Sexual harassment in primary campaign: #MeToo reaches Taiwan’s political parties

More and more victims of sexual assault are turning to the public in Taiwan. They make accusations against politicians.

Poster with the image of the Taiwanese President is held up by men

Allegations against her party: Poster by Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen Photo: reuters

TAIPEI taz | It started with a Facebook post. Chen Chien-jou, a former student assistant for Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), accused a party photographer of sexually harassing her on the sidelines of an event in late May.

Above all, in hindsight, Chen did not feel supported within the party. The then chairwoman of the women’s committee and later vice general secretary of the DPP, Hsu Chia-tien, advised her against making her allegations public or even having them investigated internally by the party.

After her Facebook post, which was shared more than four thousand times, several women came forward with similar allegations. These initially focused on the environment of the DPP. Hsu Chia-tien and other party officials resigned from their posts.

President Tsai and party leader William Lai publicly asked the victims for forgiveness. Lai, the DPP’s candidate for the presidential elections in January, promised an internal review and reform.

Party political appropriation

A contact point for victims of sexual assault should be created in the DPP women’s committee and binding sanctions should be anchored in the party statutes in the event of proven sexual assault.

The conservative opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party sharply criticized the DPP, but came under pressure after allegations against its own officials. The allegations include a Hualien City MP and a senior official from the New Taipei City Government. The mayor of New Taipei is KMT presidential candidate Hou You-yi.

Political scientist Wei Mei-chuan of Taipei’s National Chengchi University fears that Taiwan’s sexual assault debate is becoming increasingly partisan: “Basically, it’s an important discussion. But if it is used before the elections primarily as a means of harming the political opponent, it loses its legitimacy. After all, sexism is a problem for society as a whole.”

But she also sees encouraging developments. The measures taken against the accused showed that their actions did not go unpunished. Parliament is also currently preparing a reform of the laws on protection against sexual violence.

culture change required

Above all, Wei calls for a cultural change: “Taiwan already has the necessary laws and institutional mechanisms in many places. In reality, however, there is often too little acceptance for victims to demand their rights. In our society, the victims are under more pressure than the perpetrators.”

A few years ago, at the height of the #MeToo debate in Western countries, it was apparently still impossible for most victims in Taiwan to dare to go public.

Chen Chien-jou began her Facebook post by saying, “We cannot go on as if nothing happened. Otherwise we will slowly die inside.” The sentences come from the Taiwanese Netflix series “Wave Makers”, which is set in the milieu of a fictional DPP-like ruling party.

The series addresses, among other things, sexual assaults within the party apparatus. When a young employee in one scene confides allegations to her superiors, the latter encourages her to go public. In Taiwan, the sentences quoted by Chien-jou are now symbolic of the revelations of the past few weeks.

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