Category Archives: Asia

Girl Rising Documentary

Girl Rising is a global movement to help empower girls through education. In supporting their cause they created a documentary that aims to change the way girls in the world have been stigmatized.

Girl Rising journeys around the globe to witness the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world. Viewers get to know nine unforgettable girls living in the developing world: ordinary girls who confront tremendous challenges and overcome nearly impossible odds to pursue their dreams. Prize-winning authors put the girls’ remarkable stories into words, and renowned actors give them voice. The power of story-telling really engages an audience that might be blind to the types of issues girls around the world face. You can view the documentary here, and you can also arrange to have a screening with friends. These stories are ones that need to be shared in order to have productive conversations about what action can be done to effectively empower the next generation of women.

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“Can I Also Use the Library?”: Female Students Banned from Library in India

Maulana Azad Library

Maulana Azad Library

Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), which is one of the oldest universities in India, is being harshly criticized because the university has banned women from accessing its main library, Maulana Azad Library (The Times of India). The victimized students were in the Women’s College of AMU, and they were not able to enter the main library on several occasions due to a variety of excuses; such as the road to the library was not safe for girls and female students would distract the male students. (The Star Online)

Interior view of the main library--No female students present

Interior view of the main library : No female students present

The university’s vice-chancellor Zameer Uddin Shah said that more boys (up to four times) would attend if they allow girls to go the library. He also justified the act by saying “The issue is not of discipline, but of space. Our library is packed.” (Mail Online) In the same line with the vice-chancellor, the principal of Women’s College, Naima Gulrez added by saying “Have you girls ever seen the library? It is jam-packed with boys. If girls were to be permitted inside the library, the discipline issue might crop up.” In response to this discriminatory act, students in the Women’s College insisted “If space is a problem, we can just borrow books and not sit in the library.” (The Times of India)

The point is that the main library has higher quality of resources compared to the Women’s College library. The university proudly states that its main library is renowned for its invaluable collections of manuscripts and rare books that are available in oriental languages (AMU homepage). As a graduate student and a woman who is blessed to be able to use great resources of the libraries in university, I could only be on the side of the female students. girls' rightsIf they are also students of AMU, why are they not allowed to enter the main library? Furthermore, I must post a deeper, fundamental question; why do the women need a permit to use the facility in their own university? Why should female students be used as scapegoats to avoid the overcrowding of the library? Why does the university appear to be concerned about the safety of female students, but not about their education? This stance appears to be an evasive excuse to exclude women. The university guarantees the right to education for male students and protects them from being distracted by female students. Female students should have the fundamental right to education as much as male students do. If the university was established with the purpose of cultivating competent people, it cannot deny the right to education for female students any longer.

I would like to close this post with a piece of writing from an alumna of Girl-in-library-380the Women’s College: “The first time I stepped into the Maulana Azad Library, I was awed by its grandeur. More than that, I felt frustration at not being able to reach out to those shelves, browse through books and borrow a tiny bit of that wealth. It is time that the university stops infantilizing and discriminating against its female students, and starts treating them with equal dignity and respect.” (IBN Live)

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How Education Could Abolish “Virginity Tests” for Females Joining the Police Force in Indonesia

Frmale Indonesian police recruits stand in line

Female Indonesian police recruits.

Many sources are reporting outrage over Indonesia’s “Two Finger” test for women, who are required to prove they are virgins before joining the police force. The China Daily and The Singapore Straits Times have condemned these types of tests. This happened after Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently published a report calling on Indonesia to end these invasive tests. Phelim Kine, HRW’s deputy director of the Asia Division, told msnbc. “Women have been too ashamed or traumatized to talk about it for decades.”

The test is considered a “health check.” A health official inserts two fingers to make sure the hymen of the female is still intact. Applicants have to strip down and submit to these tests without question.

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Police spokesman Ronny Sompie on the right, has spoken in defense of the “two finger” test.

Police spokesman Ronny Sompie said the “comprehensive health test” is for all applicants, in order to make sure candidates were free of sexually transmitted diseases. He said that a women who were not virgins could still apply. However, HRW said a post on the police website indicated that female applicants must be virgins. Currently, women make up about 3% of the 400,000 officers in the force and there have been talks to try and increase that percentage to 5% by the end of December.

