1992 / 3月
Jackie Chen /photos courtesy of Huang Lili /tr. by Phil Newell
"Behind every successful man is a great woman."
But with society changing, the women who had always devoted themselves to insuring the men could go out without worry are facing the problem of having no backup for themselves as they leave the home.
How can this gap be filled?
Times really are changing. In the past, society had the man outside, the woman mainly at home. Now both the husband and wife are out, with more and more two-income households.
Nevertheless, though the woman leaves home, she cannot put it out of her mind. One consulting company which began a class for women executives discovered that the most irresolvable problem for women in their early thirties was not in the office, but from pressures from the home. "Most of them have only recently become managers, and they need to give all they can to their jobs, but these are also precisely their child-bearing years," says instructor Su Chung-yen.
Women "Looking Over Their Shoulders": In the traditional view, the woman is still the main caregiver in the family. A classic example is that when the father becomes ill, the sons and daughters are all extremely concerned, and everyone takes turns looking after him. In the end, however, after some time has passed, the sons must go back to work, and they ask their wives to take care of things for them. But the women also have to work, and can't take all the responsibility. The daughters, on the other hand, are criticized by their husbands' families for spending too much time at the hospital.
Cheng Wei-yuan and Liao Jung-li, professors of sociology at National Taiwan University, have discovered in a study of attitudes about women's roles in Taiwan that the problem most women are most concerned about is how to look after both their homes and their careers.
Today, with the women's labor force increasing, nearly one-half of the women in Taiwan work outside the home according to the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics--this is truly an important social problem.
We can already see some things right in front of us:
The complexities of raising children and managing a household have led to a dramatic rise in the number of "dinks" (double income, no kids) or of people who have children but are not willing to raise them themselves. Also, the proportion of the population which marries late or never marries at all is also increasing constantly.
According to the study by Cheng and Liao, women have not been able to resolve the conflict between home and work, even leading some women to have doubts about getting married at all.
"One unmarried social worker is worried that if she marries, it will affect her current employment. Another is worried about the problem of educating her children in the future, and keeps putting off getting married. Yet another, a single woman who owns an interior design business, quite frankly sticks to a philosophy of remaining single as a way to reduce the responsibilities of housework," states the Cheng-Liao study.
Burning the Candle at Both Ends: The history of women "looking over their shoulders" at concerns they leave behind in the home is not long.
Women in the Taiwan area have only really begun to change from the beginning of rapid industrial growth in 1960. According to a study by Tsai Ching-long of the institute of Economics of the Academia Sinica, by 1964 the participation rate for female labor had reached 4O.6%. Much of the "man" power behind the export miracle led by labor intensive industries in the decade from 1960 to 1970 came from these hardworking women operating the sewing machines or assembling the electronics.
Travelling along this road, today in the 1990's women have not only penetrated all fields and professions, the labor participation rate has gone up to 45%. Although still lower than the 49% in Japan or the 53% in the United States, women are an indispensable segment of the Taiwan labor force.
Although the proportion of women working in Taiwan has grown, the other side of the coin is that many working women have left the labor market because they have gotten married or had children. According to the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, about one in three working women resigns because of marriage, and about one seventh of those who continue later leave their jobs because of childbirth. The percentage of women who return to work after leaving is extremely low, "with most never going back once they leave," as the DGBAS June 1991 "Report on Employment, Marriage, and Childbearing" puts it.
Many women quit their jobs because they cannot put up with the dual problems of family and career, but many women also just grit their teeth and bear it. These women "burning the candle at both ends" might appear on the surface to be the most worry-free group--after all they don't feel compelled to "rebel" against society by not having children, not raising their children, or even not getting married at all--but they are actually time bombs set to go off.
High Rate of Illness Among Women: "Although life expectancy among Taiwan residents is higher for women than for men, this doesn't necessarily mean that women enjoy better health," notes a study by Chen Chiao-mei, a professor of psychology at Chengchih University. Both men and women alike work outside the home, but having to go home and then be responsible for the major household chores like cooking, washing, and looking after the kids makes women's health situation unusually poor, and many have long-term illnesses and afflictions.
Hu You-huei, an associate professor of public health at the Yangming Medical College, revealed in a study that women have a higher incidence of acute, chronic, disabling, dental, and mild nervous conditions than men.
"The rate of incidence of mild nervous disorders among women is higher than for men by a ratio of 3:2. The highest risk group are women who are already married and about 35," points out Cheng Tai-an, an associate professor of neurology at National Taiwan University School of Medicine.
The problems that these women face arise primarily from the pressures of work, looking after the family and children or the in-laws, as well as marital disharmony.
If the modern woman is unable to give due care to the home, the most serious side effect is in the education of the next generation. Many working mothers leave their children at their in-laws' or mother's home, or at day care, for long periods (see the article "A Neighbor Next Door Can't Top a Relative from Afar").
