As I prepare myself to leave WSCF and move on to another arena in my life, I found myself reviewing the past and engaging in deep thought about my work and some program related issues I encountered in working for the past five years as the Coordinator of the Regional Women’s Program. I suddenly realized that there are quite a lot of them. Some were trivial but others were significant questions and critique which has led to some changes in the way we do things in the Federation. For instance, there was no WSCF Pre-women’s Assembly in the last GA in Lebanon, women senior friends in Asia were constantly asking for the reason, and I cannot quite explain in simple terms why. The co-secretary model of leadership is constantly being challenged as ineffective in providing leadership to the Federation, ignoring the fact that the model is a concrete expression of WSCF’s commitment to partnership and shared leadership of men and women.
With the institutionalization of the WSCF AP Women’s Program in the Asia-Pacific region and an impressive background in women’s work, I felt that somehow a more holistic picture should be shown and presented as an anti-theses to the growing concern over the perceived notion that women’s empowerment is no longer an important agenda in the Federation. This is not to deny the fact that indeed there are some weaknesses in the past, and appropriate changes should be made in some area and strategy. But to deny the important contribution of the women’s program in the life of the Federation is unforgivable. This is perhaps the main purpose of this issue of Praxis, to highlight and celebrate the contribution of women and women’s program in the life of the Federation.
This issue of Praxis will focus more on internal rather than external issues that affect the Federation. In the section on Perspective, Yong Ting Jin, WSCF AP former Regional Secretary and one of the pioneers of the Women’s Program, wrote a substantive article on the history and the issues related to the Women’s Program of the region. Women’s Space discusses the WSCF Framework of Analysis on Women’s Oppression highlighting some of the critical points in this framework, and finally excerpt of interviews done by two young women to two senior friends who has made great contribution to the Federation.
Perhaps as an end note, I would like to quote Sr. Marj Tuite, when she challenged WSCF women in a meeting early in the 80’s:
“May you have the passion for justice when ours falters
May you have a sense of humor when we lose ours
May you have compassion for others when ours become selective
May you have strength and courage to risk
When some of us are afraid to speak
Take with you
Don’t give up on us
You are the creators of the new”
Outgoing Regional Women’s Coordinator
by Yong Ting Jin
The formation of Asia-Pacific Women’s Committee in 1984 and inception of Regional Women’s Programme [RWP] in 1985 have their deep roots and foundation dating back to a much longer history in the Federation. Our own history of women in the region albeit brief has to be appropriated within the larger history of the WSCF. The birth, growth and development of the programme have gone beyond geographical boundaries, time and space. Hence it should also be a remembering of our history within the global-historical setting of the Federation. This history has basically 2 levels: the external and internal.
It is important to see and link women’s new consciousness and the progress of regional women’s programme by locating it within the larger women’s movement. At the international scene, a progressive surge of women’s movement was gaining momentum across the globe making an impact across class, race, creed and gender. This general and specific uprising of women’s liberation movement all over the world led to the United Nations declaration that 1975 be marked as the International Year of Women. Followed by this the Women’s Decade [1975-1985] was launched and the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women was established. At the same period, women’s struggle on issues of justice and equality were emerging as a question of liberation within the larger human liberation in the soils of Asia-Pacific. This external influence had a direct challenge to women in the SCMs and an indirect impact on the Federation.
Today we have arrived at yet another historical moment. But we owe this moment to our foremothers and sisters who have gone before us in the 100 years of WSCF history! Women in the Federation have created history for change and transformation since the founding of WSCF. Their participation and leadership have laid a strong foundation on which we build our regional programme. Today we claim and inherit this rich and invaluable tradition of our foremothers.
There were many significant periods and generations of women’s participation and critical involvement in the history of WSCF. However, many her-stories went unrecorded, unheard and perhaps even untold in the past century of WSCF life. It is only in the recent two decades that women realized they have to reclaim, research and re-write that part of herstory, known as history, which had formed an essential and significant part of memory and hope in the Federation.
There are two significant periods that have had a direct impact on the history of the Regional Women’s Project and Programme, first is 1972 to 1976 and 1977 to 1981. Women’s leadership elected in the Federation; 1972 North American women initiated a WSCF Women’s Project; 1976 European women set up a WSCF Women’s Project.
In 1977 to 1981, Women’s leadership increased originating from several regions including Asia and Pacific. 1977 WSCF General Assembly held in Sri Lanka passed a mandate that gender issues and women in the WSCF be focused as one of the priorities. Also decision was made to hold Women’s Pre-Assembly in the subsequent GA in 1981 San Francisco. 1977 EXCO passed a resolution that WSCF established its Inter-Regional Women’s Programme. 1977 Women’s Project was initiated on an inter-regional level. 1978 Asia-Pacific women set up a WSCF Women’s Project. 1981 San Francisco GA and Women’s Pre-Assembly brought about significant programmatic and legislative changes. This led to the formation of the Inter-Regional Women’s Commission.
The 1977 General Assembly was a major decisive moment and turning point that heralded in a series of women’s activities and programmes, particularly in Asia-Pacific. This marked a new era of awakening in the region with a greater leap forward for we have inherited the rich tradition of our foremothers and enjoyed the fruits of their labour and toil. They have sown the seeds and paved the way forward. We note specifically women whose leadership and voices have created a major difference in the two General Assemblies of 1977 [Sri Lanka] and 1981 [San Francisco]. By their vocal, political and critical participation, they spearheaded another era of intensive development of women in the Federation by leaps and bounds.
