A few days ago, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-People First Party (PFP) coalition presented a white paper on women's policy, in which they advocated a considerable expansion of the right to participate in government.
The paper said that both sexes should be guaranteed at least 30 percent of seats in the legislature, that at least one-fourth of candidates nominated to the Cabinet, the Control Yuan, the Examination Yuan and the Grand Council of Justices be women, and that both sexes be guaranteed to make up at least one-third of a party's candidates to publicly-elected positions.
Although the presidential election gives the promotion of this policy a heavily electoral odor, and although the DPP has accused the alliance of having plagiarized its own proposals, it would still be a positive thing if the election could lead to a renewed focus on women's participation in government, an issue long neglected by politicians.
Taiwan adopts a quota system designed to guarantee the election of women. According to Article 134 of the Constitution, "In the various kinds of elections, the number of women to be elected shall be fixed, and methods pertaining thereto shall be prescribed by law."
Article 2, Paragraph 2 of the Additional Articles of the Constitution states that when the number of representatives for a local or proportional electorate "is between five and ten, then one of the seats shall be reserved for a woman. Where the number of exceeds ten, one seat out of each additional ten must be reserved for a woman."
Article 33, Paragraph 4 in the Law on Local Government Systems (
In the 2001 legislative election, 22.2 percent of legislators elected through the multiple-member district electoral system were women. Among these women, not one relied on the quota system to be elected (in the previous legislature, only one did so). But at the same time, only 8.7 percent of those elected in the county commissioner and city mayoral elections held concurrently with the legislative election were women.
In the elections to county and city government councils held last year, 21.9 percent of those elected were women, but only 6.3 percent of those elected in the concurrent election of township magistrates were women. So, looking at the election of public officials over recent years, over 20 percent of those elected through proportional elections were women, but in elections for single-seat positions, the proportion of elected women was still below 10 percent.
Looking at elections outside Taiwan, there is quite a difference in the number of women participating in government across different countries. The proportion of women in national parliaments stands at about 13.3 percent. There are, however, quite significant differences between regions.
In Northern Europe, an average of 38.3 percent of elected parliamentarians are women (above 40 percent in Sweden). In Arab countries, however, the average is a mere 3.6 percent. The average proportion of elected female parliamentarians in European and North American countries is about 15 percent, and the average in Asian countries is 14.3 percent.
There is, however, no necessary relationship between the number of women elected to a national parliament and the state of that country's economic development. In addition to political culture, the design of the electoral system and quotas regulating the election of women are the most important structural factors affecting the proportion of women elected.
Generally speaking, countries that adopt a system of proportional representation have a higher proportion of women elected to parliament (an average of about 17.2 percent). In countries with single-member districts or absolute majority systems, about 7.3 percent of those elected are women.
Taiwan's electoral structure for the legislature is a mixture of multiple-member districts and proportional representation. Even though it still lags rather far behind countries in Northern Europe (all of which have proportional representation systems), when it comes to the proportion of female legislators, the proportion here is already higher than in the US (14 percent), the UK (18 percent) and France (12 percent), all of which utilize single-member districts.
In addition, the nomination process within political parties is another important influence on the ability for women to participate in government. For example, even though both Canada and Australia have single-member district systems, the nomination process within major political parties places more emphasis on women's participation. The proportion of female legislators in both of these countries is therefore higher than that in Belgium and Italy, both of which adopt proportional representation systems.
We are glad to see the major political parties compete in proposing "gender proportion" policies, but we still hope to see the proposal of a complete set of measures instead of mere "campaign-style" policy declarations. For example, if in future the electoral system should be changed to a single-member, two-vote system (one vote for an individual candidate, and one vote for a party, where seats produced through the party vote are proportionately distributed), how do we prevent it from having a negative effect on a woman's right to participate in government?
The principle of proportional gender representation might be one good way of ensuring this, but how are we able to guarantee that neither sex gets less than 30 percent of the total number of seats? How large a proportion would have to be reserved for proportional representation? How should the number of proportionately distributed seats be divided between political parties in order to fill 30 percent of the total number of seats? A few days ago, a KMT think tank suggested that the number of legislative seats be cut to 100. If so, how many seats will remain for legislators elected in single-member districts?
When we talk about the importance placed on women's participation in government, in addition to the importance given to the nomination of candidates for publicly elected office and the appointment of politically-appointed government officials, equal importance should in fact be placed on the employment and promotion of the many female civil servants within each government ministry. "Rule by both sexes" should not be a mere campaign platform; it should instead be concretely implemented.
Wang Yeh-lih is a professor of political science at Tunghai University.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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