International Day of the Girl Child, October 11, 2021

To say that men have misused their dominance and power will suffice because for centuries, this world has seen and heard of male dominated societies only. And with great power comes great responsibility, doesn’t it? Were they taking the responsibility and doing enough!

The idea that women are inferior to men prevailed all over the world, including Taiwan. Women are so undervalued, neglected, abused, and so often killed. That’s why, in late-Qing-dynasty Taiwan (1870-1895), female infanticide and general neglect killed over 15% of young girls. It is believed that during the early years of Japanese rule (1895-1915), female infanticide was almost completely eliminated and the treatment of girls improved.

Every country has a history and so does Japan where the killing of babies has a history of more than 1,000 years. During the feudal Edo era (1603‐1868), farmers killed their second or third sons upon birth in what was called “mabiki,” an agricultural term that originally meant “thinning out.” But, the daughters were spared to be married off, sold as servants/prostitutes or to be sent off to become geisha and professional entertainers.

Reverence for girl children in Taiwan started with the concept of adoption as sim-pua, or adopted daughters-in-law for the purposes of minor marriage or just as adopted daughters. In the second case, whether daughters were more often adopted as stand-ins for biological children or in the belief that the adoption of a daughter would herald the birth of a biological son, humans contributed to the adoption and welfare of adopted girls, thereby bringing down the mortality rates of female infants.

According to research papers, in Taiwan, since 1990, there was a substantial decline of son preference and rise of gender neutrality among married women and it was attributed to the improved status of women in the society.

Education is the key. Roles of men and women become less traditional when women are educated and employed. Societies, that are nothing but cohorts of men and women will become more neutral about the gender of an individual and the sex of children after realizing men no longer dominate all social arenas and hence, sons are not absolutely non-substitutable.

Every argument or debate ends with the contention that a rise in women’s education, status and social development greatly impacts their role in creating an ideal society where girls are solely an asset. An end to footbinding too!

To extend the reach of Japanization, elementary education for the Taiwanese people was popularized which led to 60.2 percent of Taiwanese girls attending schools in 1944 as against less than 10 percent of them in 1920.

Taiwan has come a long way. From laws restricting abortion to the marital prosperity law, Annette Lu, also the 2000 vice president gives everything her best. “These Three Women” is still a bestseller. Ho Chuen Juei “Josephine” is still on fire pushing her main causes, raising social concern for issues such as sexual harassment and domestic violence and promoting a diverse and inclusive social space.

Taiwan is indeed blessed because no activist runs out of steam. Since 2016, President Tsai Ing Wen has done much to change the culture for women. 42 percent of the seats in Taiwan‘s Legislative Yuan taken up by women legislators is a harbinger of change. Call it the “female safety net” or escalated reform, it pooh-poohs all put-downs.

As the world preps up to celebrate all girl children on October 11, let them take a lesson or two from Taiwan for equality is very much protected by law and is the best Asian country to live in for a woman.

Gender equality has been gradually taking root in Taiwanese society. It’s not about wanting equal opportunities at work, but equal responsibilities in marriage and at home. About the new economic power affecting the dynamics of family life, let’s be honest. The ‘Awakening’ has begun and “Butterfly plan” is meant to help butterflies fly free.

On this day, let’s dedicate a wee bit of our time and energy to empower and enable a girl. We need not be part of mega projects rather identify and support a few girls in our vicinity. She could be our helper’s, grocer’s, sweeper’s or janitor’s daughter, that someone who can’t afford a good education.

Dr. Elsa Lycias Joel

Elsa Lycias Joel

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