Feature

Taiwan 2020: Women Running for Legislature

Green Party: Teng hui-wen, Psychiatrist-Turned-Politician, Advocates for Gender Equality

2019/12/31 , Interview
Denis Li
Photo Credit: Crown Publishing
Denis Li
The News Lens reporter
What you need to know

The News Lens interviewed Green Party legislative candidate Teng Hui-wen (鄧惠文), who's a well-known psychiatrist, about her inspirations and political views.

Translated by Andrew Maxey

For the 2020 legislative elections, Green Party Taiwan nominated Teng Hui-wen (鄧惠文), nicknamed “the beautiful psychiatrist,” on the top of its party list. Teng, a popular figure among Taiwanese netizens, has written books and hosted TV shows as a well-known psychiatrist. What’s she looking to achieve with the Green Party?

綠黨不分區2020鄧惠文王浩宇
Photo Credit: Ping Fang Lee / The News Lens
Teng hui-wen (right two)
TNL: Why did you decide to join the Green Party and run in the 2020 legislative elections?

T: I was hosting a talk show on CTS when I started receiving invitations from political parties. On my show, I often came across topics on bills or referendums with my guests and I would hear absurd things; for example, a lawyer would tell me about a simple idea that still hasn't been put into motion after 10-20 years.

Oftentimes, people aren't really against these ideas, but they simply haven’t gotten clear information. So what should we do? For over a decade, I’ve devoted myself to explaining concepts that are hard to explain. The time now is right for me to be able to contribute more in a concrete way. All that time was really spent preparing me for this work, so I can see how far I can go with legislating and changing the system and the societal culture.

I didn't particularly seek out the Green Party, but I was already familiar with them and the topic came up in our conversations. This wasn’t the first time I was asked about running, either. Four years ago, eight years ago, every time elections would roll around, my friends in the Green Party always asked if I was interested. since they knew I had been thinking about it. The opportunity came around again this year, and I figured that since I had spent so many years preparing, I could try it out.

For example, drunk driving has always been met with fines, but health insurance doesn’t pay for alcohol addiction treatment. Many issues ought to be tackled with a more progressive way of thinking — how can we create a good path forward?

No one would join the Green Party just because they want to go into politics; people would rather choose a more influential party where they can have a better chance of getting elected. I didn't choose to cooperate with the Green Party based on political reasons. Since the party is so small, it has yet to win any seats in the Legislative Yuan.

But through this election, I hope to spread the Green Party’s ideas to more people. The Green Party has raised many international concepts of progress in the past, but traditionally, these concepts were considered appealing only to intellectuals. After reading the party platform, I thought most people would have difficulty understanding the ideas quickly. My goal is to spread these great concepts. If I have a chance to enter the legislature and make this voice heard, slowly influencing other people, I think it would be very meaningful.

TNL: What are your three biggest areas of concern? Why?

T: My first focus is gender equality. Whenever you talk about “gender equality,” every party will give an endorsement, but whether anything gets accomplished is another story.

For example, one of our current campaigns is to push for giving LGBT community the right to raise children. If LGBT couples want to have children, there's currently no domestic avenue for them to do so. Although Taiwan’s assisted reproductive technology is the best in the world, it only serves heterosexual couples.

Gay couples have to spend around NT$600,000 to fly abroad, make a child, and then fly back. Then one of them is the biological parent and the other has to adopt the child as a step-parent. Today, a couple had their adoption application rejected, because the authority cannot evaluate the stability of their relationship based on the insufficient length of their marriage. How long could they have been married for? Taiwan only legalized same-sex marriage last year, but they’ve been together since the '90s.

You would think Taiwanese people are wiser than this, right? But what happened in the legislative process? Taiwan is a world leader in many aspects, but some things just unwittingly get caught up in some portion of the bureaucratic process, and I’m determined to make it better.

Along the line of gender equality is our education in the subject. A lot of problems in Taiwan are, at their root, caused by gender inequality. Fixing this problem starts with an education that shows people how to respect each other and at the same time develop their own qualities. Taiwan has a decent gender education now, and the Ministry of Education has worked hard these past few years to push the curriculum, but their efforts are continually met with some voices of resistance saying you can’t teach this or that.

Why are there so many misconceptions about basic ideas? People who are not in the same echo chamber have different views because there’s not enough communication. This is what I want to work on.

The current law states that public spaces must set up nurseries, but how many men’s restrooms have diaper-changing tables? Does it mean that we still expect the mothers to always change diapers?

Another area is medical-related, which is also a professional concern for me. Take euthanasia for example; a party caucus is presenting draft legislation, but from a doctor's perspective, the draft shows a lack of understanding of the medical reality and what the general public thinks. It would be hard to execute an unclear law where issues such as the definition of eligibility, what the decision-making process would look like, and how to prepare for communication with family members are not clarified. These all constitute serious concerns for the medical community and the people.

There are also problems like alcohol addiction. Drunk driving has always been met with fines, but health insurance doesn’t pay for alcohol addiction treatment. Many issues ought to be tackled with a more progressive way of thinking — how can we create a good path forward? Don’t just deal with problems by making crime and punishment the ends.

TNL: After entering the legislature, what are the top 3 bills you want to promote?

T: We’ll have to revise the artificial reproduction bill to fix the problems I just mentioned. There’s also the law on surrogate mothers, in which the service should be expanded to include singles. The bill allowing same-sex couples to adopt is also very urgent.

Moreover, the Genetic Health Act is related to gender equality. In our country, you can decide on your own to have an abortion if you're unmarried. But, if you’re married you're required to have the husband’s consent. So when women are getting married, we should warn them that someone else has half the power over their womb!

The current law states that public spaces must set up nurseries, but how many men’s restrooms have diaper-changing tables? Does it mean that we still expect the mothers to always change diapers? Suggesting that men can also change diapers in restrooms has unexpectedly turned into a political opinion, which made me feel both happy and sad. Why do we still need to debate obvious topics like these?

TNL: What do you particularly identify with in the Green Party?

T: The Green Party has continuously focused on environmental protection and anti-nuclear energy issues, and I don’t have any differences with them when it comes to environmental law. Other issues like gender equality and multi-ethnic rights and benefits are all things we can cooperate on.

Q5: Will you cooperate with the Kuomintang or the Democratic Progressive Party?

The Legislative Yuan is an important institution for initiating discussions and solidifying societal consensus. Its function is to pass and revise laws, but it still has to be able to look at problems honestly and lead the public in considering issues. If we have the opportunity to enter the Legislative Yuan, we know that progress cannot be achieved overnight. We can’t get everything done with one vote, and cooperation doesn't necessarily allow us to do more.

We know that if we merge with other parties for a bigger impact, our party will basically cease to exist. Hence, we will strive to advance our ideals and goals from an independent position. When we put forward a progressive proposal, it will spark many discussions and we might discover that our society still needs five or six years to prepare for it. Our responsibility is then to evaluate the rationality of the proposal, draw up a plan for its progress, and give justifications to voters. This is pragmatic.

For me, ideals have to be upheld. For practical considerations, we hope to be identified as an “independent party,” without the expectation of joining a side when we enter the legislature. Even though our expected influence is small, I don’t think “small” means that we won’t have an impact. Many big things start in small places, even in the political realm. Large parties are not the only ones that can get things done. Look at the changes in Europe or and the ebb and flow of green parties in other countries — I think our ideas and care for environmental sustainability will become mainstream globally.

READ NEXT: A Recap of Taiwan 2020 Presidential Debate

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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