Category Archives: Gender in Asia

“Somaly Mam: Saint or Sinner? Does it Matter?”

MamThis past week, our class read and discussed the book, The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam (2005). The book tells the story of her early life, her experience being trafficked into the sex trade, and her efforts to change her life and rescue other young victims in Cambodia. Mam started two foundations, AFESIP (Acting for Women in Distressing Situations) and the Somaly Mam Foundation. She has helped raise millions of dollars to build shelters in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos and to rescue hundreds of girls from the sex trade. In May of 2014, Simon Marks, wrote an expose in Newsweek that accused Mam of fabricating some details of her early life, stating that she was a voluntary prostitute, not someone enslaved in the sex trade. He also said that some of the rescued girls had been instructed to lie about and sensationalize their pasts so the foundation could raise more money, and he said that while Mam was charming and charismatic in public, many said she was privately “tyrannical,” “moody,” “eractic,” and “entitled.” The board of her foundation hired a law firm to do an independent investigation and asked for her resignation after the story appeared. Shortly thereafter, the Somaly Mam Foundation closed.
Mam did not grant an interview or attempt to defend herself for six months. Finally, in September of 2014, she spoke with Abigail Pesta for the French magazine, Marie Claire. Mam maintained her innocence and said her foundation board wanted her to sign a statement admitting guilt, which she refused to do. Pesta did her own investigation with many of the same sources used by Newsweek and found many inconsistencies with several sources saying they were incorrectly quoted in Newsweek or denying altogether the conclusions drawn in that article. Mam also noted that she herself often confused dates and times in her early life because things were so chaotic and she did not even know her real birth date. Newsweek essentially called Mam a fraud and Marie Claire called out Newsweek saying, “Of course, people can change the stories they tell…Nevertheless, taken as a whole, my findings raise questions about the picture Newsweek painted of Somaly Mam.” No one disputes the good work that was done by Mam’s foundations or that she has recently sold her home and her car to try and keep them operational.
This controversy raises several important questions for discussion:
(1) Marks asks one of these questions in his article, “She (Mam) has done so much for so many, does it matter that key parts of her story aren’t true?”
(2) Can any of the sources be viewed as reliable in a country where people have a fear of speaking out to officials, where corruption is rampant and many have hidden agendas? What are we to believe?
(3) What do these stories say about our own American notions of gender and activism? It is striking that journalists seem to investigate activists like Rigoberta Menchu and Somaly Mam to try and discredit their life stories yet never deny the good works they have done? Do we just not like heroes or hypocrites posing as heroes or does their gender play a role in our perceptions of the validity of their accounts?     Holly Mathews, January 22, 2016

I “just” wanted to point this out…

As students — many of whom will be scouring the job market for opportunities in the near future — we are often preoccupied with the written and spoken language that we use; not solely for the numerous research papers, essays and presentations we are responsible for producing over the course of our educational careers, but because we are aware of the value judgments people make about our dialect and our prose.

How many of you have dedicated an immense amount of time to making sure the carefully-crafted letters and e-mails you send to peers, colleagues and future employers are “just right” before pressing send? We check and double check spelling and grammar, we make sure we use tone that’s appropriate for the intended recipient, and we fire away. Whether we speak on the phone or in person, we tend to be more careful about the words we use because unlike written language — which we are typically free to edit until we are satisfied with the final result — there’s no “taking back” spoken words (or the inflection behind them) when you’re trying to quickly convey a message or attempting to prove yourself worthy to someone whose approval matters to you. We think about our word choices — some people even code-switch between the dialect they use naturally versus the dialect they use in a professional setting — and hope that we aren’t coming across in a way that misconstrues our intent or puts us at risk of negative evaluation.

However, have you ever considered that even the subtle, seemingly innocent word choices you make may be stripping your words of their full power?  Ellen Leanse thinks so.  In her latest article — It’s time to stop using ‘just’ in your writing and speaking (published today at Ragan.com and in its original version located at Women2.com) — Leanse charges women with using the word ‘just’ as “a ‘permission’ word.”

