A week ago, premier-designate Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said that his new Cabinet lineup would respond to public expectations, and that he and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) understand what adjustments are needed to respond to people’s wishes. Most people took that as an oblique reference to the main financial and economic portfolios, which were duly reshuffled, although Jiang did say later that not every portfolio would change hands. However, as the names were released this week of who was coming, going or moving to another post, one thing became apparent –– the scarcity of women in the lineup.
Eleven of the 47 ministers in the Cabinet when Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) took office in May last year were women, or just over 23 percent. In the past eight months, that number has fallen dramatically, with the resignations of former minister of finance Christina Liu (劉憶如), former Council of Labor Affairs minister Jennifer Wang (王如玄), former Mainland Affairs Council minister Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛), former Sports Affairs Council minister Tai Hsia-ling (戴遐齡) and former National Youth Commission minister Chen Yi-chen (陳以真). In addition, when former National Communications Commission chairperson Su Herng (蘇蘅) completed her two-year term, she was replaced by a man. Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) appears to be staying on in the new Cabinet, while Financial Supervisory Commission Vice Chairwoman Lee Jih-chu (李紀珠) is moving over to take up the reins of Chunghwa Post Co and a young woman, Lee Chia-fei (李佳霏), has been named Presidential Office spokesperson.
Meanwhile, Ma, who has come under increasing criticism in recent years for the narrowness of the pool of talent he has drawn upon when filling appointments, on Thursday dismissed criticism over the lack of diversity in Jiang’s Cabinet –– though he was apparently not talking about the gender imbalance –– and defended the selections made so far with a basketball analogy.
“The Cabinet reshuffle is like a basketball game, there are different tempos in four quarters and different players. Even Jeremy Lin (林書豪) does not always play the entire game,” he said.
However, more telling was his comment that while the government would seek people with different areas of expertise, “if we just find people who have little in common, it will be hard to integrate the team.”
So being a team player is a key factor in Ma’s (and Jiang’s) decisions. However, the Cabinet members do not have to share a locker room, so why is it so difficult to find women who are willing to play on Ma and Jiang’s team? Or is it that they have difficulty in finding common ground with women?
It has been difficult not to harp on about how often Ma fails to live up to his campaign promises when he breaks one after another, and this gender deficiency is just the latest example. When seeking the presidency in 2008 he said he would gradually increase the number of female officials in the central government to 25 percent within four years and to no less than 33 percent within eight years.
Ma was all too ready to boast about the legislature approving the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in May last year. The convention promotes the protection of gender-based human rights, the promotion of gender equality and the appointment of women in decisionmaking positions.
Under the CEDAW Enforcement Act (消除對婦女一切形式歧視公約施行法), which took effect on Jan. 1 this year, Taiwan is required to review its laws, regulations and practices, and to amend or reform those that do not comply with the convention within three years.
The government will need to talk with and listen more to women as it seeks to bring the nation into full compliance with CEDAW. It is more than a shame that there will be so few women in leadership positions in the government to spearhead that effort.