The Ministry of the Interior is offering a reward of NT$1 million to anyone who can come up with a slogan that would make people more willing to have children. While this may be a well-intended idea, the fundamental solution to this problem would be to actively search for answers as to why Taiwanese decide not to have children.
Negative factors such as a sluggish economy, political tensions, problems in the education system and the gradual degradation of the environment have contributed to a fear of having children.
Also, Taiwanese society is not very friendly to women.
On the surface, women’s rights in Taiwan are no less than in other dweveloped countries, and Taiwanese women are among the most highly educated in Asia. However, on closer inspection, it is easy to see that women are still restricted by traditional attitudes that limit their right to work and have a major influence on the choices they can make about giving birth.
For example, while the government has set up a system to subsidize women taking unpaid leave to care for their infants, the many restrictions placed on working women in the past mean that they are still unable to have children and care for them without having to worry about their jobs. In interviews, most employed women say that while the government’s policies are good, they still worry about losing their jobs.
If employers cannot ensure the rights of female employees to have children, the willingness to have children will probably continue to drop.
Second, the government has been promoting gender equality for years. The policy has been effective to some extent and women have gradually managed to cast off past stereotypes of women as housewives and they are now competing with men in the workplace.
However, the traditional view that men should work and women stay at home remains deeply ingrained in people’s minds and the view in many families is still that women are predestined to look after children.
Many career women have to do housework when they get home from work, prepare meals, wash clothes, look after their children and help them with homework while the husband sits around and relaxes, at most doing a token chore. Obviously, if we want to increase the willingness of women to have children, men must learn to share the housework and be gentler and more considerate.
Another backward concept that keeps women from having children is the view that boys are more important than girls. As the quality of the education system has improved, education has become a very expensive project that causes the average couple to worry about having too many children. However, the older generation still thinks a boy is needed to continue the family line and some even think more children and grandchildren will bring greater luck. Therefore, women are often pressured to bear a boy or a few more children before “it is enough.”
Having children has thus become an endless nightmare that scares many women away from marriage.
Is it so strange, then, that the fertility rate keeps falling?
Our culture still holds many prejudices against women. As soon as women are able to resist these prejudices, they will stop playing along. If I were a woman, I would not want to have a family, unless these old cultural habits were eradicated. Instead of coming up with slogans, the ministry must find ways of creating an environment that is friendlier to women and that will let them feel that motherhood is a happy and rewarding experience.
Hsu Yu-fang is an associate professor and chairman of the department of Chinese at National Dong Hwa University.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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