Women in the Asia-Pacific region have expressed dismay about the US presidential campaign’s focus on the emotional topic of sexual harassment, saying it shows both democracy and the rights of women in America have some way to go.
In a fiery final debate on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, Republican nominee Donald Trump accused Democrat rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign of orchestrating a series of accusations by women who said the businessman had made unwanted sexual advances.
Clinton, who would be America’s first female president, said the women came forward after Trump said he had never made unwanted advances on women. His denial came after a 2005 video surfaced earlier this month in which he was recorded bragging about groping women against their will.
Hsiao Bi-khim, a lawmaker from Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said she found it “rather incredible” Trump had survived politically in the face of the allegations.
If a candidate in Taiwan was caught on tape making similar remarks, “I don’t think such a person would survive a presidential campaign,” she said.
Taiwan in January elected its first woman president, Tsai Ing-wen, and on gender equality at least, appears more advanced politically than the United States, she said.
“Not only have we elected a woman president, but we have a higher percentage of women who are independently involved in politics and in leadership positions,” Hsiao said.
Breaking glass ceiling
Japan’s former minister for gender equality, Kuniko Inoguchi, said the rest of the world was dismayed to see the US campaign devolve into “a downgraded debate on women’s issues” and it wouldn’t be happening if Clinton were a man running for president.
“So when the glass ceiling breaks, there are a lot of injuries that a woman must bear,” Inoguchi said.
Mari Miura, a Sophia University political science professor specializing in women’s issues, said Japanese politicians have also sparked outrage for comments demeaning women in the past.
“We hear such comments constantly from Japanese conservative men,” she said. “There are so many incidents that people get used to it and it’s easier to let it go.”
A study commissioned by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, published in March, found 28.7 percent of women had experienced some form of sexual harassment, and 40 percent of those said they had experienced unwanted touching.
‘Tragedy for women everywhere’
South Korea, which in 2012 elected its first woman president, Park Geun-hye, has slowly become more accepting of women politicians, according to Park Young-sun, a female senior member of the Democratic Party of Korea, which has a majority in parliament.
Park Young-sun said that when she first entered parliament, in 2004, female lawmakers were considered “decorative items on display”.
“They were given positions within the parties like flowers being placed decoratively here and there. Now it’s better.”
Nurul Izzah, a Malaysian member of parliament and daughter of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, said the US campaign debate was “a tragedy for women everywhere”.
Nurul said “there is a lot of condescension, prejudice” in Malaysian politics, but “political attacks are not really focused on gender-specific issues”.
A senior female member of Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s government said what Trump has been accused of doing with women “would make him definitely unelectable in Indonesia”.
“What shocks me is that many Americans still accept him and make excuses for him.”
She said sexual assault is not part of Indonesia’s political culture, “and even if there are instances, it is not tolerated, and it doesn’t sit well with either men or women”.
India, where sexual harassment and groping on public transport is known as “Eve-teasing”, went through its own soul-searching over the issue after the death of a young woman who was gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi in 2012.
“In our climate, a Donald Trump-like figure would have to apologize publicly,” said Maya Mirchandani, foreign affairs editor at NDTV, a leading news channel.
When she started in TV news in the 1990s, young female reporters were called “sound bite soldiers”, she said. “Print journalists alleged that we used our bodies to stop politicians and get them to talk to us.”
“In our climate, a Donald Trump-like figure would have to apologize publicly”
Today, Indian law sets clear guidelines for companies to ensure harassment in the workplace is dealt with, she said.
Even Australia, known for its colorful language and no-holds barred political culture, has been shocked by the US presidential campaign, said GED Kearney, female president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
The closest Australia has come to anything similar recently was a “ditch the witch” campaign adopted by supporters of the conservative opposition against former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister, when she argued for a carbon tax during her time in power from 2010 to 2013.
“Personally, I think Donald Trump would definitely be unelectable in Australia,” Kearney said. “I don’t think there is any place in Australia for that level of misogyny and cheapening of politics.”
(By Ami Miyazaki and JR Wu. Additional reporting by Christine Kim in Seoul, Linda Sieg in Tokyo, Swati Pandey and Jane Wardel in Sydney, Kanupriya Kapoor in Jakarta, Joseph Sipalan in Kuala Lumpur and Douglas Busvine In New Delhi; Writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Will Waterman)