Thursday, March 3, 2016

Work for it, Tsai.

Despite this being a blog that focuses, or tries to focus but often fails, on women's issues in Taiwan, I haven't written about Tsai's recent election much at all. This is in part because I said my piece back in 2012 when she last ran: that I didn't think being female made her unelectable; that I appreciated that one former fighter-for-democracy-turned-slightly-crazy-person's comments on her sexuality were effectively dismissed by blue and green voters alike which shows the maturity of the Taiwanese electorate; that I admire how she is a self-made woman - she didn't come from any political dynasty founded by a father or husband as basically every other female leader in Asia has. Edited: I originally mentioned Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but hadn't realized her father had been president as they don't share a surname.

I don't think I said, however, that her election isn't the end. Having a female leader doesn't mean an end to sexism in Taiwan. It sure didn't for India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh or South Korea. Even China - which in my personal experience is far more entrenched in misogyny than Taiwan - technically had a female head of state. America hasn't solved racism because a black man is president. That's just not how it works. But, I didn't think it needed to be said. Seemed obvious, right?

Well, along those lines, not only is it important to remember that the fight for women's equality didn't end with Tsai's election, but that we can't necessarily expect that the KMT being gone automatically means things are going to get better in Taiwan in general. I supported Tsai, and the vast majority of Taiwanese voted for her, on faith that she was the best choice. That doesn't mean magic will fix everything though - Americans made that mistake with Obama, and while I'm a Sanders supporter, it seems to me that the mistake is being repeated by others who 'feel the Bern'. She has work to do, and the people are going to expect to see improvement fast.

In terms of women's issues, this is where I personally - and I gather Taiwanese feminists will agree - feel that Tsai has to work to be a true advocate for women's issues in Taiwan. I will be disappointed if certain issues aren't addressed at some point in the next four to eight years:

Amending the abortion law so that married women may obtain abortions without the consent of their husbands
Increasing public awareness of and support for the victims of domestic violence
Making it more feasible for abused women with children to leave marriages with the assurance that their child will not be given in custody to their abuser or his family
Amending divorce laws - it's ridiculous that adultery is a crime and nobody should need to seek approval from the state to get a divorce
Expanding health insurance coverage for OB-GYN visits for women under 30, a greater range of birth control and other women's health issues including more complete coverage for abortions
Increased public awareness campaigns and other initiatives to advocate for greater equality in the home - in decision making, child care, housework and more...for many women this is where equality really matters
To better enforce existing gender discrimination laws so that women who face them have a real channel to seek justice

...and probably others as well, this is just a top-of-the-head-list.

Work for it, Xiao Ying. I trust you and support you. Prove you deserve it.

In issues not related to women specifically, I also hope to see change in the political status quo. I don't have much faith that the DPP has less cronyism than the KMT, which is why until recently I leaned toward TSU (but without their overly nativist rhetoric - mostly on the independence issue) and now am an ardent supporter of the New Power Party - a party that supports Taiwanese identity and independence but is more inclusive and less nativist than the TSU, with strong pro-democracy and transparency rhetoric, backed by the leaders of the Sunflower Movement, which as you may remember I supported strongly enough to give up most of my free time to join in the streets.

This is what I want to see - a DPP government is fine, but they'd be wise to look towards the "idealists" (they're not really idealists - they enjoy the broad support of much of the Taiwanese electorate, which tends to the pragmatic if anything) and those fighting for transparency and democracy to take their cues as to how to conduct their affairs. I suspect that, despite New Power Party alienation with the DPP establishment, that many in the DPP quietly support the NPP's more high-minded, leftist platforms while taking a more centrist path themselves simply to get elected. If this is so, and I think it likely is, then the DPP can and should seek to learn quite a bit from this young party. Not only generally but in their progressive views on marriage equality, gender equality, diversity, identity, and social change.

So do it, Tsai. Work for it. Do better than your predecessors. You have the smarts and the support. Do it.

And this mistrust in the DPP's ability to be more transparent and less power-grabby than the KMT seems to already be justified. In years past, I didn't think I could despise the KMT more than I already did, but their decision to allow Ma to be both the Presidente and the chairman of the party - a complete table-flipping of a delicate system of checks and balances that allowed him to consolidate control over the legislative branch and party funds - managed to make my dislike even more sour.

I had hoped that the DPP would do better, but it appears I may already be wrong in that naive dream: the DPP has confirmed that Tsai will retain a dual role as chairwoman of the DPP and President of the country.

All I can say to that is "NO!"

No no no no no no no no no no.

Tsai. Come on. The Taiwanese elected you because they wanted something different. They didn't like it when Ma did it and they shouldn't like it when you do it. Don't fall into the same old power structures and establishment bullshit. I understand that to some extent you are part of the machine - but you don't have to go full political Borg. You can do better.

One of the biggest reasons behind my support of the Sunflowers and the NPP over the DPP is that they are emphatically NOT the machine...and that's the sort of influence I want to see them have on the DPP.

Don't do this, Tsai. Do better. It will be harder, but you can and should work for it.

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