One of the projects I’ve been working on over the past few months involves women in Taiwanese electoral politics. So let me ask you a simple question:
Does Taiwan elect more women or fewer women than other countries?
What’s your initial reaction? Ok, now let me clarify that the normal way to compare countries is to look at the percentage of women in the lower house of the national legislature. So when you think about whether Taiwan elects only a few or a lot of women, don’t think about a certain 2012 presidential candidate or the former Vice President; you have to think about the Vice Speaker. Now, are there a lot of people like her?
I’ll give you a hint: Taiwan is not average; it is either well above average or well below average.
Ok, this should be far enough down that I didn’t ruin the surprise.
If you answered that Taiwan elects a lot of women, you haven’t been reading the academic literature. Scholars who have written about this topic complain incessantly about how the electoral system depresses the number of women elected to public office. Of course, if you answered that Taiwan is well above average, you would also be entirely right. Compared to the rest of the world, female politicians do quite well in Taiwan.
Currently there are 38 women in the legislature. Taiwan’s 33.6% women ranks 23 of 189 countries worldwide. Here’s the (in)complete list. (It doesn’t list Taiwan because … well, unlike Comoros and San Marino, Taiwan is apparently not a real country.) Most of the 22 countries ahead of Taiwan fit into one of two categories: they are either in Western Europe or not quite democratic. Sweden is clearly better than Taiwan, but most countries can’t just adopt a Scandinavian political culture. Rwanda is the only country in the world with over 50% women, but most countries don’t really want to go through a genocide and then install an undemocratic regime just to pump up their numbers of elected women. For most of the world searching for a viable model, places like Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, and Taiwan might be the best places to look. Does that list scream “commitment to gender equality!” to you? Me either. I usually think of those four countries as having quite male chauvinistic orientations. And yet those are the high achievers on this list.
People in Taiwan generally fit into one of two categories: those who think that everything in China is better and those who think that everything in Japan is better. On this measure, they’re both wrong. China is slightly above the world average at 21.3%, but it lags far behind Taiwan. Japan is dismal. Only 7.9% of its lower house are women. Yikes! My native land is no star either: the USA House of Representative is only 17.8% female.
One last trivia question: Taiwan is far and away the best among liberal democracies in Asia. In fact, only one country in Asia has more women in parliament than Taiwan. Who is it?
Your first guess is wrong.
So is your second guess.
Hint: The dominant religion is Catholicism.
If that country wasn’t one of your first two guesses, then your third guess is wrong too!
Surprise! The answer is East Timor (38.5%). Bet you didn’t see that coming. (And for more unexpected results, Nepal is right behind Taiwan.)
Anyway, aren’t you glad to know Taiwan is a world leader in gender equality? Sure, women are still underrepresented here, but they are less underrepresented here than most other places in the world. Hooray!