TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- In recognition of International Women’s Day, Chiayi County offered women free rides on 35 bus routes, though critics said the offer trivializes the need for gender equality in Taiwan.
Statistics show that domestic violence cases have increased across Taiwan, with the number of cases in Chiayi County increasing 17.5 percent to 791 in 2016, up from 673 the previous year. By comparison, New Taipei City recorded 225 cases of domestic abuse, 130 of which were classified as physical abuse, from April to December last year. In response to the increase in domestic violence cases, Chiayi County seeks to implement plans to improve domestic violence prevention.
The Social Affairs Bureau of Chiayi County noted that last year its budget to handle domestic violence cases increased to NT$5.21 million (US$169,000) from NT$1.75 million in 2015.
Taiwan enacted the Domestic Violence Prevention Act on June 24, 1998; it was the first of its kind in Asia. According to statistics, there were 95,818 reported victims of domestic violence in Taiwan in 2015, up from 86,885 in 2011. Of the victims in 2015, 67,616 were women.
There were also 10,454 sexual assault victims in 2015, a decrease of about 6 percent from 2011. Of the victims in 2015, 81.44 percent were female, and the majority were aged 12 to 18.
A Ministry of Health and Welfare survey of 529 women ages 18 to 74 last March found 26 percent of respondents had encountered abuse from an intimate partner at some point in their life, with psychological abuse being most common (suffered by 21 percent of respondents). That was followed by 10 percent experiencing physical abuse, economic abuse (9.6 percent), sexual violence (7.2 percent), and stalking and/or harassment (5.2 percent). According to the survey, respondents aged 71 to 74 had experienced the highest rate of abuse (42.9 percent).
The survey “showed that respondents in ‘metropolitan regions’ were more likely to be subject to intimate partner violence than those in ‘less developed townships,’” with most metropolitan respondents also experiencing higher rates of psychological abuse.
NGOs and academic studies estimated that the total number of sexual assaults in Taiwan was seven to 10 times what was reported to police last year, though sexual assaults and domestic violence cases can be investigated by authorities without the victims pressing charges. Most domestic violence offenders are given sentences of less than six months in prison.
Domestic violence in Taiwan is enough of a concern that The U.S. Department of State noted the problem in its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016.”
In an effort to reduce domestic violence and sexual assaults, The Domestic Violence Prevention and Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Acts stipulate that elementary and junior high schools offer at least four hours of gender-based violence prevention education every year.
Professor of criminology at National Chung Cheng University Cheng Jui-lung (鄭瑞隆) said that Chiayi County’s offer of free bus rides for International Women’s Day is not what is needed to promote equality for women in Taiwan. He added that the government should strengthen protections to ensure women’s safety and provide more employment opportunities to allow for greater independence.
Cheng noted that a higher employment rate among women may help reduce domestic violence cases. While the female labor participation rate has increased in recent years, however, so have the number of domestic violence cases.
In 1997, the government formed what is now known as the Gender Equality Committee of the Executive Yuan (GEC), which continues to help shape local and national policies in relation to women’s rights and gender equality. The committee notes that women’s participation in the national government has grown from 19.1 percent in 1998 to 38.05 percent last year.
According to the GEC, the female labor force participation rate in Taiwan in 2015 rose to 50.74 percent, higher than in Japan, but still lower than South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and the U.S. However, Taiwan’s female labor force participation rate exceeds those mentioned for women aged 25-34.
Taiwan offers the 113 Protection Hotline with 24/7 reporting and enquiry services specifically for domestic violence, sexual assault, and children and youth protection cases.