When I was born in Taiwan, my grandma commented “such a shame that she is not a boy!” A preference for boys was prevalent at that time—and to some extent continues today. My uncle and aunt gave up on producing a boy only after ending up with five daughters. My aunt would tear up from the talk she overheard from neighbors, accusing her of not being “filial” because she was “unable” to produce a boy. In my parents’ generation, this preference for boys skewed educational opportunity towards males.
Thankfully, I was born a time when the economy was booming, when Taiwan was modernizing rapidly, and when women’s education attainment had become a universal expectation. And so I had the opportunity to explore my own interests and make my own decisions. For extra-curriculars, I traded in the usual “girl” activities of piano lessons and painting to pursue basketball and debating—opportunities that would have been unimaginable for my grandmother, who grew up at a time when the foot binding of girls was still a condoned practice.
In Asia, women’s movements have come a long way in the past three decades. Taiwan’s first female president was sworn in last month – the first female leader in Asia whose path was not paved by a powerful male relative (President Park Geun Hye of South Korea and Daw San Suu Kyi of Burma are both daughters of powerful political dynasties).
Remarkably, Tsai’s primary opponent during much of the presidential election was also a female leader, the Vice Speaker of the Parliament (before she was replaced by her party three months before the election). Analysts believe that a quota system requiring one third of all seats in the legislature be filled by women contributes to the rise of prominent female politicians in Taiwan.
The Philippines has also seen much progress in promoting gender equality over the years. Its outgoing cabinet had the highest percentage of female members in the country’s history. Moreover, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Maria Lourdes Sereno, is the first female chief justice in Philippine history. In the most recent presidential election, Leni Robredo was elected as Vice President. Even though Senator Grace Poe lost the presidency, she was leading in the polls for more than three months . Poe emphasized the importance of economic empowerment by urging Filipino women to be financially independent of their husbands during the 8th GoNegosyo Filipina Entrepreneurship Summit in February.
The evidence agrees with Poe. Empowering women economically produces lots of societal benefits, including higher investment in the family, education, and health. Economically empowered women also enjoy stronger awareness of their political rights and face a lower likelihood of becoming victims of domestic violence.