President Tsai Ing-wen attended the Pacific Women Leaders' Coalition Conference in the Marshall Islands on the afternoon of March 26 (morning of March 26 Taipei time) as part of her Oceans of Democracy state visits.
The conference opened with a prayer, after which Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine gave her opening remarks. She stated that in addition to our strong bilateral relations, Taiwan and the Marshall Islands both realize that promoting gender equality remains a challenge. Gender equality issues are often sidelined in favor of "more important" issues, and they are often last to be placed on the agenda, she said. Even so, we will continue to fight for women's rights and remain committed to change.
President Tsai then delivered the following keynote statement in English:
To start, I want to thank President Heine for inviting me. It's an honour to participate in the Pacific Women Leaders' Coalition Conference, and meet so many outstanding female leaders from our region.
As Taiwan is a member of the Pacific family, this invitation is particularly meaningful to me, and to the people of Taiwan. In Taiwan's indigenous cultures, women often play an important role in clan leadership. In many communities and tribes, participation in public affairs is also open to both men and women. I know that Austronesian cultural circles also share very similar traditions.
Here is a good example. In Taiwan, most of the ambassadors and envoys from Pacific island countries are women. That includes the Marshall Islands ambassador, Palau ambassador, Nauru ambassador, Kiribati ambassador, and Tuvalu ambassador to Taiwan, all of whom are women. As diplomats, their professional performance never fails to impress me.
There are many other examples, including every female leader here at this conference table. And of course, President Heine and I are the first women to hold the office of president in our respective countries. This shows that the Pacific region's gender culture is becoming increasingly open and inclusive.
I trust that the stories of everyone here today will inspire more women to have greater courage, and higher aspirations.
Here, I would like to take some time to share with you the current state of gender equality in Taiwan.
In this year's Women, Business and the Law report by the World Bank, Taiwan scored 91.25, the best performance in Asia. Taiwan is also one of the six countries in the world that has eliminated all job restrictions for women.
This month, the Taiwan Navy also named its second female captain. And we already have outstanding female fighter pilots. So in this previously all-male domain, more women are starting to participate, which shows that gender equality is taking hold in Taiwan.
And in fact, our efforts to promote gender equality stretch back over a decade. Over the past ten years, with support from our Women Entrepreneurship Flying-Geese Program, the percentage of female entrepreneurs in Taiwan today has risen to 36%.
When more women gain economic independence, a country becomes more stable and prosperous. So we are also planning to help more women start their own businesses, and gain economic independence.
Taiwan's support for female entrepreneurs is also international. In 2016, Taiwan and the US cooperated to launch the APEC Women and the Economy Sub-Fund, helping more women start their own businesses, and pursue their own career aspirations.
I am pleased to announce that later, President Heine and I will witness the signing of an MOU to establish a revolving fund for small business loans to women.
That fund will allow us to provide Marshallese women with the resources they need to start their own businesses.
Even more important than economic autonomy, the process of building a business from the ground up gives women tremendous satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, and self-confidence.
I have always believed that real gender equality comes from within, and from having strong self-confidence. Women never need to seek other people's approval. Women are not mere "accessories." As long as we believe in ourselves, we can unleash our unlimited potential.
My dear sisters and brothers of the Pacific region, Taiwan is ready, willing and able to work with all of you to promote a broader gender equality movement. So here, I want to announce that Taiwan is going to host the Pan-Pacific & Southeast Asian Women's Association (PPSEAWA) international conference in June this year, and the fourth World Conference of Women's Shelters (4WCWS) in November.
Taiwan is determined to play a greater and long-term role in promoting gender equality in this region.
And it is my great pleasure and honour to be with so many female leaders from the Pacific today. So I look forward to fostering more cooperation across national boundaries to achieve greater gender equality. Thank you.
Australian Assistant Minister for International Development and the Pacific Anne Ruston and Guam Legislature Speaker Tina Rose Muña Barnes also delivered remarks via videos.
Among those attending the conference from other countries were Amenta Matthew, Minister of Culture and Internal Affairs of the Marshall Islands; US Congresswoman Amata Coleman Radewagen; Faustina Rehuher-Marugg, Minister of State of Palau; George Fraser, Australian Ambassador to Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands; Karen Stewart, US Ambassador to the Marshall Islands. Representing Taiwan were Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), National Security Council Deputy Secretary-General Tsai Ming-yen (蔡明彥), other delegation members, and Ambassador to the Marshall Islands Jeffrey S.C. Hsiao (蕭勝中).