During his election campaign, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) promised women’s groups he would establish a Cabinet-level gender equality commission if elected.
However, such a commission has yet to appear in the government’s draft amendment to the Organic Act of the Executive Yuan (行政院組織法) because the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission (RDEC) has reduced it to a bureaucratic unit under the premier. The RDEC’s sharp calculations said that this would help streamline the Cabinet and save more than NT$2 billion in operational fees that instead can be used for other purposes.
RDEC officials said that gender awareness has not yet penetrated into the bureaucratic system and that an independent gender equality commission would not be able to coordinate all government agencies effectively. On the contrary, they claim that the Cabinet’s Committee of Women’s Rights Promotion, headed by the premier, is giving women’s groups, academics and experts an opportunity to participate in the government’s decision-making process and also gives orders to government agencies.
The RDEC concluded that the committee was therefore able to push gender equality policies more effectively than a gender equality commission.
However, letting a bureaucratic organization consisting of academics and experts that are not elected, lack civil servant qualifications and are therefore not politically accountable direct the Cabinet’s operations should be unthinkable. In practice, we feel that adding a gender equality office to the Committee of Women’s Rights Promotion — which is set to be renamed the Gender Equality Promotion Committee — is reckless and moves democracy backward toward a patriarchal system and away from the rule of law toward the rule of men.
First, the influence of rule of men rather than the rule of law over the Committee of Women’s Rights Promotion is undeniable. The effectiveness of the push for gender equality depends on the goodwill of the male national leader and ministerial-level political elite and the unpaid labor of committee members from the civil sector. There is a complete lack of systemic protection and no balance between rights and responsibilities.
Over the past dozen years, the committee has been described as an agency jointly operated by the government and the private sector, but in practice it has been in a gray area with unclear status. In terms of actual execution and operation, most bureaucrats have neither the intention nor the ability to implement the committee’s policies and implementation therefore has become heavily dependent on unpaid committee members from the private sector. As a result, gender awareness is still lacking in most government departments.
Another big problem with adding a gender equality office to the committee is the legitimacy of civil sector committee members. For example, neither the previous nor the current government has seriously discussed gender equality or women’s rights. Except for a few Aboriginal women members, past lists reveal no representatives of disadvantaged gender groups.
So how representative are the committee members?
Democracy places importance in a balance between rights and responsibilities, but these committee members are neither political appointees nor civil servants and thus lack accountability. So how should we deal with accountability for the success or failure of the policies?