The Asian continent is the largest on the planet, home to 60% of the world’s population, it also comprises 60% of the world’s landmass. Consequently generalizations about Asian women could never be true for all of the women included in Asia’s population of 4,157,000,000. Turkey is the western border of the Asian continent and most Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan are in Asia. Today we will look at women of countries more typically associated with “Far Eastern” culture, but also explore how women in Central Asian countries, especially countries of the former USSR, combat injustice as well.
American’s stereotypes about Asian American women are also shared with women who still live in Asia, consequently they are seen as silent, subservient and eager-to-please. The sampling of Asian women we will see today, and the organizations they run, are anything but.
Russia: The denial of pay during maternity leave is one issue currently affecting women in Russia. Women’s rights activists in St. Petersburg have rallied to protest women being dismissed from their jobs if they become pregnant. Project Kesher is another group of women striving to bring religious and ethnic tolerance to Russian, Belarus and the Ukraine. In an unorthodox manner a group of Russian women who call themselves X-Z are bringing attention to social issues plaguing Russia, such as piles of snow the government refuses to remove.
Mongolia: Women in Ulaanbaatar are working to show that women’s rights are human rights and to create a national mechanism for protecting fundamental human rights. There is still much work to be done in Mongolia, especially to ensure LGBTQAI rights. The National Network of Mongolian Women’s NGOs, Monfemnet, tackles everything from youth participation in human rights, democracy and gender justice to exploring masculinities.
China: Grassroots women’s activists in China are combating judicial injustices and gender inequalities by fighting for human rights. One of the biggest issues facing Chinese women is Reproductive Justice. The punishment for violating the “one child” policy is a blatant denial of human rights. This page honors some of the women human rights defenders in China.
Japan: Women in Japan are under a different reproductive pressure from their government: the pressure to have more children. For those women who cannot have children or do not want to reproduce, the government and society’s pressure to do so is not only unfair, but painful. Because of the government’s position only three percent of women in Japan ages 16-49 use the birth control pill. The Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering, FINNRAGE, is one group that is fighting for women to be fully educated about their rights and their choices so that they can make informed decisions.
Indonesia: Women in Indonesia are also fighting their government for protection of their rights. The few laws that grant women’s rights, such as a 30 percent quota of women in elected offices, are not uniformly enforced. Women’s rights groups in Indonesia also state that those women who are elected are not doing their part to advance gender equality. Some women’s groups use the power of street theatre to demonstrate the dangers of childbirth and pollution, among other social issues. The rights of LGBTQAI people in Indonesia are also not guaranteed, but many women are searching for tolerance and equality within their personal studies of Islam.
Thailand: Women in Thailand are active in the country’s ever-changing political scene. Despite being warned by police to evacuate a space filled with protesters lest violence should occur, women supporting the Red Shirt party stayed to face their government. In a country where symbolism and the spiritual world are highly esteemed, women from the opposing group, the Yellow Shirt party, took on politics and social norms and used their bloody sanitary napkins to pull power from a protective statue. Thai women are also finding innovative ways to combat religious intolerance in various regions of the country. The women who are left as heads-of-household when their husbands and sons are arrested (for political or religious reasons) have become leaders in their communities. After a long day’s work feminist activists in Thailand can relax at a retreat built especially for them.
Bangladesh: The situation for women in Bangladesh is dire. Women are punished with beatings when they are raped. Women are punished with acid attacks when they say no to sexual advances. Women are punished when they go to the police, or seek medical help, or dare to complain. The deaths of women as a result of public flogging have been all over the news recently. Women are slowly making progress and some girls are being educated, but activists in Bangladesh also understand the importance of having male allies in the fight for equality. Bangladeshi women are also sharing their knowledge and lessons learned with the women of Haiti, by way of an all-female UN police force.
India: For centuries women in India have been participating in social activism. Currently, the group Pandies uses humor and theatre to showcase women’s issues. Recognizing the advances that have been made over time, women’s groups in India still push for further gender equality. Even though gains have been made, there are still many issues facing Indian women today, including child marriage, police brutality, and domestic violence.
Kyrgyzstan: Despite being the first Central Asian country to have a female president, (Roza Otunbayeva–one of this year’s recipients of the US’s Women of Courage Award), gender roles in Kyrgyzstan are still very rigid. In traditional Kyrgyz culture women must remain virgins until their wedding night and their sheets are displayed the next day as proof. Some women are combating this stigma by speaking out against it. Other problems arise when the marriages are not legally registered, and domestic violence rates in Kyrgyzstan are overwhelming. Bride kidnapping is another tradition the women of Kyrgyzstan are not proud of, and are trying to eradicate.
Uzbekistan: Uzbek human rights activist Mutabar Tajibaeva has returned her 2009 Women of Courage Award, in protest to Kyrgyzstan’s president receiving the same award this year. The activist says she has nothing against Otunbayeva personally but cannot, in good conscience, have her name listed with Kyrgyzstan’s president who failed to stop the massacres against ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan last summer. Tajibaeva believes Otunbayeva is receiving the award only because she is the first female president of a Central Asian country, but stated that there are other Kyrgyz women more deserving of the honor. Some of the issues Uzbek human rights defenders focus on include unlawful detention of protesters by the government, and forced sterilization. Hundreds of women have been sterilized without their consent or knowledge in Uzbekistan, leaving many women fearful of doctors and hospitals.
- Day 2- Asian American Women’s Activism in the US (feministactivism.wordpress.com)
- Women’s Day campaign to help Asian women start in business (mumbrella.com.au)
- United action on women’s rights | Elizabeth Samson (guardian.co.uk)
- 10 women leaders, activists hailed for advancing rights – Pittsburgh Post Gazette (news.google.com)
- A Call to End Gender Persecution Globally (stevebeckow.com)
- In much of the world, gains in women’s rights elude a silent majority – Globe and Mail (news.google.com)
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