In July last year the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍), issued a blunt statement: “Violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions.”
Her bleak assessment, based on research spanning 27 years, indicates that 30 percent of women worldwide are affected by domestic or sexual violence by a partner, while more than 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime.
However, while the treatment of women in some countries may demonstrate more brutally and publicly human rights violations, key research indicates that domestic violence in Taiwan is still a major — albeit largely hidden — menace.
HUMAN RIGHTS CHALLENGE
In fact, violence against women is so significant a factor in Taiwan that the US Human Rights Report (2012), a much-respected bi-annual US government review, listed it as being the gravest human rights challenge currently confronting Taiwanese society. Worryingly, on the issue of sexual violence, the report states: “Because victims were socially stigmatized, many did not report the crime, and the Ministry of Interior estimated that the total number of sexual assaults was 10 times the number reported to police.”
Research undertaken by the Garden of Hope Foundation, a non-government organization dedicated to assisting women who have been the victims of domestic violence, suggests that the problem is deeply ingrained. Last January it released the findings of a research drive indicating that 41.5 percent of women in Taiwan have fallen victim to violence.
As part of its drive to combat domestic violence, the foundation, which operates a national network of facilities, provides social workers, counseling and — in Taitung City — a novel hotel-based project aimed at assisting women fleeing from abusive relationships.
Located on the nondescript Zhongxing Road in Taitung City, the group’s 21-bed I-Sing Blooming Garden Hotel (愛馨會館) provides work for around a dozen women — single mothers, foreign spouses and Aboriginal women alike. The project aims to help equip them with some of the key skills they need as they prepare to re-build their lives, often with children in tow.
A-Chiao (阿嬌 , her name has been changed to protect her identity), a Vietnamese woman who had been married to a Taiwanese man and with whom she has a young daughter, now works at the hotel and explains that it helped her to escape an increasingly abusive relationship.
“He would curse us when he was unhappy and he also hit me,” she says, adding that her ex-husband drank a lot.
The mail-order bride, who has since divorced her husband, and who says she was at her “wit’s end” when she arrived at the hotel, described living in constant fear when she was at her marital home. A-Chiao twice tried to escape her oppressive circumstances but, unable to find work, she was forced to return to her husband both times.
A-Chiao is one of a growing number of foreign brides brought to Taiwan to marry Taiwanese men — the National Immigration Agency puts the current number at 320,000. In fact, says the government body, there are so many foreign brides that 10 percent of the country’s elementary school students are now from families with one foreign parent.
Amid such a major influx of women from overseas nations — principally Vietnam, Indonesia and China — there have been calls for changes to certain laws that limit their ability to fully participate in society.