This is an important remembering on many counts. Because this older generation of our mothers/sisters who created history in the last two decades are still making their voices heard not only in the WSCF but also in the church and society at large!
The birth and development of the RWP were rooted in the soils of Asia and the Pacific where women’s oppression was an experienced reality in the overall social, economic and political realities. Thus our vision, theology, objectives, direction and plan of action were shaped and guided by this perspective. What is that Social Reality in context? And how do we analyze the oppression of women including our own given diverse and pluralistic situation in Asia and Pacific?
One general perspective and common framework of analysis women hold in the region is that patriarchy is a system and ideology that have been the overarching rule over other social systems and ideologies. Women found themselves tied to the chains of patriarchy, its ideology and system which had socially conditioned them for so long from the domestic to social, cultural, economic, political, religious and educational realms of life. The multiple forms and manifestations of discrimination and violence against women were the common stories and experiences of women in the home, social and religious places and communities. This common framework for critical analysis of patriarchy and gender oppression was also adopted based on class, race and gender perspectives.
In the context of our realities in the region, SCM-WSCF women identified themselves in the struggle for change. Our context and involvement at the micro and macro levels have influenced and shaped our perspective and vision, which were to translate into our collective plans of action and strategies for building up women and developing women’s programme over the years.
Therefore the vision for change and transformation was two-fold. Firstly, it is analytical in perspective. The women’s struggle forms an integral part of the total human struggle from all forms of oppression towards liberation and new humanity. As the experience of the reality was more than a double oppression, the ensuing tasks were also more than double. There is a need for solidarity with women in struggle who are most oppressed based on their class, race, and gender background. There is a need to strive for change and liberation in the larger society. There is also a need for change and liberation within SCM-WSCF and the church.
Secondly, it is theological. As equally important as a complement to this analytical approach, is the question of making sense of our faith in God: how do we link our faith with our stories and the many stories of women in church and society? Therefore there is the need to re-read and re-interpret the Bible; to encourage and equip women for doing theology from the young women’s experiences and perception.
A Majority of the SCMs is male dominated and patriarchal in terms of structure and organisational set-up. In many ways movement building, leadership style and formation are highly male in perspectives and action, including programme and strategies, planning and implementation. There are questions raised on the types of programme catered to meet the needs of male and female members. What have been the decision-making processes? Where is the place of women in participation and leadership? Do the policy, constitution and by-laws of SCMs and WSCF develop women membership and leadership? Have the programmes integrated women and address the emerging question of women’s oppression and gender inequality?
Therefore in light of the above issues and problems faced by women in the SCMs on all levels, the need for structural changes was urgent. The task ahead was an uphill struggle as women identify, name the problems and tackled them with great care and tactful strategies. It was clear that the call for re-structuring is a holistic issue, which also looked at the question of quantity and quality as two sides of the same coin.
The need to build up and strengthen women for greater participation and leadership at all levels of movement life—local, national and regional was an urgent task and high priority of the region.
Women are giving a new input to the whole concept and model of leadership, including are-definition to bring up a new generation of student and women leaders at all levels. As much of the leadership role model has been shaped by male bias, the concept with its praxis of leadership has to be freed from the highly patriarchal connotations and its subtle entanglements. Critical leadership formation must then work towards collective power-sharing between men and women, students and senior friends; consultative and participatory process in approach; empowering women and students with great sensitivity and tactfulness. Its renewed perspective must be gender and language inclusive too.
Thus, it is believed that such a re-definition and renewed understanding of leadership will also inject a fresh feminist perspective in re-reading the Bible and making faith reflections. This renewed and inclusive perspective should influence its entire structure, movement-building and national programme. The desired outcome and hope was that women’s issues and perspective be fully integrated into the national programme and total life of SCM-WSCF. Underlying this too was the hope that the common social reading of society would gradually incorporate the women’s perspective. The thrust for the above strategies stressed on the quality of development and training.
On the other side of the same coin, the strategy for quantity was to look at how women’s participation and leadership could be improved and increased in numbers through changes and amendments in policy, constitution and by-laws. This is not a shallow number game but a responsible exercise of appropriating power and politics, of asserting/claiming women’s rights and equal place in contributing to the life of the movement and WSCF.
This is gradually taking root and undergoing many reforms and changes in constitutional and policy matters, in all the national and regional structures, in decision-making bodies, leadership formation, movement building and training programmes. As a result, changes in policy and amendments in constitution and by-laws affecting male/female representation to committee meetings and general assemblies, balance in gender representation were adhered to. However this process of implementation was met with various problems. Certain movements chose and continued to ignore the process.
A further important change to ensure women’s empowerment was to institute legislation for women. It was proposed that a whole new section to formalize women’s participation and leadership be written and inserted into the by-laws. At the Regional Committee meeting held in 1989 in Hong Kong, this agenda was raised, worked on and adopted.
