Taiwanese and Asian girls empowered to participate in politics at forum organized by the Garden of Hope Foundation 2020/12/08

(Taipei, November 5, 2020)

DPP legislator Lai Pinyu, human rights commissioner Chi Hui-Jung and other feminist speakers shared how they had become leaders with a group of high school girls at a forum organized by the Garden of Hope Foundation (GOH) in Taipei on November 5, 2020.

As widely reported earlier this year, female politicians have been more effective at fighting the Covid-19 pandemic . Leaders like Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern and Mette Frederiksengood have been praised for their ability to listen and communicate with the public, as they steer their countries through the crisis. For the outstanding way Taiwan has controlled the virus, President Tsai Ing-wen was listed among TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020 .

Despite being led by a woman, Taiwan lags behind in other areas of gender equality in politics. Only four percent of members of Taiwan’s new cabinet are women; and although 42 percent of members of the country’s legislature are women, making it the most equitable parliament in Asia, female legislators frequently face issues of body shaming, gender discrimination and photographs being leaked to the press.

To empower girls in Taiwan and other parts of Asia to engage in politics, GOH held a one-day forum on civic participation at the Chang Yungfa Foundation building in Taipei on Thursday, November 5, 2020. A group of 20 Taiwanese girls, and 10 girls from other Asian countries joining online, took part in the “Enhancing Girls Political Participation Forum: From Social Media to the Campus and Parliament” event.

Speakers included DPP legislator Lai Pinyu, legislative candidate Cheng Ling-fang, Taiwan Youth Association for Democracy (TYAD) managing director Alvin Chang and student union activist Anny Chu.

The event was opened by human rights commissioner and former GOH CEO Chi Hui-Jung, who talked about her role on Taiwan’s new Human Rights Commission, and the importance of protecting the rights of migrant workers, Hong Kong protesters and other vulnerable groups.

“In Taiwan children are taught to be seen and not heard, and girls are discouraged from taking part in politics, because it’s viewed as a dirty business,” said Chi adding, “however, it’s very important for girls to play an active role in civic issues.”

Also during the morning session, Taiwan Digital Diplomacy Association chairperson Kuo Chia-you led the participants in a workshop on how to use social media to get your message across. “You need to make real friends first before you ask people to help you,” said Kuo, before teaching the students how to develop social media strategies to reach audiences in different countries.

Held during the week when the United States has possibly elected its first woman vice president, the training event had a special significance for the attending girls from high schools in north Taiwan and NGOs in Mongolia, the Philippines and other Asian countries.

After lunch, the Taiwanese girls took a tour of the nearby Legislative Yuan, where they were excited to enter into the legislative chamber and see the famous seats of law-making power for themselves.

Kicking off the afternoon session, United Student Union of North Taiwan (USUNT) chairperson Anny Chu shared her experience as a student activist, and how she had to overcome being patronized and patted on the head by her male counterparts.

Encouraging the attendees to use student unions as a mechanism for change, Chu said girls had an advantage over boys in that they could use both their soft and strong sides to argue for their cause.

The final panel discussion with DPP legislator Lai Pinyu, GOH CEO Wang Yue-hao, TYAD managing director Alvin Chang, gender studies professor and former legislative candidate Cheng Ling-fang produced a rich discussion.

As a young and attractive new legislator Lai, shared how she was the target of the paparazzi, and had to learn how to fend off sexist questioning from the press. “Sexist attacks don’t stand up to scrutiny,” said Lai, “When reporters asked me about my boyfriend, I asked them: There are 113 legislators, most of whom have partners. Why do you only ask me these questions?”

Lai told the girls it was important to respond quickly to sexism, a skill she had learned over time. Other keys to Lai’s success include solidarity and support from her family, standing up for marginalized people, developing strategic goals, and being resilient.

Thanking the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their support of the event, current GOH CEO Wang Yue-hao said the forum was part of the Foundation’s strategy to empower girls in Taiwan and other parts of Asia to play a full role in political, social, school and community life.

Girls who took part in the event said they were inspired by the one-day training to use social media, school clubs and internships at NGOs like GOH to advocate for the rights of girls to take part in the decision-making process at all levels of society.

To support the Asian Girls Empowerment Project, go to: https://bit.ly/3mXDmHI

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