For several decades, American women’s success in the job market was quite remarkable. Their increased share of management positions in both the public and private sectors was especially breathtaking and inspiring to women in other countries.
Regrettably, the progress toward full gender equality and participation stopped. The percentage of women in the labor force hit 46 percent in 1994 and has not changed much since. Women’s full-time annual earnings were 76 percent of men’s in 2001, and 77 percent in 2011.
True, there have been some bright spots. Katherine Graham, former chairman of the board of the Washington Post Co, was “the most powerful woman in America,” former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton and US National Security Advisor Susan Rice are shinning examples of US women at the top.
However, these are rare exceptions. Only a small minority of the heads of the largest industrial and commercial corporations and federal government agencies in the US are women.
It is in this context that Clinton has launched a new initiative — No ceilings: The Full Participation Project — to accelerate the progress of women and girls at home and around the world. She is leading a “full and clear-eyed” review of the advances made for the empowerment of women around the world and the obstacles that remain.
No Ceiling has its roots in the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, where 189 countries set an ambitious goal: Women and girls should be able to participate fully in the progress and prosperity of their societies.
Clinton, then-first lady and co-leader of the US delegation, made headlines around the world when she declared that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”
As part of her new project, she has mapped out a 21st century agenda for full female participation and a prioritized list of issues affecting women and girls around the world.
Clinton is not alone in such efforts, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also taken measures to elevate women’s participation. Not only he has appointed more women to senior posts in government agencies, he has also called for corporate Japan to promote more women to executive roles. In concrete terms, he has asked business leaders to set a target of having at least one female executive per company.
Abe claimed that “women are Japan’s most underused resource,” and presented his proposal as part of a broad set of growth-enhancing reforms to stimulate the economy.
Women occupy only 1.6 percent of executive roles at listed Japanese groups, and only 15 percent of companies have any female executives at all. By comparison, women fill 14 percent of companies’ most senior, board-level positions in Europe.
In Taiwan, leaders of women’s groups and government officials often gloat over women’s accomplishments in politics and business. They say that Taiwan’s women rank first in Asia and fourth in the world if measured by the “gender development index” and “gender empowerment measures,” indicators used by the UN Development Programme to compare women’s access to education, and participation in the job market and elections for representative office.
Despite progress, however, Taiwan’s women are a long way from the goal of equal rights and full participation. There is still no “Hillary Clinton” or “Susan Rice” in the nation’s foreign policy or national security institutions, and Taiwan needs to elect more women to political office, including the presidency.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) lost to Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in last year’s presidential election, in part because of the culture of male chauvinism and the failure of women to support a female candidate. Election analysts agreed that Tsai received fewer women’s votes than Ma.
If Tsai plans to run again, she must broaden her support, and demonstrate to the voters that she cares about gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The seven-in-one special municipal elections next December will create opportunities for female participation.
For Tsai, it will be a time of great challenge and also great opportunity, as she can sponsor, support and elect more women to political office. In so doing, she will expand her advocacy efforts to new constituencies and build up new bases of support.
It would be timely and appropriate for Tsai to endorse the bid of former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), who is campaigning for the DPP nomination for the Taipei mayoral election.
Lu, the founder of Taiwan’s feminist movement and a vanguard of the crusade to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, has broad experience in government and foreign affairs, as well as an outstanding record of public service including terms as vice president, Taoyuan County commissioner and member of the Legislative Yuan.
A partnership forged by these two outstanding female leaders is not only politically correct, it could also help many more women win election to political office during the seven-in-one elections and greatly accelerate the progress of women’s political empowerment in Taiwan.
As no women has ever been elected mayor of Taipei, Lu must beat voters’ male chauvinistic traits and break down the gender barrier in the capital. At 69 years old, she must also fight and overcome age-related discrimination.
Her detractors have made an issue of her age, but this is an outright violation of human rights and should not be permitted in a democratic nation that respects the rule of law. Lu has rightly pointed out that it is the “brain” rather than “age” that matters.
The fact that former premier Yu Shyi-kun, 65, and former Keelung mayor Lee Chin-yung (李進勇), 62, beat their younger rivals in the polls and won the DPP’s nomination to run in New Taipei City (新北市) and Yunlin Country respectively would show that voters pay more attention to candidates’ government experience than age. (“Lu again plays down her age in her bid for Taipei,” Dec. 6, page 3).
When and how will the DPP select its Taipei mayoral candidate? Taipei’s residents, not TV talk show guests or DPP faction chiefs, should have the final say.
For the public to make an objective and wise choice, they should have more information on how the candidates plan to govern the nation’s capital, and where they stand on the major issues confronting the city. It is therefore incumbent upon the DPP to sponsor public debates and give the candidates with an opportunity to publicize their policy platforms and answer questions.
If Lu wins the DPP primary, in addition to defeating her KMT rival, she might also have to overcome a formidable wild card challenger in the form of National Taiwan University Hospital physician Ko Wen-je (柯文哲).
A pan-green supporter, Ko has lead most public opinion polls and he wants to be selected as the DPP mayoral candidate or run as an independent. There are negative aspects to Ko’s possible candidacy, too. Though he is an outstanding physician, he is a political novice with no government experience. Also, he is not a DPP member. Most serious of all, he is yet to explain to the public his unpublicized trip to Beijing in September to allegedly solicit the support of Chinese officials in charge of Taiwan affairs.
Ko’s China trip casts doubt on his political judgment and ability, and it also raises questions about his relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Is Ko Beijing’s “Manchurian Candidate”? No one yet knows.
It is strange that pro-China papers and TV stations in Taiwan have been promoting Ko’s candidacy and denigrating DPP aspirants. Could Ko be an instrument of Beijing to divide the green camp and defeat the DPP’s candidate? Will the public continue to hold him in high regard once the details of his secret China trip come to light?
In any case, if Ko wants to join the mayoral race, he owes the public a full explanation of his trip to China and any a disclosure of any deals he may have made with the CCP. Taipei residents expect and demand candidates to be honest, transparent, experienced and outstanding leaders who can and will safeguard their freedom and well-being, and they do not want a Chinese agent.
Shirley Chang is an associate professor emeritus of library and information science at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania and is president of Tapei Club II of the Federation of Business and Professional Women, Taiwan.
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