Moreover, this test does not adequately determine whether a female is still a virgin. Women have torn their hymens for other reasons. Some have reported that hymens can tear from intense physical activity or even from riding a bicycle. Therefore, many women could be discredited without actually engaging in any sexual activity.

This issue appears to be a clash of cultures in trying to apply moral values that end up discriminating women and keep them out of the workforce. Augusto Lopez-Carlos Director of the Global Indicators and Analysis Department at the World Bank, spoke at the Penn International Development Conference about how discriminatory laws affect women. He stated that laws like this do inhibit women from entering the labor force, and inhibit growth and opportunity in many countries. It seems counter-intuitive that the government requires this test while also stating that they plan to increase female police applicants in order to better address femicide and sex crimes.

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Book entitled, “Reading Truth: Sex Education” written in Indonesian.

Education could bring awareness to the discriminatory nature of this test. Sex education could help dispel the myth that a woman is a virgin by using a “two-finger virginity test.” In addition, educators should teach both genders about separating sex from human capital. A female’s sexual activity is not tied to her capabilities as a police officer, as this test infers. If officials want to better address sex crimes, they need to reexamine how this test could prevent females from joining the force.

Last year, hundreds of students were trained by Planned Parenthood in Yogyakarta, a province with one of the country’s most progressive reproductive rights communities. These students called on the province officials to include sex education in school.

Andreas Nugahita, a student and workshop attendee stated,The more people understand, the more they can take responsibility for their own sexual behavior. That could change teenagers’ attitudes toward sex all across Indonesia.

However, considering the cultural context in Indonesia, changing legislation to abolish the virginity test or to include sex education could be difficult.We have this conservative point of view because, for generations, sex has been seen as a bad thing.” said Dyana Savina Hutadjulu, a program officer at Hivos, a global development agency helping to coordinate the effort.

Addressing the youth is important, but in order to abolish the “virginity test”, the Health Minister should take a stand as well. Dr. Nafsiah Mboi, a physician who promoted sex education outreach in the past, was appointed as Indonesia’s health minister in 2013. He has not commented yet, but if he did this could help, considering he is a doctor and has advocated for sexual health awareness. Hopefully, Dr. Mboi and others can add their input to hopefully put an end to this test and create better gender equity within Indonesia’s police force.


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A Brighter Future For Afghan Women?

 

Women in Afghanistan

Women in Afghanistan

 

USAID, (The United States Agency for International Development) pledged $216 million to fund a major women’s empowerment program in Afghanistan. This is the largest women’s empowerment project in US government’s history. Newly-elected President Ghani has reaffirmed his commitment to invest in girls’ education, claiming that educating a girl will have it’s impact on the coming five generations. The funds will be spent through Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs (Promote), which aims to advance the opportunities for Afghan women so they can become leaders in the political, private and civil society sectors. The main goal of the Promote program is to strengthen Afghanistan’s development by boosting female participation in the economy, supporting women’s rights groups, helping women gain business and management skills and increasing the number of women in the decision making positions within the Afghan government.

President Ghani’s wife, Rula Ghani, has been outspoken about her commitment to promote greater respect for women and advance women’s rights. As the country’s First Lady, Ms. Ghani’s role in expanding and supporting women’s rights represents both a threat and an asset for Afghan society. The mere fact that Rula Ghani is an American-Lebanese Christian poses serious opposition in a greatly conservative and Muslim society.

This will be a first for Afghanistan that the first lady is seen in public and this can have a very positive effect on women,” said Shukria Barakzai, a women’s rights advocate and member of Afghan parliament. “This is a male dominated society and a strong woman like her in the palace will make a huge difference. As an Afghan woman, I will be thrilled to see this great woman standing with our new president and advocate for women.

Rula Ghani

Rula Ghani

However, this view is considered too progressive and it’s not shared by a great number of Afghans. According to Mawlawi Habibullah Hussam, an important religious scholar and imam in Kabul, Ms. Ghani’s public presence “can be fatal for the faith of Muslims in Afghanistan.”

