Taipei, April 16 (CNA) Opposition Democratic Progressive Party(DPP) Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen brushed off Saturday questions raisedby one of her predecessors about her sexual orientation, saying thatshe will not make herself "an accomplice of gender oppression."
"I don't feel mad and I don't care. There is no need to respond(to those questions) , " Tsai told reporters when she attended a DPPpresidential primary debate.
Tsai expressed confidence that despite her being a single woman,her performance in the academic and political fields over the pastdecades can withstand public criticism.
She urged society to show empathy, understanding and respect forsingle women like herself, who she said tend to face moredifficulties than others in the workplace.
There has been a renewed interest in the 54-year-old presidentialaspirant's sexual preferences after Shih Ming-teh, himself a formerDPP chair, challenged her two days earlier to "come out of thecloset" if she is a homosexual.
According to Shih, Tsai should follow the example of IcelandPrime Minister Johanna Siguroardottir -- the world's first openly gayleader -- in order to make Taiwan more progressive.
The former DPP chairman's comment, however, sparked strongprotest from women's rights activists, who accused him of beinggender-biased.
Speculation over the possibility of Tsai being a lebian firstemerged 10 years ago when the former professor, who at that time wasnot known to be romatically involved, made a shift from academia topublic service and became head of the Mainland Affairs Council. Thetabloid Next magazine was rumored to have put paparazzi on her tailin the hope of getting a cover story, but no such story was everfiled.
In an apparent attempt to clear up the speculation, Tsaidisclosed in an interview with the China Times Weekly in 2001 thatshe had had several relationships, although none had led to marriage.
Earlier in the day, Tsai released a written statement saying thatshe was "very surprised" at Shih's remarks.
"I don't feel like answering his questions, because if I do, itwill be tantamount to acknowledging his right to question anyone, andI will become an accomplice of gender oppression, " Tsai said in thestatement.
The chairwoman insisted that gender, sexual orientation andmarital status are personal issues.
She said the incident made her realize that stronger supportneeds to be given to protecting the rights of the "genderdisadvantaged" and that she will make the utmost efforts to eliminategender oppression in Taiwan and lead the country toward apluralistic, inclusive society that respects human rights.
(By Sophia Yeh and Y.F. Low)