How The 2016 Taiwanese Presidential Election Is Setting A Precedent For Women In Leadership

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This is history in the making! For the first time ever, the upcoming Taiwanese Presidential election will undoubtedly elect a female president in 2016. This is a certainty because the top two party nominees are women, which is also another history-making feat.

Hung Hsiu-chu, 67, a former teacher and the current deputy legislative speaker became the nominee for the ruling Nationalist Party, and Tsai Ing-wen, 59, is the nominee for the Democratic Progressive Party.

The female duo signal a new era of leadership that is growing across Asia. Women in leadership is still a very new concept for many of these conservative and traditional nations, some of which are steeped in oppressive laws and human rights abuses.

Park Geun-hye became South Korea’s first female president two years ago, and Sheikh Hasina is currently the prime minister of Bangladesh. Now with Taiwan joining the list of female heads of state, they are sending a clear message to the world that they are changing.

Women struggle to obtain positions of leadership in Taiwanese society but with the certainty of a new female president, this will hopefully seek to create more opportunities and show traditional sectors and attitudes that they have no place in a progressive world. However, unlike some Western ageist mentalities when it comes to women in leadership, social analysts believe the leadership of women over 50 is accepted because they traditionally ran clans in China, which puts these two women in a respectable position, according to Joanna Lei, chief executive officer of the Chunghua 21st Century Think Tank in Taiwan.

Sophy Ridge at the Telegraph in the UK writes that this news is not just a message to the rest of the world, but in particular, an important one to China, which continually claims sovereignty over the nation.

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“Few women are in positions of power, and none in the Communist party’s top tier. The only women to bear power in imperial China are depicted as selfish, vain and decadent in the history books. The election of a female president in Taiwan would underline the genuine, gaping differences between the two. It may also send a message to Beijing about the importance of women on the political front line,” she wrote.

Unlike some other Asian nations, Taiwan is ahead of the pack when it comes to women advancing in the workforce and in positions of leadership.

Women manage 10 government departments and some of Taiwan’s top companies. One third of Taiwanese legislators are female, compared to 13 percent in Japan and 16 percent in South Korea. The support of men behind these female leaders is crucial.

One man who is is full support of women in leadership is religious leader the Dalai Lama. In a recent interview with activist Nicholas Kristof for the New York Times, he shared his view on why women in positions of power is important.

“I insist that women should carry a more active role. If eventually most of the leaders of different nations are female, maybe we’ll be safer,” he said, adding that the increased visibility of women leaders would mean a more peaceful and sensitive decision-making process. Given that the Dalai Lama is a strong supporter of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, a country that has recently come under fire for its treatment of a group of feminist protesters who want to see the end of gender violence, his statement supporting women in political leadership is important.

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Both of the presidential nominees know the significance of history being made because of them.

“I hope this battle between two women will bring forth a whole new understanding and set an example of true democracy,” said Hung Hsiu-chu, who has been nicknamed “little hot pepper” for her fiery style and straight talking.

“Gender used to be a barrier of some sort for a woman to overcome when they wanted to be in politics. Today in Taiwan, the situation is somewhat different,” said Tsai Ing-wen.

“Of course, there are some people in Taiwan who are still rather traditional and have some hesitation to consider a woman leader. But I think the young people are generally excited about the idea of having a woman to leader the country. They think it is rather trendy.”

It is a foreshadowing of what we hope to see more of not just in Asia, but in more countries so that a woman being the head of state will no longer be news in regards to her gender, but simply for her policies. It is something the US has yet to catch up on which is somewhat frustrating given that we are the most powerful nation in the world (one that doesn’t have any form of government family leave, mind you).

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The upcoming US presidential election, also to be held in 2016, will bring about some major changes in the way we view women in leadership as well. As it currently stands, Hillary Clinton remains the favored candidate (of which there are 17 in total) to be nominated for the Democratic Party according to polls, and she is the only female liberal candidate. Amongst the Republican nominees (of which there are currently 35!!) Carly Fiorina remains the most well-known female candidate, but there is also a lesser-known woman vying for the Conservative vote, Shawna Sterling, described only as a woman of faith who opposes GMOs and is in strict opposition to abortion.

Weirdly, Donald Trump is the most favored nominee in the polls for the Republicans, but if for some reason Carly Fiorina can push her way to the top, we may see an all-female Hillary Clinton-Carly Fiorina battle for the presidency. It’s an extremely long shot but it gives you an idea of where US politics is in relation to Taiwan.

The most important aspect for Taiwanese citizens is to elect a president that will best represent their interests moving forward as a democratic nation, and it seems each nominees’ stance on China is going to be a huge factor.

“Little Hot Pepper” Hung supports pro-China relations, where as Tsai is in favor of a more cautious approach. Unlike in the US where it is common for female candidates to be judged on their outward appearances primarily, we hope the Taiwanese 2016 election will be an example of judging female leaders according to their merit and decisions, not gender.

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