A former member of Kabul’s provincial council and conservative who counts with a large following added: “The incoming first lady is not qualified … as she is a non-Muslim so she does not meet [Muslim] piety requirements… She is a foreigner so cannot be the confidant of a Muslim ruler. This is a very serious issue.”

Rula and Ashraf Ghani

Rula and Ashraf Ghani

Does Ms. Ghani represent a brighter future for Afghan women? There is a lot of speculation from both advocates and opponents within and outside the country in terms of her power as First Lady to push for girls’ education and gender equality. Former president Karsai’s wife, Zeenat Karzai, was also a well-educated woman, and a doctor by profession, but she never appeared in public with her husband nor worked in support of Afghan women. Ms. Ghani stands as a symbol of hope for many Afghan women who desire a better future for themselves. In the words of an Afghan writer, Asma, women in Afghanistan want Ms. Ghani to be more than a symbol: “Our new First Lady can prove this by showing her face, by asking Afghan women about their difficulties, and by becoming a public figure actively working for women’s rights.

460xThirteen years after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, women in Afghanistan still face serious issues. In a country that has been described by many organizations as one of the worst places for women worldwide, the challenges ahead are substantial. Child marriage, lack of education, lack of economic opportunities, isolation, discrimination, sexual abuse and lack of judicial protection are just some of the many issues that women face daily in Afghanistan.

These inequalities within the society are deeply ingrained in religious dogma. Sharia Law heavily discriminates, punishes and treats women as inferior. In my first post, I raised the question of the role of religion in morality. I dare to raise the question again: up to what point is it acceptable to justify and defend religion when it so evidently discriminates and punishes women? Why do we accept this as normal or justify it by attributing it to a “cultural identity”?

I respect freedom of religion and I do believe that we should all be free to choose the path that makes us better human beings without harming anyone along the way. But how can a path that oppresses, penalizes, is prejudiced and violent against women ever be considered acceptable? I raise my voice against this injustice.sharia-law

I truly hope that the Promote program is successful in giving a voice to the women in Afghanistan. Their focus is on women’s leadership, women’s participation in government and the economy and women’s rights groups and coalitions. If Rula Ghani wants a brighter future for Afghanistan’s women, she will work together with Promote and be an active advocate for women’s education, empowerment, and equality, and serve as an example for the millions of voices who are desperately crying for change.

 

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Malala Yousafzai, Girls Education, and Bridging the Gap Between East-West Relations

violence-and-islam

Female empowerment in education is a hot topic thanks to one brave young girl. However, media outlets are having a field-day trying to categorize what Malala stands for, instead of listening to what she is actually saying. Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to bringing awareness to girls education within Pakistan. While most Western media outlets are championing Malala as an international leader, reports show that she is still ostracized in her own country of Pakistan. After she became an international icon for female education, the Taliban threatened to kill her.

Her courage for speaking out comes at a cost, but it is extremely admirable to see her continuing her work even when there appears to be danger for her in doing so. She encourages an open dialogue between the Taliban and the government to understand how to create equal access to education for women.

To put things in context, Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for advocating girls’ rights to education. After that incident, her story got attention from the international community and she was moved to England for treatment. After her recovery she wrote a memoir, I am Malala, which became a best-seller in the U.S. and she became an international idol after becoming the youngest person to win the Nobel Prize. Critiques of Malala have characterized her as a “tool of the west” and some have even gone as far to say that her attack was planned in order for her to become a western hero fighting against orthodox jihad. The media plays an interesting role in discussing Malala and her passion for education. Both Western and Non-Western media outlets tend to put more emphasize on imposed opinion in their pieces, rather than focsuing about the important elements that Malala brings to the discussion about girls access to education. At a recent Conference in Philadelphia, I heard Malala speak about her experiences in Pakistan and in England and the United States. What stood out to me most is that she stated that she is a devote Muslim, loves her home country and this does not mean she cannot also advocate for girls education rights. She spoke beautifully about what being Muslim means to her, and dispels Western myths that Islam is against education and peace.