A Mother's Love? In a study, Yi Chin-chun of the Sun Yat-sen Institute for Social Sciences and Philosophy at the Academia Sinica discovered that for children under three years of age, 30% of them others under 30 years of age choose round-the-clock child care, only being able to see their children on Saturday or Sunday. "In the past it was always the grandparents who were able to 'lead a leisurely life and play with the grandchildren now and then,' now it is the parents who only 'play with the children now and then,'" sighs Yi Chin-chun.
What about the problems that might arise from a working mother being unable to look after the children? "It's very simple. Just go ask a primary school instructor who's been teaching more than thirty years, then you'll know," says Yi, a bit agitated, "and see whether our children today aren't more defiant of authority, more materialistic, and less reasonable!" She contends that you can't explain it purely by saying modern parents have fewer children and thus spoil them more, as "our parents spend too little time on our children."
Many people contend that this is a "tragedy" created after women left the home. "Even nursery school teachers feel this way. When they come across a disobedient or defiant child, they just say, 'what can be done--his mother works!'" notes Yi Chin-chun. It's only that this view is harmful, because in fact it just throws the problem back to where it originates, and is a return to the traditional era of "men outside the home, women inside." In fact, following the rise in the level of education of women, economic progress, and the promotion of the concept of equality among the sexes, it is already impossible for women to return to the home. Thus at present the most fundamental solution is to give women more support.
The Common Needs of a Special Group: This is even more essential for the special groups in society.
According to the study by Cheng Wei-yuan and Liao Jung-li, one of the groups with the most problems related to the home is composed of policewomen, reporters, nurses, and sales clerks who cannot work a usual 9-to-5 day and must work at night.
Single mothers who must come out to work after divorce or the death of their spouse are in even greater need of this support network. A recent tragedy in which two sisters died as a result of a gas leak while they were bathing occurred in a single-parent family where the mother had to work in the evenings. According to the DGBAS, this group already accounts for 3.2% of Taiwan's society; though the number is not large, it cannot be overlooked. To resolve their problems is the same as resolving the problems of any part of society.
How much of the support system that women hope for has been built thus far in society?
The 1984 Labor Standards Law stipulates a "Mother's Protection System" with regulations for such things as women being exempt from arduous work during pregnancy, having an eight-week leave after childbirth, and arranging times for breast-feeding. Nevertheless, Yu Mei-nu, legal adviser to the Awakening Foundation, believes that these are all minimal regulations, and they are not inclusive enough. Thus she favors a "Equal Employment Act with time off for the husband to accompany the wife at childbirth, to raise the infants and to look after the children. This is a call for people to sit up and take notice: "having and raising children is not just for the woman as an individual, it is a matter for all of society, and even the state," says Yu (see the article "Equal Employment Act" in this issue.)
The Greatest Need Is for Child Care Services: The law is not yet comprehensive, but what about other areas? Taking Taipei City, where the women's labor participation rate is the highest, the Taipei City Government commissioned the Graduate School of Sociology at National Taiwan University to conduct a survey of the overall social welfare needs of Taipei. The results showed that the most common social welfare need for the citizens of Taipei is child care--including day care centers and in-home nannies.
It was pointed out in the survey report that the "supply" of child care services provided by the Department of Social Affairs of the city government is for 12,000 persons, while the need among city residents is for 26,000 places, which is a rather large gap. Further, the supply of in-home nannies is currently 1,100 persons, but the lowest calculation of demand among city residents is 13,000, an even greater disparity.
"But we are already at the extreme limit of what we can do," says Department of Social Affairs Director Pai Shiu-hsiung. As the social services of the Taipei City Government have all expanded over the past ten years, the proportion devoted to child welfare has grown the most quickly, by almost four times over. But it still cannot keep up with the actual need in society.
The DSA has adopted two policies: On the one hand, they have adopted many incentive measures, such as zero-interest loans for the establishment of private neighborhood day care centers of up to NT$1 million per center. On the other they have commissioned the family supported centers to train highly qualified nannies; 1,000 have already been trained. "We plan to have trained 10,000 people by the year 2000, to catch up with the demand among Taipei City residents," says Pai Shiu-hsiung.
The reason most women are more likely to trust public day care centers or government-recommended nannies is that the quality will be reliable and the fees will be lower. But even if one could get into a public day care center, you still have to run back and forth the distance from where you live or work. In order to put women workers at ease, some company owners have already been willing to allow private enterprises to set up their own self-run child care centers, such as Tainan Fumao Textiles and Acer Sertek Incorporated.
Incentives for "Unease at Home": The government naturally strongly supports this. Last year the Council of Labor Affairs adopted incentive provisions which gave a maximum NT$600,000 subsidy to enterprises willing to operate day care or other social welfare policies. But this preference has not had much real impact: As of last year, a total of 30 companies applied, and only half received the assistance.
One major reason is because the laws and regulations governing the establishment of day care or other welfare policies--for example, the area must exceed 100 p'ing (about 36 square feet per p'ing), or the location cannot be above the second story--are too strict. Another aspect is that the enterprises are not very enthusiastic, because "it's still too much of a hassle," says Pan Chih-lang, director of the Vocational Assistance Agency, who understands the trends in business very well.
