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Gender equality in Taiwan still has a long way to go

March 8 was International Women's Day, making it a perfect opportunity to praise women for the hard work they do and to reflect on ways to improve gender equality in Taiwan in the future. The international event has been observed since the early 1900s, a time of great expansion and turbulence that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies in the industrialized world.

Although much progress has been made to protect and promote women's rights in recent times, there is still no place in the world where women can claim to have all the same rights and opportunities as men, especially in Taiwan. A recent survey conducted by a local Chinese-language magazine shows that only 23 percent of high-ranking executives in local companies are women, even if their education levels are now higher than their male counterparts'.

Not surprisingly, caring for children or elderly family members remains the main responsibility of women in 74 percent of households. They also do all the housework in more than 60 percent of cases. Even among double-income families, data show that men share housework with women in just 10 percent of couples.

Another survey by the Ministry of Labor also indicates that women are paid 16.1 percent less on average than men in Taiwan. This means that women need to work 59 days more than men per year to earn the same level of income. It is clear that the heavy burden of housework and unfair treatment in the workplace have combined to suppress the creativity of many women.

According to the Gender Equality in Employment Act of 2007, female employees in Taiwan may apply for parental leave with up to 60 percent of their salary for six months. Yet, complementary measures still haven't been implemented and most women are afraid of losing their jobs when returning to work. Taiwan should be inspired to follow the example of states like Finland, Norway and Sweden, which place a high priority on family-friendly policies. Norway, for example, provides a combination of 12 months' paid parental leave with universal access to childcare at highly subsidized rates.

The unexpected pregnancy of teenagers is another growing issue in Taiwan. Problems related to teen pregnancy such as abortion, unemployment and lack of adequate finances, not only harm young women but also their children. Teen mothers are more likely to be isolated from friends and to even stop pursuing higher education. Taiwan health authorities should know that proper sex education in the Netherlands has successfully reduced the rate of teen pregnancy. According to a study dating from 2011, there are only 1.67 teenage pregnancies out of a thousand Dutch girls (15-19 years old), while the birth rate among Taiwanese teen moms is about 3.68 percent.

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