“The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was a “child” word, to riff Transactional Analysis. As such, it put the conversation partner into the “parent” position, granting them more authority and control. And that “just” didn’t make sense. … I began to notice that “just” wasn’t about being polite. It was a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous. As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message.”

Upon noticing the prevalence of the word “just” in the e-mails sent by women at her company, Leanse decided to conduct an informal experiment in which observers listened to a six-minute conversation between a man and a woman about their respective business startups — each had three minutes to speak — while the observers tallied the amount of times they each used the word “just.”  The man used it once; the woman used it either five or six times.  As Leanse states, this experiment was “not research: it’s a test that likely merits more inquiry.”  Until a formal experiment is conducted, I urge you to inquire within yourselves.

Look through your e-mails and text messages.  How often have you used the word “just” in an attempt to sound friendlier or non-demanding?  You may be unconsciously asking permission for your thoughts and words to be validated by others, which can diminish the impact behind them.  Ladies: it is time to stop diluting our convictions, our lofty goals, and our grandest plans with the constant use of what otherwise would continue to be considered an innocuous four-letter word in a sea of written and spoken communication.  I “just” thought you should be aware of your own authority and the power it holds when you wield it with confidence.  Laura Redman

It’s A Girl – Gendercide in India and China

The film, It’s A Girl (available now on Netflix watch instantly), casts a light on the way girls in India and China are discriminated against because of their sex. According to the film’s website, the UN estimates as many as 200 million girls are missing because of female infanticide. The film also explores dowry and domestic violence, sex trafficking, issues of reproductive health and control, female suicide, and forced abortions. The film presents some interesting statistics about men and women, including the estimate that there are 37 million more men than women in China today.

Before posting, I wanted to look up some of the statistics. I found an interesting and thought provoking article that looks at the funding and perspective of the film (you can read the Slate article here). The writer found that the film was actually funded and produced by pro-life ministries, yet is being shown and recommended by many pro-choice groups. The article also accuses the film of looking at the people of China and India as being savages, the girls as being victims, and Americans as the saviors.

This critical perspective is a useful lens for viewing the film. The director interviewed social worker, activists, and mothers to get a picture of the cultural issues that allow such discrimination against women to continue. The stories are powerful and the issues compelling. The film ends by stressing the importance of the changes that must be made both within the minds of the individuals and the culture as a whole in order to end the violence. Still, the film fails to give a tangible solution for how this should happen.

Have you seen the film? What do you think? Pro-choice or pro-life? Does it matter? Is it another product of the “white-savior complex?” What could be done to change cultural ideas that devalue girls, causing violence and discrimination?

– Lindsay Cortright

Women’s Commission in Pakistan Gains Autonomous Status

Women’s groups within Pakistan have lobbied for years for the government to strengthen the Women’s Commission and give it autonomous status.

On 2 February 2012, the Pakistan Senate unanimously approved the “National Commission on the Status of Women Bill 2012″ to protect women’s rights against every kind of discrimination. The new bill replaces the National Commission on the Status of Women Ordinance from 2000 and strengthens the Commission by giving it financial and administrative autonomy through an independent Secretariat.

The Commission will investigate and gather information on issues regarding women’s rights, as well as have increased responsibilities to oversee the international commitments made by the government on all women’s issues. The newly adopted bill also changes the status of the Commission’s Chairperson who will now have the seniority of a State Minister, making recommendations directly to the national cabinet. The Comission will also have enhanced membership with two members from each Province and one member each from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit Baltistan, Islamabad and two members from minorities.

     The UN Commission on Women is hopeful that this restructuring will help promote women’s rights within Pakistan, but as always, its success will depend in large part on how the bill is implemented and if adequate funding is provided.

S. Korea court upholds military ban on gay behavior

The following is the newspaper content I quoted from the Yahoo! News.

SEOUL (AFP) – South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Thursday upheld a military law banning homosexual behaviour, saying the need to maintain discipline takes precedence over individual sexual freedom.