However, in order to maintain a balance between the quantity-quality growth, attention must be given to develop women leadership at the local/national levels. But based on several evaluations and observations many SCMs have treated numbers as mere tokenism or window-dressing. In many movements women’s participation at many levels were hampered, discouraged or marginalized. There was a serious neglect in quality training and education for women. This was perceived and experienced as a deliberate political decision and action by male-dominated movements.
It has been a positive tradition and role of the SCM and WSCF to critique the church institution. However, this critique is limited and has its shortcomings. It has failed to address the church as a patriarchal institution where violence against women is a reality in its life and witness. It has been silent on crucial issues that reinforced the negative image of women such as male biblical interpretations, sexist language, church doctrines and Christian traditions.
Plagued by its own problems of leadership, structure, etc, it is unable to go beyond its own captivity to address the whole question of women’s participation and leadership in the church. For as long as the SCMs are male-dominated in character, structure and leadership, women’s struggle for liberation from violence in the church will still be high on the agenda. So how many more “ecumenical decade” will the church and SCM-WSCF need in order to attain full solidarity in commitment and action?
In the beginning women initiated their own caucus back in as early as 1982. But the women’s caucus was a regular activity outside of the structured schedule of several regional programmes, mainly the HRD, Regional Committee and CCA-WSCF Consultation. They had to meet outside of the structured schedule as it either did not consider this as an important part or cater to meet the need of the women participants. Despite the intense programme women had to cope with, they had to meet during break time or odd hours when the male participants enjoyed their rest or break.
As a result over the years, questions were raised and suggestions made that this should be built into the programmes as an important process of creating awareness. Also when the women met, the male participants generally felt insecure or threatened. But for the women they asked why couldn’t the men do something about their problem!
Some men who were more sympathetic and sensitive were about to respond and expressed that they would like to meet in their own caucus. The outcome of this process led to the men’s caucus side by side with the women’s plus the new component of a joint caucus. By this time the various caucuses became a part of the programme proper and were soon integrated into the main structure of all most regional programmes.
Being a process of empowerment the caucuses were aimed at increasing gender awareness and education of both men and women participants. Furthermore, this has resulted positively in realizing the need to provide male facilitator(s) for the men caucus.
It is a major milestone in the region for attaining the employment of a full-time Regional Women’s Coordinator. The idea was prompted by a constant felt-need as early as 1987 voiced at the then Regional Women’s Committee. Since then the felt-need was recognized and affirmed repeatedly which resulted in working towards the goal. It was finally realized in January 1993. This marked the beginning of a further stage of women’s development in the life of the SCMs and WSCF in Asia-Pacific.
Just as the development of the Women’s Programme is historic, so too is the resistance of men in the SCMs and WSCF. In fact, the whole encounter and confrontation at each given period during programmes, committee meetings at various levels have been a very painful process which needed a lot of care, sensitivity and tactfulness.
What did the men think and say about/against the women? The women were told that: a women’s issues and movement were western and liberal; their liberation would come when the national struggle for liberation was achieved; they were perceived as emotional, inferior, less capable than men in almost every field of work except the domestic chores; their place was naturally in the home rather than church and the larger society.
What did women think and tell the men? They were told that: they were male chauvinists, ego-centric, sexist, exclusive, oppressive, etc; more mind than heart; without much feeling; they were perceived to have thought of themselves as superior than women; their place and position was in the church and society, etc.
Women were hurt and angered while men felt insecure and threatened for very varied personal and cultural reasons. Yet amidst anger, frustrations and pains, the growing awareness and openness of more enlightened men became a positive sign. Through formal and informal debates and exchanges, through the separate and joint caucuses, there were steps taken by a good number of men who suggested for the re-education of men in the SCMs and WSCF. The underlying challenge here is that men too need to be freed from the patriarchal web of enslavement.
The outcome of this good intention was expressed in two written reports submitted by men. The first was a report by the men’s caucus during the 1989 Regional Committee Meeting. It was a significant report on a special encounter between men and women with minimum tension and conflict. It is also significant to note that it was at this same meeting that an equal number of women and men were nominated and assigned to work on amendments of the Regional Bye-Laws, including the draft of the entire new chapter on the Regional Women’s Committee. This was written for revision and adoption in the next two years by the Regional Women’s Committee and the 1991 Regional Committee.
The second report was meant to be some kind of a follow up from the 1989’s intentions and plans. This was made at the men’s caucus in New Delhi Regional Committee meeting in 1995 prior to WSCF General Assembly in Ivory Coast.
However, except for some ongoing initiative carried out by exceptional local/national movements, much of what were intended/discussed in the two reports have remained in the shelves. The big question “why?” still remains!
The idea of partnership implies an “open-ended” discovery of life together with new dimensions and dynamics. Since women’s problems are men’s problems, women’s struggle for liberation should be equally men’s struggle for liberation. This of course demanded a more intentional and affirmative response from the men through discussion and study together. In 1992, the Student Empowerment for Transformation [SET] programme was planned as an attempt to search for meaningful partnership in their personal/individual lives and their collective life as SCM/WSCF.
In the earliest initial promotion of the Women’s Project and Programme, it was thought and envisioned that only women needed liberation from all forms of gender oppression and violence against them. Women who struggled for their rights, for justice and freedom have only to work and strive for themselves and for other women. Progressive and enlightened men were expected to assume their role and participation in terms of giving support and solidarity. But gradually more and more women began to realize that men too needed their own liberation from the claws of patriarchy.
