There are several ways of valuing women's social participative action, firstly, it is a democratic embodiment of civil politics; secondly, it is a performance field of individual empowerment (political, economic and social); thirdly, social participation can increase social trust and cohesion between people.
As a mixed methods research design, social survey, individual in-depth interview and focus group in-depth interview as used as data collecting methods to investigate women’s social participation in Taichung, both at individual and organizational levels. The motivation, experience and obstacles of social participation are intensively discussed and the effectiveness of social participation is evaluated in this study. Although social participation can be understood from various domains, this study mainly looks at women’s participative actions in voluntary sector, community organization, associations and women's right organization.
Women who have had trained and volunteered in Taichung City, served as female presidents and committees in Community Development Association, women's right organization, and other associations are invited to participate in this study. In total 601 valid questionnaires have been completed, with a completion rate of 120%. 15 women and 5 experts participate in qualitative design.
The main findings include：
- Most of the women who had participation experiences in volunteer service, community governance, women's rights organization and other associations are mainly middle-aged, with only associational participants are relatively younger. It implies that women's social participation is quite restrained by their time, roles and family care responsibility. Generally speaking, there are various differences showed between women’s educational, employment and parenting status.
- Social leisure activities are the most common choice of respondents. The popularity of digital social media helps to promote women's social participation; while the types of social organizations/social activities tend to be in relation with charity, public welfare and religion. Most of the respondents have participated in voluntary service for more than 10 years. Most of the participants in community governance still take care of the elderly as the main practice field. There are many difficulties for women's groups. Most women's rights organization face the difficulties of resource insufficiency and partnership with the government.
- In terms of self-efficacy, the self-efficacy of association members is highest than those who participated at community governance and volunteer service. 90% of the respondents expressed that they lived a "happy life" and "very happy life". Most participants doing voluntary services take self-learning and growth, doing good and helping others, and improving interpersonal relationship as their service motivation, but they will decide whether to engage in voluntary service by time, place and service content.
- In terms of social trust, compared with the leaders of women's rights organization and volunteers, the performance scores of community governance and community members were lower; however, more than 80% of the respondents agreed with the notion of ‘human nature was kind and sincere’. More than 50% of the respondents are willing to help others.
- Most of the respondents have reservations about the issue of ‘equal rights in same-sex marriage’, and some younger members have expressed their support, which shows that there are a big gap of attitudes between different age groups. On the other hand, the degrees of cognitive understanding of gender policy issues varied. It suggests that gender policy advocacy needs to be strengthened.
- One of the important reasons for women to participate in community is to prepare and plan for their own health and aging. They expect to expand their interests, learn skills and operate practices in community care organizations, women's right groups or general non-governmental organizations. `Learning" has become an important goal for women's empowerment.
- The women's right organizations in Taichung city now tend to be traditional, most are doing charity and service work. Their social participation obviously has the characteristics of caring ethics and charity model, and is less interested in the more political civil society model. On the other hand, they are relatively unfamiliar and mastering with the initiative momentum and gender issues. Even if there are some professional service organizations, their power of supervisory and advice to the government are relatively weak under the system of purchase of service contracting.
This study argues, with individual awareness and collective action participation, women can actually participate in the decision-making process and narrow the gender gap, to promote gender equality in all areas of life. Personal social participation depends on the availability of time, money and information, for various benefits such as human capital, social capital and cultural capital can be generated. The organized social participation requires more policy and educational actions: the government should invest more resources, support more women to participate in decision-making process, and promote the vigorous development of civil society. Education should be continuous, for that everyone can give absolute respect to critical thinking and free speech; this is the essence of democracy.
Based on the conclusion of the study, suggestions are listed for the government to take actions to promote women’s social participation to empower women.