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Malala speaking at the Forbes 30 under 30 summit on 10/21/2014 in Philadelphia, PA.

“Extremists think girls education is not important, but Islam is not against education. That point needs to be clarified…The word Islam means peace. We all need to understand what the real Islam means.” (Yousafzai, 2014)

Malala was very blunt about the violence she saw in Pakistan before she was attacked, however, she was very explicit in not blaming her country, only those that attacked her. She was also enthusiastic, talking about the good that is coming out of Pakistan since her attack.

“In Pakistan there is a big change. Before, no one could come out and talk openly about the Taliban. After I was attacked, people that could not come out against the Taliban came out and said, I am Malala. Now people can speak freely about the Taliban when they couldn’t before.” (Yousafzai, 2014)

She was very diplomatic in talking about how the West can aid in this fight against terrorism. She stated that Western Powers, like the US, can play a role in bringing education to girls in Pakistan and in the rest of the world. In addition, she made a specific request to President Obama when she met him.

“I told President Obama, don’t send bombs, send books, send teachers….drones might kill terrorists but they don’t kill terrorism.” (Yousafzai, 2014)

While Western media sources praise Malala, and on the other side of the world they call out the West for turning this young girl into, “a tool of the west,” one thing is for sure. Malala is not only a champion for women’s rights, she could also be an indirect diplomat to bring peace between the East and West. She is a proud Pakistani and she dreams of going back to her home country, but recognizes the danger in doing so. She has called on the U.S. to stop their military intervention and since she is highly respected for her work in the West, the U.S. should heed her advice, in order to make her dream come true. I believe part of her strength is in her youth. As the youngest winner of the Nobel Prize, the 17 year-old is calling for peace in the name of education. As much as each side can try to demonize the other through various media outlets, there is no denying that Malala wants to go back home to Pakistan and also wants everyone to have the opportunity to go to school. If world powers could work together to make the dream of education and peace a reality, that would be news worth reporting about. Until then, I hope that Malala’s words are left unabridged so that everyone can truly understand what she is fighting for.

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The Incomplete Career Path of Korean Women

working mom

In The Atlantic, Anne-Marie Slaughter takes issue the promise that women can have it all.

Recently, the issue concerning the re-employment of women has become a topic of debate in South Korea. Following this issue, the term “the woman with career discontinuity” continues to spread throughout Korean society. According to the Herald Business and the Korean Women’s Development Institute, the reasons for women’s career discontinuity are marriage (46.9%), infant care (24.9%), and pregnancy/childbirth (24.2%). The average duration of a woman’s career discontinuity is 9.7 years and if they seek employment again, they are usually given temporary positions.

This issue would not be of great significance if it was arising as an outcome of individuals’ decisions. However, the fact that more than half of the married women experience career discontinuity indicates that the systems in society or social atmosphere are responsible for this issue. It is very common for women to pursue higher education in Korea thus, not only do they attend college but they strive toward graduate education as well. Nevertheless, because of the reality of a patriarchal environment which carries much traditional value in ancient Korea is still prevalent, working mothers may be seen as unfaithful mothers. Thus, as women get married or give birth, they end their careers in order to direct their focus towards their home and children. Aside from this cultural influence, challenging working environments such as the male-centered working systems and employment benefits such as maternity leave has an impact on the women as they try to balance their work and family life.

Although women return to the workforce of Korean society, they have difficulty getting full-time regular positions. Moreover, women cannot reap benefits of increased wage that come from continuous working years due to their career discontinuity. This phenomenon is what has placed Korea’s gender wage gap the biggest among OECD countries.

Women’s conflict between work and family life that arises from their desire to participate at all levels in the social and economic lives has an impact on the low birth rate (1.19 children per woman) in Korea. The low birth rate can lead to a decrease in the working population; thus, negatively influencing the nation’s economy.

The government exerts effort to come up with countermeasures that offer free childcare and part-time jobs for women. In the way that women’s career discontinuity affects nation’s level as well as individual’s level, practical and tangible countermeasures need to be established carefully and public consensus also has to be formed.

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