In a 5-4 split decision, the court ruled that the military criminal code which punishes homosexual behaviour with up to one year in prison is constitutional.

“The legal code cannot be seen as discrimination against gays because such behaviour, if left unchecked, might result in subordinates being harassed by superiors in military barracks,” it said in a statement.

The law’s purpose was to ensure discipline within the whole military organisation, the court said.

The ruling came after an army military court filed a petition with the Constitutional Court. It asked whether the military criminal code, written in 1962, was discriminatory against gay soldiers and thus unconstitutional.

Homosexuality is not illegal under the civil legal code.

Still, we have long ways to go.

Hyun Woo

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110331/lf_afp/skoreamilitarylawsex_20110331143015

Malaysia’s anti-gay camp violates law, says minister

This article from the BBC details a the Malaysian Women’s Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s response to a camp that claims to “un-gay” young Muslim boys.  She maintains that characterizing these supposedly effeminate teenage boys as gay or transsexual, and then attempting to “correct” their behavior will be detrimental to their mental and emotional health.

Though this is the first time I’ve heard about any Muslim attempts at “curing” perceived homosexuality, it is definitely not the first of its kind, as we have such camps and programs here in the United States, and unfortunately they also exist in Europe (and I’m sure the rest of the world as well).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13141466

India’s Girl Gap

The 2011 census in India has brought attention to the continual gender gap in the country. The percentage of girls has rapidly dropped in the past two decades causing a social catastrophe throughout the region. Every since the arrival of ultrasounds, two decades ago in India, there has been more the 20 million female fetuses aborted to secure a male heir. India’s law banning doctors from disclosing the sex of the baby has had no effect on the decline of girls born there. Doctors facing this crime “in theory” will face having their medical license suspended. With this distorted gender ratio it will become more difficult for men to find wives. As the price of medical equipment becomes cheaper, more and more families are aborting their girls. In 1999, the ratio was 945 women for every 1,000 men, but since the last census in 2011 the ratio has dropped to 914 women for every 1,000 men. Researchers found that in India it is socially acceptable to have a girl if you already have a boy, but if there is already a daughter in the family welcoming another girl is often discarded. They also found that lack of education had no effect on this practice and wealthier families often found ways of breaking the law on prenatal sex selection. Well educated families face the same if not more harsh urgency to have a boy than poor families because in a family expecting five or six children the birth of a girl is disappointing but to one expecting only two or three kids it’s a calamity. The women who have only daughters are desperate for a son and will continue to have kids until they get a son and Midwives are even paid less for delivering girls. In most of the developing countries, just being women is a frightening thing.
http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/05/indias-girl-gap/?scp=1&sq=india%20gender%20gap&st=cse

Granny Orphanages in Nepal

With the transition from extended families to nuclear families, elderly women have lost their support from their children.  Money, contraception, and education has changed the institution of the family.  Elderly women are showing up are orphanages that were traditionally for children.  Now, the orphanages are becoming packed with elderly women without family members to help them.  The government has not done anything to correct the social problems that are been created from the transition of the extended family to the nuclear family.  Private donations have been keeping the orphanages operating.  The elderly women constantly talk about the change in values of the culture that has lead to them having to live in the orphanages.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12716617

Ronnie Miller

The Cybersex Industry in the Philippines

Girls who leave their families are being promised a paying job as a domestic worker or as a babysitter, but they end up being used as cybersex chat girls in the Philippines.  The Philippines is an established sex trade country, because of high levels of poverty and because the population can generally speak basic English.  In the Philippines, internet sex is such as pornography is illegal, but the National Bureau of Investigation has a hard time enforcing the law.  First, the places where girls are living in and talking on the cybersex chat rooms are hard to find.  Second, informants are the best way to find where the girls are being kept, but usually the informants are girls who have escaped.  The girls who work in the cybersex industry are underage, which in the Philippines is 18 years old.  Law enforcement officials say that the population does not understand how much  sex trade is hurting their country, and they say that the laws on enforcing illegal acts are out date so much that it makes it hard to fight against the industry.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12597245

Ronnie Miller

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