one that can bring about real systematic changes and can no longer be delayed.