The liberation of men is distinct from that of women. The former is perceived from the viewpoint of being the beneficiaries of the patriarchal ideology and system while the latter is one of an oppressed and discriminated position in the systemic patriarchy and its ideology. But like women, men have to be freed from the personal, social, cultural and structural levels. Such a process is visible only among a small minority of SCM men. Only one or two SCMs have a formal/regular men’s group/caucus. But the thought of men’s need for liberation is neither a widespread notion nor recognition by men themselves. There is still ample lip service paid for the recognition of women’s rights while it has become more like a populist rhetoric. The initiative along with the process had to spring from a personal conviction, experience and repentance. Without this process, true and genuine, equal and responsible partnership will not come about. And most of all there will not be total human liberation from all forms of bondage and oppression.
In making a self critical assessment of our own programme at this juncture, one could appraise that we have assumed a distinct role particularly in the political life of the Federation at varying degrees in the movements and region. Indeed, the role we have played has called into question the history, structure, movement building, leadership, theology and overall praxis of the global fellowship. These critical and new questions are demanding for new and different answers. By our passion and action we have demonstrated ourselves a visible and vocal political force in the life of the Federation.
From our storytelling to analyzing and evaluating our history, we are giving a fresh women’s approach to write or re-construct our histories. Stories are viewed as expressions of experience. But if they told only of male experience they have not spoken for you and me and women in the SCM-WSCF. Therefore women need to tell and interpret herstory because history is remembering one’s past, one’s identity, one’s story and one’s experience. So let us continue to create history as we march towards the millennium as well as into the second century of WSCFhistory!
by Necta Montes
Outgoing Regional Women’s Coordinator
Why is it important to review the “Framework of Analysis on Women’s Oppression” at this time in the life of the Federation? What has taken place that brought forth the question of the framework in the Agenda of the last WSCF General Assembly in Lebanon?
These questions and a lot more could just be the same questions that people who attended the last WSCF General Assembly had in their minds. These are valid questions to ask at a time when there seems to be a cloud of doubt on the merits and validity of organizing women’s only meetings and programs in the Federation. The difficulty however is, there are no concrete questions, proposals, nor any basis of the criticism that were put forward to which we can respond. Thus, this exercise of reviewing the framework and dealing on the issue of Partnership rests on assumptions and perhaps on gut-feeling that indeed this is the most opportune time to deal with this concern. Also, the need probably stems from the seeming decline in interest of doing women’s work in the Federation today.
The Analysis on Women’s Oppression document, was written and produced by members of the WSCF Women’s Commission in 1986 and has been the reason of our women’s programs and initiatives in the Federation since then. It was a product of a collective effort and an attempt to give answers to the so-called “Women’s Question”, that has been cropping up time and again in Federation meetings and conferences in the 70’s until the early 80’s. The seed of this effort started way back in the late 70’s, in the Colombo General Assembly, where there was a proposal for a Women pre-Assembly in the 1981 General Assembly in San Francisco. In the 1986 Mexico General Assembly, a Women’s Commission was formed, the co-secretary model was proposed and the “Analysis on Women’s Oppression” came into being. This does not deny however that similar questions were also being raised prior to the Colombo GA.
Following these Assemblies, significant amount of resources, personnel and time were put into organizing women’s program and committees, both in the regional and national level. In the Asia-Pacific region, a Regional Women’s Program was created in 1986 and a Regional Women’s Committee was formed simultaneously. First the effort was to give space for women to participate through structural and constitutional changes, developing women leadership, institutionalizing women’s programs and positions in the national movements. Women who attended the Pre-Women’s Meeting at the past two GA’s were the pioneering and moving spirit in all these events. The energy, enthusiasm, passion and solidarity shared among these women were tremendous. It was like opening up a flood gate, where the water overwhelmingly engulfed the whole of the Federation. And why not? This was an issue that has longed for recognition and where half of the Federation’s membership can easily identify with and was passionately involve in.
Was the analysis of the women’s situation and problems presented in the document “Analysis of Women’s Oppression” correct? Is it still applicable to our situation today? The analysis reflected the situation, voices, aspirations of women in the 80’s and its validity for that period cannot be questioned today. It defined the kind of oppression women experience in various fields of life; it reflects the strong ideological standpoint of the movements with regards to the women’s question at that time. A careful look at the framework reveals the strong socialist perspective in defining the problem of women. It was a product of a particular historical juncture both internal and external of the Federation. It has been an important document and still is for us today.
In the late 80’s until early 90’s, following the collapse of the Socialism in Eastern Europe and USSR, two WSCF Assemblies tackled the difficult task of reviewing the use of Socialist tools of analysis in defining and understanding the issues that confronts the world. The trend was moving towards abandoning the “old framework” and to make way and open-up to post modern tool of analysis as an alternative, often referred to as a “paradigm shift” in ecumenical jargon. To date, the result of this discourse is not yet clear and can still be considered as an ongoing debate in WSCF. The Women’s framework was left out in this important process. There was no effort to tune-in the women’s perspective in the whole debate. The reason for this is still unclear. However, it is not a remote possibility that this action was taken to avoid further ideological debates and confrontation along gender lines.
