On the eve of Tomb Sweeping Day, women’s rights activists yesterday called on the government to push for reforms in funeral and ancestral worship practices that discriminate against women.
“Discrimination against women is still very common in funeral and ancestral worship practices,” Awakening Foundation vice-chairwoman Yang Wan-ning (楊婉寧) said at a press conference in Taipei. “It’s shocking to find that the government is helping to preserve such traditions by repeatedly asking discriminatory questions in the national exam for professional morticians.”
What Yang was referring to as “discriminatory practices” included the tradition that the names of male descendants be written before those of female descendants of a deceased person on their obituary and that only the eldest son of a deceased person is allowed to perform certain rituals at their funeral, she said.
Married women are traditionally not allowed to visit the tombs of their own biological family members, they cannot be worshiped by their own biological family and those who remain unmarried or are divorced also cannot be worshiped by their biological family, Yang said.
Such traditional practices were questions in the first government-approved exam for professional morticians last year.
Gender Equality Education Association secretary-general Lai Yu-mei (賴友梅) voiced her concern that with growing numbers of divorced and unmarried women, “it may become a problem in decades to come that these women have no place to rest in peace after their death.”
Figures released by the Department of Health showed that 4.6 percent of women over 65 years of age and 12.8 percent of women between 50 and 64 — a total of more than 280,000 — were unmarried as of 2006.
Lai also panned the practice that the names of female family members were not generally recorded in the family book.
“Women play an important role in a family and it’s just unbelievable that women are only known by their surname or not recorded at all in family books,” Lai said.
Yang said the government had pushed for reform in the practice of burning ghost money for the deceased to reduce air pollution, “so why can’t they also push for reform in funeral and ancestral worship practices to enhance gender equality?”
Yu Mei-nu (尤美女), a lawyer and a long-time women’s rights activist, suggested that the government start gender equality reform through the professional mortician education and exam system.
“Morticians are usually the only guidance for a family amid the chaos of losing a loved one and people fear making any changes to funeral practices unless their mortician says it’s OK,” Yu said.