Compared to overseas, many policies which have been long in place to provide working women guaranteed flexibility--like flextime, part-time work, or working in the home--are still in the preliminary stages in Taiwan. "Unless the type of work is extremely personalized and specialized, and rarely requires communication with other departments, businessmen will count it as a cost," says Chiu Shu-shu, director of the Welfare Planning Department at Acer, who is very familiar with how enterprises work. And some companies will even go so as far as to ask a woman applicant if she has any plans to have children.
For professional women, since there are no supports for their work, some just throw in the towel and forget it. The other side of the coin is that in today's mindset, there are no great accolades for housework either. At least, in Taiwan's tax code, you can deduct the costs of hiring help from your taxes, but the cost for managing a house--the Awakening Foundation indicates that if calculated on the basis of domestic help, a homemaker's salary would be about NT$25,000 per month--is not deductible from overall household income, which provides a hidden incentive for women to just go out and work.
False Alarm: What's frustrating is that if you choose to be a career woman, many women are still under pressure to succeed but dare not devote themselves entirely to their jobs. It is pointed out in a study by Lu Yu-hsia, an assistant researcher at the Institute of Ethnology and Philosophy at the Academia Sinica, that when most women choose their jobs they still have looking after their families as a major consideration. Thus a considerable part of the female workforce is in non-formal jobs, characterized by sporadic employment, frequent entry and exit of the labor market, and semi-skilled or non-skilled tasks.
A survey by the Council on Labor Affairs reveals that although the number of working women has increased, the main consideration is still short-term gain.
As a result of this, there are no special expectations of women staff in their work. Even Pan Chihlang of the Vocational Assistance Agency has advised employers not to have excessively high expectations of married women. "They have to get up first in the morning, take care of the housework, make breakfast for the husband and children, and then catch the bus to work. Just try to imagine how much energy they're likely to have left," he says, depicting the scene.
Thus many women who are intent on developing the business must work even harder than men in order to compensate for the biased attitudes in society. Chiu Shu-shu, director of the Welfare Planning Department at Acer, indicates that because she became pregnant and had a child, she could not get top grades in her evaluation, which she feels is very unfair. She feels that becoming pregnant and having a son did not affect her work, and she especially devoted herself to work in the months when she did not ask for a pregnancy leave, so "why does the company have to 'balance off' this inherent women's right in evaluations and promotions?" she wonders.
The Historic Duty Depends Half on the Men: Looking to the future, will there be any changes in the women's support system? A relatively optimistic view suggests that with the large-scale entrance of women into the labor market, society will be forced to cope. Because a large number of women have entered government agencies, the government has already begun to consider altering the male-centric method of working. For example, the Taipei City Government Department of Social Affairs no longer insists that staff stay in the office, and instead uses "completed duties" to assess subordinates. These attitude changes are all conductive to the establishment of an overall system.
Yu Mei-nu believes that it is necessary to start from changing the cultural concepts which have been carried over thousands of years. For example, men doing housework, taking care of the baby, and so on should all be routine matters in a modern society. Both men and women should be able to accept this placidly.
To change all of society will be more difficult. Yi Chin-chun suggests that there's no harm in the man of the house with a working mother starting with the man in the mirror, and expending a little more effort in his leisure time. More effort should be invested in sharing the housework and care of the children, and in promoting the idea of equality between the sexes. This is, after all, the first time in Chinese history that women have had the chance to go outside to work; if there is no help from the partner, the historical duty can never be fulfilled.
Stepping out of the home and locking arms in unity. Setting up a home support network still depends on raising awareness among women.
The special career women whose jobs aren't 9-to-5 are the most in need of the assistance of a women's support network. (Sinorama file photo)
The proportion of women out working is increasing, and they have made a mark in every profession. (photo by Diago Chiu)
Women workers on the production line have contributed a great deal to Taiwan's economic miracle.
On the first day of school, a mother taking her child to school worriedly repeats her instructions.
Although average life expectancy for women is long, the rate of illness is higher than for men. (photo by Arthur Cheng)
Acer Sertek Incorporated, which moved from Taipei City to Taoyuan County, has built a day care center in the factory area to help employees remain worry-free.
Stealing some time from a busy life, being a "Mr. Mom" can be delightful.
After school gets out, private cars, motorcycles, and the bus for the after-school "mama's helper class" are all waiting outside the school gates.
The sky's the limit for women--if only a complete support system can be developed. (photo by Vincent Chang)
The Percentage of Women Working
How Many Women are Working?
The percentage of young women entering the labor force rises every year, but its rise is obscured by the number of older women who quit after marriage and childbirth only to return to the labor force later.
Source: The Directorate General of Budget, Accounting & Statistics, Executive Yuan
Busy all day and now I have to tell the kid a story!
Once upon a time there was a princess named Snow White...
...and the witch gave her a poisoned apple...
Mommy, did the apple make her fall asleep?
(Huang Chih-hung, United Daily News)