The document itself is very simple. It laid down the definition of how WSCF/SCM women perceived women’s oppression by enumerating the different forms of women’s oppression in various sphere of life, the connection between gender, class and race oppression, and the various strategies and task in order to attain women’s liberation. The framework strongly advocates for women’s liberation vis-à-vis people’s liberation. It is most likely that if the present generation of young women in the SCMs/WSCF will go through a similar exercise, they will come up with same analysis or perhaps an updated version. Nonetheless, it is time for us to deal and confront the ideological dimension of this document and our women’s work. Our analysis will be the impetus to continue our work among young women and define our role, strategy and tasks today. How to translate our analysis into concrete action is the challenge for young women in the Federation today.
Has the situation of double and triple oppression of women (class, race and gender oppression) been eliminated in many of our countries and has the struggle for Women’s Liberation seized or has it been won? Has the basic structure of Patriarchy abolished? The reality of women in my region tells a different story. Our work in the Asia-Pacific region points out quite the opposite. New structures and mechanisms have emerged that aggravated the situation of women, especially among the poor women in many Asian countries. The advent of globalization has further magnified this situation.
How are women affected by globalization? Women have inevitably been pushed into two directions at the onset of globalization. One, they are absorbed as laborers in the domestic economies as “cheap flexible labor”, or as “cheap exportable labors” for countries/governments involved in international trading of labor and services.
In the first instance, women, particularly in poor countries in Asia have been eased out of agriculture or their traditional form of livelihood and have been absorbed into “women specific/female prone work” a phenomenon that has emerged out of Newly Industrialized Economies (NIEs) strategies of export competitiveness. This type of work is characterized by low pay, labor intensiveness, and reliance on low skills and technological know-how. The closure of certain export-oriented companies and their transfer to another NIE country where labor and wage policies are more favorable to increased profits, makes this women workers vulnerable to unfair labor practices and exploitation.
The flow of labor migration, particularly of women has been massive in the last twenty years. Globalization as encouraged the growth of labor migration between the countries of East/South East Asia, in addition to Middle East and Europe. In Asia, the demand for highly skilled workers is met by white male expatriates while that for manual workers, by Asian women contract workers. Intra-regional trading of women domestic workers, mainly coming from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia has reached significant proportion and now constitute a big industry in the region. While the cost of labor migration are high for the migrants and their families—discrimination, absence of adequate labor protection, illegal recruitment, low wages, and vulnerability to physical and sexual abuse, even death, massive unemployment in their home economies push many more women to migrate every year.
Trafficking of Women from poor countries and the revitalization of the domestic prostitution has become a major industry in many countries in East/South East Asia due to the development of tourism, and the entertainment industry. Consumerism and travel for recreation purposes characterized the lifestyle and values of capitalist accumulation and competition. High and upper class recipients of the benefits of economic growth brought about by globalization, who have disposable incomes visit Asian countries to enjoy “the world of the exotic”. According to the UNDP report for 1999, “Tourism rose from 260 million visitors in 1980 to 590 million in 1996.” The advent of the Information Technology, particularly the Internet, has further reduced women into commodities for sexual purposes, being advertised, negotiated in the World Wide Web.
Poor men and women in Asia pay dearly the price of globalization. Widespread poverty and inequality remains the number one problem of the majority of people in Asia. What globalization was able to successfully accomplish in the recent years was to further widen the gap between the rich and the poor, and between Northern and Southern countries. In the UNDP Human Development Report 1999, consider the following data:
“The income gap between the richest fifth of the world’s people and the poorest fifth, measured by average national income per head, increased from 30 to one in1960 to74 to one in 1997.”
“The fifth of the world’s people living in the highest income countries has 86% per cent of world export markets, 68 percent of foreign direct investment, 74 percent of telephone lines. The bottom fifth, in the poorest countries, has about one percent in each category.”
“The 200 richest people in the world more than doubled their net worth in the four years to 1998, to $1 trillion.”
In the face of all these developments, has the situation of women improved? Has women been truly “Empowered”, as some proponents of globalization claimed to have helped women? What is the prophetic role and task of WSCF in giving new hope and “salvation” to women in this era of globalization?
One reason why WSCF is unique and has thrived 100 long years of existence, is its ability to re-invent and critique itself as an organization. The position and direction it took with regards to the Women’s Struggle points very clearly to this dynamism. WSCF has built up its capabilities to be sensitive to these women’s issues because it dared to listen, open its doors to women’s concern and their participation. We have made WSCF a place was there is space for women to grow in harmony with men through dialogues and caucuses. Modesty aside, WSCF has been doing “gender programs” using a different language and themes even before Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and other groups started their gender programs.
The role of the WSCF Women’s Commission has been very crucial and critical in this process. Women in WSCF has showed and proven that women’s leadership and style of work can be an alternative to the prevailing system of hierarchy and domination. Collective spirit and participation and community building characterized this style of leadership. This has proven to be effective, this framework and women’s program would have not been realized if not for the collective work and the spirit that flowed in the women in the 80’s. If there is one important contribution and achievement of the Federation is the Women’s Program, and the numerous women who have gone through the process, and who currently making very important contributions in different fields and areas of work.
