What you need to know
Despite Taiwan’s high rankings in gender equality, Taiwanese women consistently report experiencing discrimination.
By Madelynn Einhorn, Josie Coyle, and Timothy S. Rich
Over the past several decades, have successfully been fighting for greater gender equality. Tsai Ing-wen, the first female president, was elected in 2016 and 2020, and women comprise nearly , including in the Legislative Yuan. In 2021, Taiwan was ranked first in East Asia and sixth in the world in the U.N. Development Programme’s . Despite improvements in gender equality, women are still experiencing discrimination and harassment.
For example, while female employment has increased, endures, with women often pushed towards lower-paying sales and clerical jobs. The found that nearly 90% of the cases of workplace harassment were reported by women, and nearly half of these cases were filed against bosses or administrators. Past studies have found that almost have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
Increased government and media attention to discrimination towards women would presumably influence public perceptions. To address this more explicitly, we surveyed 640 Taiwanese respondents from May 18-20, via a web survey administered by PollcracyLab at National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center.
First, we asked respondents, “Do you believe that gender discrimination is commonplace in Taiwan?” Overall, we found respondents nearly evenly split, with 49.53% disagreeing and 50.47% agreeing. But we see a clear difference in perceptions by gender, with 56.97% of women but only 46.46% of men agreeing with the statement.
We then asked respondents, “Have you been the victim of gender discrimination?” The vast majority (68.59%) of respondents reported no, which would suggest that gender discrimination might not be as commonplace as initially perceived, or at the very least the difficulty in defining terms like commonplace. But disaggregated by gender, the data shows 77.53% of men reported negative while 54.10% of women said that they had experienced gender discrimination. This divergence by gender is to be expected; however, women may be because past studies have found that women often feel uncomfortable or embarrassed to report discriminatory behavior.
In addition to intentionally underreporting, people may have different conceptions of what constitutes discrimination. One can assume that gender discrimination is primarily overt sexual harassment rather than broader non-sexual workplace discrimination. found that while 97%-100% of the Taiwanese population viewed grabbing genitalia as harassment, only 60.9% of women and 28.6% of men believed that making comments about someone’s features was harassment. One may assume that men might define gender discrimination more loosely than women, narrow definitions may also be generational in nature.
To further analyze the data, we looked at the relationship between reporting being a victim of gender discrimination and perceiving gender discrimination as commonplace. 64.24% of people who had never been a victim of gender discrimination did not view it as commonplace, while 82.59% of self-reported victims of gender discrimination viewed it as commonplace. Again, this suggests that perceptions of the pervasiveness of discrimination are inherently subjective, and that one would notice or ignore evidence of discrimination depending on their experiences.
Finally, we ran regression analysis to study the relationship between perceiving gender discrimination as commonplace and various demographic (age, gender, education, income, and party affiliation) and attitudinal factors (victim of gender discrimination). We found that women were more likely, and that older Taiwanese were less likely, to believe gender discrimination was commonplace. But once controlling for whether one had been a victim of discrimination, women were not statistically more likely to view discrimination as commonplace.
Despite its high rankings in gender equality, Taiwan still has significant room for improvement. Women are consistently reporting experiencing discrimination and many view it as commonplace in society. Despite that try to prevent harassment, women are often unsure if what they have experienced counts as harassment or are too embarrassed to report it, potentially emboldening perpetrators to reoffend. The Legislative Yuan passed the Stalking and Harassment Prevention Act last year, criminalizing stalking and harassment behaviors and, according to proponents, . have found that robust anti-harassment policies, training, and employee liability standards can help combat gender discrimination. But a supportive legal framework is insufficient to change public opinion. Policymakers should continue paying attention to the issue and the public needs to be informed of the ramifications of gender discrimination.
Madelynn Einhorn is a recent alumna from Western Kentucky University, where she majored in Political Science and Economics.
Josie Coyle is an honors undergraduate researcher at Western Kentucky University, with majors in International Affairs and Chinese.
Timothy S. Rich is a professor of political science at Western Kentucky University and director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL). His research focuses on public opinion and electoral politics in East Asia.
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