2010 / 1月
Lin Hsin-ching /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Phil Newell
No matter whether in the authoritarian days of the past or the capitalism-uber-alles contemporary society, young people with the inclination to devote themselves to social movements are essentially walking a road less traveled-indeed, a nearly deserted path shunned by the mainstream. Such young people are setting themselves up to face pitfalls and difficulties in the future, so they must have extraordinary determination, willpower, and calm under pressure. Without these, it will be impossible to move forward without giving in to fear of the dangers.
We are delighted in this issue to have the comments of two persons who have dedicated themselves to social activism: Wang Ju-hsuan, current minister of the Council of Labor Affairs and a long-time proponent of women's rights, and Luo Wenjia, former minister of the Council for Hakka Affairs and a leader of the Wild Lilies student movement. They share with us their years of experience in social activism and the democratic movement, their views on the advantages and drawbacks of working for change from outside or from inside the political structure, and their hopes and expectations for the younger generation. We hope their suggestions will provide guidance to young people now getting deeply involved in social change, and will strengthen their determination to face even more challenges.
I graduated from the Department of Law at National Taiwan University in 1984. When I was in university, I participated in the on-campus UniNews Club; starting from reporting on school affairs and discussing campus democracy, I gradually came into contact with issues affecting various groups in society.
After graduating and becoming a lawyer, I observed or was involved in a lot of cases of domestic violence. For example, in 1993, I was one of the defense attorneys in the case in which Deng Ruwen killed her abusive husband, a case that sent shock waves through the country.Bringing feminism into the mainstream
From these kinds of cases I discovered that there were many deeply rooted stereotypes in Taiwanese society in which women were judged by unequal standards. For example, people looked askance at women beaten by their husbands, often saying things like "she must have done something wrong to get beaten that way," while women who were sexually assaulted were accused of bringing it on themselves by "wearing too little" or "immoral behavior." The reason I got involved in the gender equality movement was that I hoped that I could apply my understanding of law to raising the status of women at the system level, which would in turn help raise the consciousness and self-awareness of women in Taiwan at an individual level.
In the 1980s and 1990s, feminist issues were still non-mainstream, and this social movement still gave many people a somewhat negative impression. I became deeply convinced at that time that if I wanted to turn around this social environment, it would be necessary to start from "thought reform" at the very roots.
For this reason, those of us in the feminist movement adopted a strategy of gradual expansion, from "points" to "lines" to "fronts." For example, from the Deng Ruwen case we lobbied for passage of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act. Then, with this legal foundation in place, we pushed the central government to move quickly to establish the Domestic Violence Prevention Committee and the localities to set up domestic violence prevention centers as required in the law. Once this was achieved, abused women throughout Taiwan could seek help from the responsible authorities in each city and county, so that they wouldn't have to suffer endlessly in silence as they had in the past because there was nowhere for them to turn.Qualitative change from within
After Ma Ying-jeou became president in 2008, then-premier Liu Chao-shiuan invited me to join the cabinet as minister of the Council of Labor Affairs. The most persuasive thing he said to me then was, "Isn't there anything you want to do that you haven't done yet?" I pondered this question, then decided to accept.
What could a person like me, who had always been involved in social activism outside the political system, do at the CLA? I decided that the most important thing would be to promote qualitative change in the system. For example, I found that many people at the CLA had been there for 20 or 30 years, and though they did their jobs conscientiously, they rarely had contact with the outside world, and it was really difficult for them to understand the feelings of the public with regard to either policy formulation or implementation. But after a person like me, with lots of experience on the front lines of activism, took up my post, I would be able to bring in new viewpoints, attitudes, and ways of getting things done. I could not only make decision-making more responsive to the public, I could transcend the rigidified logic of "doing everything strictly by the book, and doing nothing not required by the book."
During my two years in office I have put special emphasis on using systemic guarantees to improve conditions for workers. For example, in July of 2008 we completed amendments to the Labor Insurance Act, finally transforming the old "single settlement" system into an annual pension system. This was the biggest change in the labor insurance system since it was launched 58 years ago. And in March of 2009, the amendments that we wanted to the Employment Insurance Act were passed, extending unemployment benefits for older and handicapped workers from six to nine months, and also adding a subsidy allowing women who want to stay home and raise children to be able to take unpaid leave from their jobs without losing their positions or seniority, which is something that working women had been hoping to get for many years.
Further, given my years of experience as an attorney, I understood very clearly the importance of lawsuits in putting pressure on malicious employers. Therefore we have budgeted NT$50 million per year as a "Labor Rights Fund" to provide subsidies for workers to pay for legal aid and living expenses while lawsuits are in process.Do your job, and do it well
Taiwan's unemployment rate has hit record highs recently as a result of the global financial storm, and as minister of the CLA naturally I have had to bear with criticism from all sides. Frankly, this was something that I had never experienced in over 20 years of social activism. At first when I saw negative reports in the media I was very bothered, and I would do everything I could to clarify things. But as time passed I stopped worrying, because there is already too much to do as it is, and I can't spend too much time trying to erase black marks against my reputation.
Since I don't belong to any political party, I didn't come into office with any long-term ambitions in mind, so when it's time for me to go I will leave without dragging my feet. But every second that I am inside the political system, I will do whatever I can and fulfill my responsibilities properly. Anyway, I have always felt that people in this society are fair-minded, and I am confident that I could pass any review of my work, so in the future the public will make its own judgment.
These days young activists often come and protest at the CLA. I have the greatest respect for these kids, because they have a great deal of passion for the idea that something should be done not because it will benefit them personally but because it is the right thing to do; they have a strong sense of justice and also must have organizational ability. In fact what they do is not easy. When I see them, it is like seeing myself when I was younger. Of course, in the process of participating in these activities they are setting themselves up for some disappointments and shocks, but in the end these young people will surely discover that when you contribute to social justice, it is you yourself who reaps the biggest personal rewards. That's a conviction that I hold to very strongly after all this time.