But is the current generation conscious about all these? The Women’s Commission has been mysteriously silent in the last four to five years. Like a wild beast that has been tamed, you could hardly hear women’s voice and aspirations in meetings and programs at the global level. But while we spend our time intellectualizing the injustices done to women and figuring out the relevance of women’s work in today’s world, we fail to respond to the reality of women’s oppression as it unfolds everyday. While some of us have the luxury of time to engage in senseless discourse about gender, women all over the world confront the issue on a daily basis, often in life-threatening situations. As a popular saying goes “After all is said and done, there is much more said than done”.
by Michael C. Davis
This essay aims to consider various claims about “Asian values” made in relation to the East Asian human rights debate. I divide this discussion into two parts: In the first part I consider and challenge the claims for exception from important international human right standards made in the name of “Asian values”. I believe these claims fail to capture the full richness of Asian values discourse, are tautological and are excessively deterministic. In this regard, I set aside presentation of the related economic development argument, which is the subject of another recent article (Davis, 1998). In the second part, I will offer a special version of liberal constitutionalism as a proper domestic venue for contemporary human rights and values discourse in East Asia. I believe liberal constitutionalism with substantial fundamental commitments to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law and sufficient attention to local indigenous concerns—what I call indigenization—can be appropriately responsive to local concerns with the development and maintenance of fundamental political values.
Turning first to the Asian values claims, I offer a four-fold critique of the these culture-based claims: first, I will briefly address the Asian values claim on a substantive level; second, I will address a related cultural prerequisites argument which seeks to disqualify some societies from realization of democracy and human rights; third, I will consider claims made on behalf of community or communitarian values in the East Asian context; and fourth, a recent shift to concern with institutions and their role in social transformation will be considered as a prelude to the constitutionalist argument addressed in the second half of this essay.
Taking up the first of these, the substantive content of the Asian values claim, here I focus on political values and particularly address this claim in the Confucian context. The substantive claim is that Confucian values are anti-democratic; Asian societies, according to Samuel Huntington, are said to favour authority over liberty, the group over the individual, duties over rights and such values as harmony, cooperation, order and respect for hierarchy (Huntington, 1993). In this view, East Asian societies are argued to be unsuited to democracy and human rights. That these claims are usually made on behalf of authoritarian leaders raises suspicion about their honesty.
In practical terms these claims are challenged both by the rapid recent development of democracy and human rights in several East Asian societies and by social activist and scholarly discourses which challenge these claims directly. The growing consolidation of democracy in East Asia speaks for itself. A direct attack on the intellectual foundations of the Asian values claim has also been launched by activists and analysts. They have challenged several of its components. Regarding the association of Confucianism with authoritarianism, Chinese scholars of the Confucian classics have noted that Confucianism did not embrace unquestioning acceptance of misguided rulership and that it shares with liberalism the commitment to higher norms. Confucian scholar Chang Weijen especially points out the prominent position of the golden rule in Confucian ethics (Chang, 1995).
Other scholars have challenged the motives of those who advance the above noted stereotypes of Asian values. Edward Said long ago noted that Western orientalism offered up its conception of Asia as the other in part to justify Western dominance (Said, 1979). More recently other Asian scholars have noted the tendency of East Asian leaders and scholars to adopt orientalism as a self-defining discourse (Chua, 1995). The same conception that aimed at Western dominance now, in East Asian authoritarian hands, aims at creating East Asian exceptionalism.
A third line of reasoning would have us believe that East Asian intellectuals did not understand Western liberalism and democracy when first confronted with it in the early modern period. In the Chinese context this was said to produce a perverse reinterpretation which saw democracy as merely good government or social welfare, in line with the Chinese minben (people as a basis) tradition. There is no doubt that authoritarian reinterpretations did occur and that Chinese nationalism, following the May 4 Movement, did distort. But recent studies of early modern Chinese writings witness a great deal of understanding of leading Western liberal thinkers (Svensson, 1996).
Other Asian scholars and specialist have pointed out that much of what is done in the name of so-called authoritarian Asian values can be explained more often than not by expediency. Frequently this expediency is accompanied by other ideological constructs, such as Marxism, that have little to do with Asian traditions. Francis Fukuyama argues that the only neo-Confucian authoritarian system evident in recent East Asian experience was the government of pre-war Japan (Fukuyama, 1995).
The second major argument, originally not intended as a cultural relativist argument, is the claim that societies which lack certain cultural prerequisites are not suited for democracy and human rights. This notion arose initially from studies that sought to examine the characteristics of civic culture were not likely to be successful at democratization (Perry, 1994). It was as if societies had to pass a test for democracy. This scholarship could lend further support for authoritarian Asian values reasoning.
The problems with this reasoning are apparent. The most obvious is its tautological character. To suggest that a society that lacks democracy could somehow develop democratic culture is a questionable proposition. The fact of the matter is that many societies in East Asia proceeded with democratization, with or without cultural prerequisites. With democratic institutions in place, the emphasis has shifted to consolidation and to creating the institutions to make it work (Linz and Stepan, 1996). Nevertheless, scholars and politicians in East Asia have clung tenaciously to this claim concerning prerequisites (Perry, 1994, points out this problem). The tasks of documenting the presence of civic culture in Asia still contribute to a mindset that appears to conceive of a test for democratization. This has spawned a persistent argument that East Asians are not yet ready for democracy.
