Peng's ideas still a beacon for women

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Tue, Nov 30, 1999 - Page 3

Three years ago today, Peng Wan-ru, then the director of the DPP's women's affairs department, disapppeared. She was last seen getting into a taxi after a meeting the night before a DPP party convention in Kaohsiung. Her body was found three days later outside an abandoned warehouse in Kaohsiung County, with more than 30 stab wounds. The murder sparked a public outcry against the widely perceived lack of protection given to women in Taiwan, galvanized the women's rights movement across the island, and led the legislature to establish a more sound legal base for the protection of women's rights

One of the goals Peng Wan-ru devoted herself to was increasing women's political participation -- specifically, she promoted the idea of a public representation quota mandating that one-fourth of elected seats be reserved for women.

The proposal, ironically, was passed at the DPP's national congress on Nov. 30, 1996, the day Peng was believed to have been murdered.

Three years have passed, and some are asking whether Taiwan has seen any progress in women's participation in politics.

"The situation has become a lot better than before," said Ingrid Liao (1戇?^), current director of the DPP's women's development department. Since the passage of the one-fourth seat quota article in the DPP's party program, Liao said there has been a great shift in the party's nomination procedure.

"The internal structure of our party has changed," she said.

In 1997, the year after Peng's death, the DPP's internal elections for party officials, as well as the constitution of party departments, have all followed the one-fourth principle, she said.

"We are the first party to follow this principle, and we have practiced it the most thoroughly," Liao said. "In nominations for legislators-at-large, we had originally been short of women candidates, but as soon as the central committee discovered this, they immediately consulted us for more women candidates," Liao said.

Many DPP women became politically active when their husbands were sent to jail after the Kaoshiung Incident in 1979. Speaking on behalf of their husbands, DPP women entered the political mainstream, running in elections and becoming lawmakers.

Liao said that more independent women eventually joined the political sphere out of concern for the community and because of an interest in public affairs.

So far, the one-fourth article has been written into the Local Autonomy Act (|a?閮謍*法) which passed the legislature in 1998, but has been blocked from being written into the Constitution.

In constitutional reform conferences at the National Assembly last year and also two months ago, the proposal to include the article failed. The present quota for women for legislative and national assembly elections, therefore, remains at one-tenth.

Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順), former director of the KMT's Department of Women's Affairs and a current KMT legislator, also holds an optimistic view on women's political participation.

She said most KMT women have traditionally jumped into politics for family reasons. Most of these women, she said, came from veteran's villages, and because of the tight organization in such villages, they were usually guaranteed of being elected. As a result, however, few KMT women were ever pressured to promote gender issues.

"But now, we have more politicians who are focusing more on public policies and women's issues," she said.

Huang said the one-fourth principle also applies to the KMT's election nomination procedure.

"We have 29 women elected in the Taipei City Council and 43 in the legislature, which is a great leap of numbers from that of the past," she said.

As the director of women's affairs, Huang has been making efforts toward the creation of women's organizations in the central government, especially after the Peng murder. She said she was invited to present ideas to the KMT's central standing committee.

In her presentation, Huang proposed forming an official agency under the Executive Yuan to be in charge of national women's affairs. That led in April 1997 to the formation of the Cabinet-level Women's Rights Promotion Committee. The next year, the Sexual Assault Prevention Law and the Domestic Violence Prevention Law passed the legislature.

In the eyes of women's groups, however, the KMT made these moves out of political motives.

Peng Yen-wen (彭渰?), a promotion director of the Awakening Foundation, was less optimistic than Liao and Huang about women's political participation.

She pointed out that the ratio of female government section chiefs to that of men is still relatively small. Moreover, Peng said, neither the central governments nor local governments have plans to promote women officials.

There are five top female officials in the Cabinet, six in the Taipei City government, and one in the Kaoshiung City government.

"But if we look at the numbers of officials at the deputy level, we find hardly any women in any of these governments," Peng said.

This would suggest female chiefs were merely promoted as tokens in the governments, she said, adding that neither KMT- nor DPP-led governments have substantial plans to develop and promote women cadres, she said.

Liu Yu-hsiu (劉毓秀), a director and one of the founders of the Peng Wan-ru Foundation, echoed Peng. She said recent changes do not necessarily mean that women have access to power-sharing.

Created the year after Peng's death, the foundation has embarked on a different route to promote women's participation in politics -- that is, a "bottom up" strategy.

In the past three years, the group has been working on building women's community organizations in Taipei. The Taipei City government's efforts at promoting homemakers' participation in local issues have already had a significant impact on the city government's policies, Liu said.

According to Liu, community police patrol routes are now decided by women organized by the group. And children's after-school daycare services are also provided by community "mamas."

Liu said that through such methods, women could join the decision-making process in the formation of public policy.

In addition, the Peng Wan-ru Foundation was the first women's group to take an overt political stand, by supporting Chen Shui-bian (3?糮?/CHINESE>) and the DPP.

It has previously been a big mistake for women's groups to take an impartial position toward political parties, she said.

"If women want to share more political power, they need to cooperate with the state. We are proud that our group is the first to step into politics, because women's interests cannot be separated," she said.