TAIPEI: Taiwan has forged a reputation as Asia’s most progressive democracy and it boasts a higher proportion of women in parliament than anywhere else in the region – yet misogynistic insults have littered its presidential race.
The campaign for the Jan 11 polls has exposed an undercurrent where female politicians face a gauntlet of personal abuse and jibes that their male counterparts rarely suffer.
The island’s most prominent female politician is President Tsai Ing-wen, 63, who is seeking a second term.
She has once again faced insults based on her gender, much of it focused on the fact she is not married and does not have children.
But commentators say sexism and traditional views of gender still dominate – and flourish during elections.
“Taiwan has made progress in gender equality but conservative forces are still strong,” Tseng Chao-yuan, from the women’s rights group Awakening Foundation, told AFP.
“It’s disgusting that gender discriminatory comments keep recurring,” she said, urging female politicians to stand up to the old-boy networks that dominate their parties.
A veteran figure within Tsai’s own party once remarked on her first presidential run in 2012 that a “skirt-wearer is unfit to be a commander-in-chief”. He later endorsed her.
But there are signs the sexist insults are backfiring.
Taiwan’s younger voters are much more likely than older generations to support progressive issues such as gay marriage, and social media has filled with criticism of the language being used in this year’s campaign.
Most polls show Tsai leading Han by a wide margin – although some more recent data suggests Han might be closing the gap.
“Such vulgar and discriminatory language hurts all women living on this land,” one Facebook post read.
“Women need to come out to vote to show our anger and teach them a lesson.”
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