My third critique considers a more directly cultural relativist argument, and one that is to some extent more credible. This is the one made on behalf of community. While I feel this argument fails to justify the denial of democracy and human rights it does raise concerns that I argue in the second half must be addressed by societies hoping to better secure human rights.
There are essentially three community-based arguments addressed here. The first is the romantization of community. The Vietnamese village has been described as “anchored to the soil at the dawn of History … behind it bamboo hedge, the anonymous and unseizable retreat where the national spirit is concentrated”. The Russian mir was to save Russians from the “abhorrent changes being wrought in the West by individualism and industrialization” (Popkin, 1986). Many have questioned just how liberating the traditional village was and many escaped when they had the chance. Few in East Asia’s tiger economies have the option of unmolested village life today.
Another community-based claim emphasizing republican government and civic virtue has both ancient roots and is of contemporary interest. In many East Asian societies civic virtue is seen as the key to good government. Others are less confident of the persistence of such virtue and seek to craft a democracy that, in James Madison’s terms, is safe for the unvirtuous (Putnum, 1993). The debate between Vaclav Havel, the anti-Communist idealist who emphasizes civic virtue, and Vaclav Havel Clause, the pragmatic post-communist politician who is concerned with interest representation (Simon, 1996) is likely to be rehearsed in post-communist and post-authoritarian East Asia.
The debate between Western and East Asian communitarians is the most challenging contemporary discourse about community. While Western communitarians are apt to see community as a venue for discourse and liberation, the neo-conservative brand of so-called communitarianism evident in Singapore is hardly a venue for liberation (Chua, 1995). Western communitarians have ultimately had to commit to some liberal values to preserve their discourse, while the Asian neo-conservative variety has also had to deal with increased demands for liberalization.
The fourth and final critique under this topic of culture is to raise questions as to the path for solution. Scholars who are confronted with claims about culture and cultural prerequisites have increasingly had to consider precisely what avenues are available to meet increased demands for democratization and rights, to ensure participation. This has caused an increased attention to institutions. This new institutionalism has sought to determine how institutions can serve the purposes of social transformation that adhere to the democratization and human rights processes (Thelen and Steinmo, 1992). This new institutional project is less sanguine about merely transplanting ready-made Western institutions that the earlier efforts of modernization theorists. In considering what institutions can do I will now turn our attention to constitutionalism, the topic of the remainder of this presentation.
Constitutionalism offers a venue to respond to the various claims underlying the Asian values debate and a response to those who advance authoritarianism. As noted in the introduction, for me constitutionalism should include the fundamental elements of democracy, rights and the rule of law and elements of local institutional embodiment, what I call indigenization. In the late twentieth century the discussion of constitutionalism has become a global conversation, a conversation that is productive of the processes of universalizing human rights. Constitutionalism serves both as a conduit for shared international and local human rights and political values and the embodiment of those values. In this regard I emphasize three things: first, the empowering role of constitutionalism, in contrast to the usual view that emphasizes constraint; second, a more careful look at the content of the constitutive process; and third, indigenization of constitutionalism, as an avenue to hook it up to the local condition.
Taking up the first of these, it is important to emphasize the positive empowering role of constitutionalism (Holmes, 1988). I worry that constitutionalists place too much emphasis on the constraints of constitutionalism, always using language of “checking, restraining or blocking”. This is important because under this constraint paradigm, newly elected democratic leaders may view it as part of their mandate to override constraint to “get the job done”. This results in a plebiscitarian, rather than a constitutional democracy (O’Donnell, 1996). Some may characterize this result as an illiberal democracy, as some scholars have advocated in East Asia (Bell, Brown, Jayasuriya and Jones, 1995).
Extra-constitutional action should more properly be understood as not just overriding constraint but as overriding democracy itself. Such extra-constitutional action does not just “get the job done” but in fact deprives the people of democratic power. Constitutionalist should vigilantly seek to engender discourse and empowerment. In a modern complex society this is the contemporary venue for values discourse. To better understand this claim we must consider the constitutive process.
It is in the constitutive process that constitutionalism’s discourse engendering and empowering roles come to fruition. This can be considered at two levels: the constitution-making process and constitutional implementation. Constitution-making is where the constitutional conversion begins. A constitutional assembly is a powerful venue for discourse about basic political values. In recent decades the East Asian landscape has been riddled with constitution-making exercises. In the 1980s and 1990s constitution writing in the Philippines and Hong Kong have offered prominent seemingly successful examples (Davis, 1996).
In describing the constitution-making process, Jon Elster describes a venue where both passion and interest operate (Elster, 1995). There are both upstream and downstream constraints, as well as processes for consensus-building and broadening bases of support. Upstream constraints consider political settlements and may also protect members of the former regime. For the Hong Kong Basic Law, as with the earlier Japanese Constitution, the upstream constrains were all but overwhelming. Downstream constraints look to ratification or acceptance. In the Philippines, after the people power revolution, downstream acceptance was the substantial constraint.
After a constitutional founding, successful implementation of constitutional government depends on appreciation of the discursive architecture in the ongoing processes of governance. More commonly appreciated here are the institutions for checks and balances. These institutions include institutions to control the purse-strings in regimes ranging from medieval estates to modern parliaments, and veto and administrative control in the modern executive. At present nearly every constitutional government in East Asia manifest some elements of this.
