I left my birth-nation of Taiwan in 1992 as an infant. Throughout the years, I have followed its cultural and political progress, taking note of its struggle against the powerful Chinese government across the Strait, defying threats of attack and forming an independent government — now led by a woman.
There are many things I am proud of when I think about my heritage nation, but lately, one person has dominated my adulation: Tsai Ing Wen.
So here’s a brief reflection on the past 18 months and Tsai’s exemplary leadership.
Leading by example on vaccinations
This week, Tsai demonstrated her confidence in the the country’s first domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine, the Medigen, by broadcasting her vaccination on her Facebook page live.
She refused the two most popular choices in the country to date: the Moderna and AstraZeneca. Since her vaccination, more than 700,000 people in Taiwan have signed up to receive the Medigen shot.
Last month, Taiwan’s health ministry approved the use of Medigen Vaccine Biologics’ COVID-19 vaccine, which is part of a larger plan for vaccine self-sufficiency as deliveries delayed from global drug giants have affected many countries.
At the hospital where she was getting her vaccination, surrounded by cameras and reporters, Tsai was asked whether she was nervous.
‘No,’ she simply said.
Rapid Vaccination rollout, and controlling the spread
About 40 percent of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people have received at least one shot of the currently available vaccines, and in the last 24 hours, the country has recorded just 4 cases of COVID, and no deaths.
Let’s take a brief look at the way Tsai’s government virtually eliminated COVID-19 transmission in the thick of 2020.
As of 23 December last year, Taiwan had reported a total of 776 cases and only seven deaths. For over 250 days between April and December, there was not a single local infection recorded in the entire country.
In 2020, Tsai was named one of the Financial Times’ twelve most influential women of the year, and graced the cover of TIME magazine last year, when she was named one of the 100 most influential people of the year.
A stake in the ground on sexism & gender stereotypes
Throughout her presidency, which commenced in 2016, Tsai has spoke out against sexism.
Last October, she posted a message on her social media urging Taiwan to stop making gifts of golden hairpins. Traditionally, gifting golden hairpins to young girls was a symbol of conventional and subservient femininity.
“When I talk about a democratic Taiwan moving forward with confidence, this also means I want Taiwanese women and girls to live … in a more equal society,” Tsai wrote on her Facebook page on International Day of the Girl.
A few months prior, she posted a statement on her Facebook page responding to claims by political commentators that she was unfit to lead because she is unmarried and child-free.
“Since I entered politics, these sorts of personal attacks against me have never stopped,” she wrote. “Many Taiwanese women also frequently experience this sort of treatment.”
“In the past three years since I came to office, we’ve increased basic salaries, reduced taxes for families, widened subsidies for child care, build social housing, and promoted elderly care policies. All of these policies are for the next generation, and to reduce the burden on young parents.”
“Perhaps we haven’t done enough or performed sufficiently, and I’m willing to accept criticisms and continue working hard. But launching personal attacks on the basis of gender or fertility status is an act that negates women and undermines the efforts of the government.”
“Many young parents in Taiwan are working hard for the next generation, but there are also people who haven’t married and had kids. This doesn’t mean that they can’t empathise with the hardships of being a parent.”
An animal lover
Can you imagine Scott Morrison regularly posting images of himself playing with his dog, Buddy? We know that Tsai is a huge dog lover, her three retired guide dogs even have their own Wiki page.
Tsai is always defying expectations of what a leader should be. As the country’s first unmarried president, she regularly posts photos of her dogs and cats on Instagram.
In July, Tsai tweeted at Joe Biden after the U.S president announced the death of his 13-year-old German Shepherd.
“From one animal lover to another, I am so sorry for your loss,” Tsai wrote.
The tweet angered some critics who said Tsai was being Biden’s “bootlicker” while turning a blind eye to the increasing number of COVID- related deaths happening at the time.
In 2019, Tsai attended an animal rights event in support of one of her colleagues who organised it. That, is pretty cool.