Taiwan leads way in advancing gender equality in Asia

More women in Taiwan are moving into high-level roles in industries traditionally dominated by men. (Staff photo/Huang Chung-hsin)

More women in Taiwan are moving into high-level roles in industries traditionally dominated by men. (Staff photo/Huang Chung-hsin)
 

Taiwan’s central and local governments are making significant progress in implementing legislation, mechanisms and programs safeguarding women’s rights across the economic, political and social spheres.
 
Overseen by the Cabinet’s Department of Gender Equality, these efforts date back at least 20 years and have helped cement Taiwan’s reputation as one of the most forward-thinking countries in Asia when it comes to women’s rights. This healthy state of affairs is illustrated by a broad range of international indexes such as the latest assessment produced by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics based on the U.N. Development Program’s 2016 Gender Inequality Index.
 
Taiwan ranks ninth worldwide and tops Asia in addressing challenges facing women, according to the DGBAS. Wu Hsiu-chen, director general of the DGE, said July 3 in an interview with Taiwan Today that the country consistently stacks up well against U.N. member states in the 2010-launched index.



DGE Director General Wu Hsiu-chen sees adroit policymaking as key to making Taiwan a model for gender equality in Asia. (Staff photo/Huang Chung-hsin)


The nation is part of the global community’s embrace of women’s rights and has long accepted gender equality as a universal value, Wu said. What distinguishes Taiwan as a trailblazer in the region is its advanced legal foundation and laws cracking down on violence against women while promoting equal relations between the sexes throughout society, she added.
 
Notable legislative achievements in this regard include the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act of 2005; Gender Equity Education Act of 2004; Act of Gender Equality in Employment of 2002; Domestic Violence Prevention Act of 1998; and Sexual Assault Prevention Act of 1997.
 
Wu considers the Domestic Violence Prevention Act a milestone in related lawmaking. The bill catapulted Taiwan ahead of neighboring countries in the region, she said, adding that it disrupted the traditional Asian concept of a government having no right to interfere in the private relations of citizens.
 
Numerous amendments over the years have expanded the act’s scope of protection to include the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender demographic. This was achieved by extending the perpetrator-victim definition beyond family members or spouses, according to Wu.



The high number of women lawmakers in the Legislature sets Taiwan apart from other countries in the region. (MOFA)


On the basis of this strong legal framework and enhanced public education efforts, Wu sees gender mainstreaming as on the move and cites the greater involvement of women in political and public decision-making. This process is supported by mandatory women’s rights courses in schools and the workplace, as well as the requirement that Cabinet committees feature men and women with neither gender exceeding two-thirds of the membership, she said.
 
Another yardstick is the increasing number of women in politics. In January 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen was elected the nation’s first female head of state and the next month, a record 43 women lawmakers—equating to 38 percent—took their seats in the 113-member ninth Legislative Yuan. According to the DGBAS, this was the highest in Asia ahead of the Philippines, 27.1 percent; Singapore, 23. 9 percent; South Korea, 16.3 percent; and Japan, 11.6 percent.
 
Equal access to education and employment opportunities is also paying dividends for women in Taiwan. A total of 2.51 million households—or 30 percent—counted women as the primary breadwinner in 2016, up from 1.69 million a decade before, the DGBAS said. Although men remained the top earners for the majority households, this trend demonstrates a gradual harmonization between the sexes.
 
But the government is not content to rest on its laurels, Wu said, identifying international exchanges as an important area in which Taiwan’s policymakers can learn more from their counterparts abroad and keep rolling out cutting-edge initiatives. She views such a measure as instrumental in keeping the country abreast of the latest global standards.



Women’s rights experts from abroad review Taiwan’s second CEDAW implementation report in June 2014. (Staff photo/Chuang Kung-ju)


One highlight is ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2007. Two years later, Taiwan issued its first national report on implementing CEDAW and maintained momentum with the announcement in 2011 of the Enforcement Act of CEDAW. Under the law, which took force at the start of 2012, the government is required to deliver such a report on the promotion of gender equality every four years and revise all relevant laws and administrative measures contravening CEDAW within three.
 
The third national report, released in December last year, is to be reviewed July 16-20 by a panel of leading international academics and women’s rights advocates with U.N. Committee on CEDAW experience. Subsequent recommendations for improvement will play a major role in shaping policy adjustments and future directions, according to Wu.
 
Taiwan’s comprehensive efforts are testament to a deeply ingrained commitment in the public sector to building the country into the benchmark for global gender equality, Wu said. It is sincerely hoped this example can bolster cross-border cooperation and spur headway on this vital issue in Asia, she added. (E) (By Wendy Kuo)