Less appreciated is the positive discursive machinery of constitutional judicial review, the power whereby courts review laws enacted by the elected branches of government for conformity to the constitution. In both Asia and the West this judicial role has sometimes been attacked as an affront to efficient and effective government and sometimes as an affront to democracy. One should be suspicious of the efficiency motives of such attacks. Constitutional judicial review has become the premier institution for securing human rights. More importantly, constitutional judicial review also serves as the engine for the basic constitutional conversation about political values and commitments (Bickel, 1986). This constitutional conversation proceeds as legislatures pass laws and courts respond and legislatures pass new laws. While much of East Asia has adopted Western civil and common law legal systems, only a few countries have fully functioning systems of constitutional judicial review. At present Japan, the Philippines and Hong Kong are prominent examples where this power is vested in the ordinary courts, as is more commonly done in common law systems. A Civil Law style constitutional court has existed in Taiwan for decades but only recently begun to function effectively. For the authoritarian regimes of the region, both historically and at present, no or little judicial constraint is the norm. Under such circumstances the positive discourse-engendering role argued for here is out of the question.
Constitutional theorists have come to recognize, however, that constitutional judicial review is not the sole discursive engine for crafting political values and solutions. At moments of crisis, what Stephen Krasner calls punctuated equilibrium (Krasner, 1984), the entire people may be mobilized to civic action. In normal times the people may be content with representation and constitutional judicial review, while they largely focus on private affairs; while at times of what Bruce Ackerman calls constitutional politics the level of civic action may become extraordinary (Ackerman, 1991). Ackerman identifies three republics in American history, before and after the civil war and in the modern regulatory social welfare state initiated in the 1930s by the New Deal. There is evidence of such mobilization in the recent South Korean constitutional politics of reform and in the Japanese politics of resistance to corruption.
With a commitment to the constitutional fundamentals in place, a premier concern is that constitutionalism finds roots in the local soil. It is through indigenization that constitutionalism responds to the above noted concerns with values and community. Aung Sang Suu Kyi characterizes this indigenous quality as local institutional embodiment (Aung Sang, 1995). For indigenous institutions to work, however, the constitutional fundamentals of democracy, human rights and the rule of law must be in place. Otherwise, the local community is left with an implanted hegemonic discourse constructive of authoritarian power and destructive of genuine community values discourse.
Beyond the fundamentals that preserve the discourse there is considerable room for local variation to achieve representation, both symbolic and real. If constitutionalism is understood to engender discourse then constitutionalists should consider the ways in which local culture and traditions may facilitate such discourse. Representation may be achieved through contemporary institutions which secure autonomy or minority rights, or through recognition of traditional ethnic or religious groups.
Legal structures may also embody these local distinctions. This may include, for example, allowing for the application of religious or tribal laws. In societies with long traditions of citizens petitioning leaders, a mechanism for petitioning elected officials could be employed or, perhaps, a modern version thereof, the ombudsman. Even a traditional monarch, who may retain symbolic and ceremonial functions, may take on the ombudsman role in a post-monarchical democratic society. Even when contemporary institutions are employed, in practice they may be expected to take on indigenous characteristics. The goal in all cases is orderly processes of discursive engagement or empowerment.
In a recent article I contrast the constitutional paths of modern Japan and China (Davis, 1998). While post-war Japan has a liberal constitutional system, there has been substantial indigenization in practice (Ford, 1996). Yet, with the fundamentals in place, the constitution does seem to work to encourage a core discussion on fundamental political commitments. Even the processes of reform of the former one-party dominance proceeded in an orderly fashion and have engendered renewed public concern with corruption and enforcement of legal norms. China, on the other hand, has rejected a commitment to the fundamentals. China’s public discourse has tended to advance a hegemonic view which people challenge at their peril. The public order situation is an explosive one in which the Public Security Bureau and the military must play a central role. While engaging in economic reform the regime has engendered increased diversification of interest for which inadequate representation is secured. The rule of law is shaky at best; encouraging increased corruption as the economic reform process goes forward. This has produced a value vacuum which the society is hard placed to deal with. There is growing evidence of concern to open up democratic and legal channels for representation of diverse interest. Opening up such channels will not create automatic solutions but such moves may offer hope for crafting orderly solutions.
The form of argument in this presentation has emphasized several specific points: first, that the Asian values argument, as a challenge to the implementation of constitutional democracy, is exaggerated and fails to account for the richness of values discourse in the East Asian region—local values do not provide a justification for harsh authoritarian practices; second, that the cultural prerequisites arguments fail because they ignore the discursive processes for value development and they are tautological, excessively deterministic and ignore the importance of human agency—it, therefore, makes little sense to take an entry test for constitutional democracy; third, the difficulties of importing Western communitarian ideas into an East Asian authoritarian environment without adequate liberal constitutional safeguards; fourth, the positive role of constitutionalism in constructing empowering conversations in modern democratic development and as a venue for values discourse; fifth, the importance, especially in a cross-cultural context, of indigenization of constitutionalism through local institutional embodiment; and sixth, the value of extending research focused on the positive engendering or enabling function of constitutionalism to the developmental context in general and East Asia in particular. I would hope this discussion attracts further cross-disciplinary interest in this evolving global constitutional project. (This paper was presented during the CCA-AI Conference on Human Rights in 2000)