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A Reflection by Kerensa McElroy, Australia SCM

My parents brought me up to believe I could achieve anything. I took it for granted I would go to University, they took it for granted that I would study either Science or Engineering. Thus I guess it was assumed that I would earn my own living and have a career—things which 50 years ago in Australia would have been considered only options for men. At the same time, however, I was raised to be a domestic success—my mother taught me to cook, clean, sew, garden, and yes, to want a family. I think this exemplifies the situation of many young Australian woman—we’ve been privileged enough to have an excellent education, have had a taste of career success, but still find child rearing and homemaking ingrained in our nature. Unfortunately, we can’t be Superwomyn and do everything. My childhood and teenage years were spent in rural Australia, living in towns ranging in size from 100 to 3000 citizens. Sexism in the country is prevalent; I remember my high school maths teacher advising me not to take advanced maths, because I would be the only womyn in the class. In religious education I was taught that I must marry a Christian man and let him be the leader of my life. A large number of the girls in my year left school at the end of year ten to work in the local supermarket or saw mill. Quite a few of them are now married, and will probably never leave Kyogle. In my late teenage years I became involved with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). This is now my spiritual home and the community in which I worship. Quakers believe in ‘that of God’ in everyone, and as such have recognised womyn and men as equals for the past 350 years. Many churches in Australia have been struggling with the issues of ordination of Womyn—as Quakers doesn’t have formal ministers or priests, thus this is a question we don’t even need to ask. Gender is rarely an issue, however there are some ways in which mainstream denominations may be a step ahead; for example, the use of gender inclusive language. The Uniting Church in Australia has rewritten both its prayer and hymn books to include womyn in the religious experience; however it is still common to be expected to read ‘man’ as a synonym for all people in historical Quaker literature. Perhaps because Quakers have not had to be dragged kicking and screaming towards the acceptance of Womyn, we have failed to recognise that our practices could sometimes fall short. Despite my troubles in high school, I went on to University and after several years studying music I am now enrolled in a Bsci/BEng degree. Womyn are well represented at University—to an extent that is easy to forget sexism still exists. In fact, this is one of the problems I face as a womyn in my society. There seems to be great apathy among Womyn towards feminism, sometimes even outright hostility, many Womyn seem to think all the battles have been won, whilst others claim the sole point of feminism is hatred for Men. If this is so, then why do we still earn less than men for the same kind of work? Why are there only 8 womyn in fourth year engineering (out of hundreds of students)? Why have nearly all my tutors been female and all but one of my lecturers been men?

A Reflection by Vanda Lengkong, SCM Indonesia

I was born in a small village in North Suleiwesi and grew up in a small but great family—I have very understanding parents and siblings who really support what I am doing now. One of my most unforgettable events in my own journey as a woman is a struggle I have to face in my late teenage years. My father did not allow me to continue my studies after graduating from High School. At that time, I really wanted to further my studies as I have the ambition to go into University. However, my father was very much influenced by my society and culture’s patriarchal ideology that young women do not necessary need to attend University as all previous years of education in junior or high school is sufficient for them because at the end, women would be just working in the kitchen (according to my father, a domestic area of responsibility). Hence I worked very hard in my studies to prove to my father that women and men could attend University if they work hard, and that both women and men are the same, a creation of God, they have equal rights to live and learn. With the support of my mother and my hard work, my father finally realised my struggles. I would just like to say that the creation of women was a blessing from the Almighty Creator. Women should be proud of this creation and be actively participating in all forms of life systems such as education, social, politics, economy and so on. The identity of women will be recognised if women ourselves are not shy to demonstrate all kinds of creativity and skills we possess. Some of the women’s issues in Indonesia that I would like to raise are:

  1. Indonesia is a male dominated society. Indonesia is a country with many islands and each different island has a unique characteristic, one will find one island is totally different from the other in terms of sub-cultures, perceptions, way of working etc. But one common feature you can find in all parts of Indonesia is its male dominating society, and the wide distinction of roles and responsibilities between women and men.
  2. Violence against women (domestic violence and sexual abuse). There are many cases of violence against women in Indonesia, both physical and mental. Violence against women is very much influenced by the Indonesian culture that sees women as secondary human beings. Sexual abuse or harassment is very rampant in the society and the laws do not protect the women who experience these violence. For example if a woman was sexually abused, she needs to produce two witnesses if the report is to be accepted by the police. This is a total humiliation for the woman who is already undergoing other consequences of the sexual abuse. In a survey made in 1996, 68% of reported cases of domestic violence ended in fatality, and there was a reported number of 829 sexual abuse cases. This was only a reported figure which does not tell of those who are not being reported or documented. In local areas like Manado North Suleiwesi, there are new cases of sexual abuse every week.
  3. Women migrant workers. There are many Indonesian women migrant workers found in all over the world. One of the main reasons is poverty. However, these women migrant workers do not receive much support from the Indonesian government when they are being exploited and abused. The government does not, first of all, provide training to the women workers, and the lack of skills makes it difficult to for them to bargain for the right wages and working environment. Also, the government does not help the women workers when they are faced with wage cut or other exploitations. This is ironic as these women migrant workers help keep the Indonesian economy alive!
  4. Church and Women. In the church’s bureaucracy, women are usually seen to be in a level below men (in terms of decision making). But lately women’s issues within the church have been raised often and there has been some small improvement. In some churches, women are seen to be on the same level as men, and they are able to demonstrate their creativity and leadership.

A Reflection on the Indigenous Women in Taiwan by Chang Chung Chih

After more than 400 hundred years of colonisation by many countries or political powers (China, Portugal, Holland, Japan and Kuo Ming Tang [KMT]), the continuity of the Indigenous people in Taiwan becomes a big challenge. Indigenous people, forced to adjust to the new culture, life-styles and values of other countries or big political powers, are losing their traditional life values, their culture and languages are slowly ebbing away from the effects of these colonial policies. The traditional social system has been disintegrated and there is now a huge gap between young and old generations of Indigenous people. Before the Han people’s (the dominating ethnic group that is also known widely as Chinese) perspective came into the lives of the Indigenous society, the original family system was of Matriarchy. But now, the situation is reversed and ‘Men’ is the focused gender. In the family, a baby boy is more valued than a baby girl; in work, men receive higher wages than women. Although some situations may have improved slightly in terms of gender equality, the Indigenous women still need to face the pressures and expectations from the society as well as their tribes. The difficulties that are experienced by the Indigenous women are:

  1. The predicament of moving into the city
  2. The problem of marriage with the Han people
  3. Prostitution
  4. Family’s ostracising
  5. Neglect of social issues face by Indigenous women

One of the main problems is communication. This results from the inconvenience of transportation between the villages and cities. As the villages are far away from the cities, Indigenous people have much difficulty in getting resources or information quickly and abundantly, especially for the Indigenous women who have to stay at home to take care of the family or young children, they do not have many opportunities to receive resources or information. Hence the Indigenous women could hardly do anything to alleviate any difficult situations or problems, but incurring more pressure from their family.

As a child of an Indigenous woman, I am proud of my mom. She was a beautiful woman with deep, charming eyes. She taught me how to sing, cook and drink! But because of the discriminating government policies of Taiwan, she could not teach me her mother tongue. When my mother talked to me in Puyuma (her tribe’s name and language), everyone looked at us with discriminating eyes and said, “see, they are Indigenous people”. We usually receive such words and stares like this. My mother never said anything bad towards them but instead, just smiled back at these people. This may be one of the reasons why I am so proud and happy to be seen as an Indigenous person! But for my Han father, patriarchy runs deep in his heart and mind, and for a long time too. As I am the third child and a girl at that, in the Han culture, this is pure bad luck for the family and especially for my father. He had wanted a boy at that time, thus, I am given a name that is very boyish. Many people have always mistaken my gender and called me Mr. Chang! But I like this name, it is a name that displays bravery and creativity, and it’s a very easy name to remember too.

Apart from the above experience, I used to be a very shy, timid and introvert person. I was extremely affected by my father’s display of patriarchy, hence I have a lot of difficulty to say ‘No’ to a man because I was always afraid and thought that I would get into trouble if I say ‘No’. But now, I am trying to do it! I am also trying to explain why I would say ‘No’ to a man. I found that besides saying ‘Yes’, we women can express our opinions, make our own decisions and make our lives as WELL and GOOD as men!

A Reflection on the Women’s Situation in Bangladesh
by Monika Biswas, Bangladesh SCM

It all seems like women are coming out and are enjoying all forms of human rights and many are leading a better life than before. They are holding jobs, have rights to education, access to health care and even participate in politics. It does seem that women are in a good position today. But this is not entirely true. Women are marginalized in all levels in both class and gender because “a woman is a woman” so the saying goes and this is the source of women’s sufferings in the real society. Certainly the degree of marginalization varies in intensity, shape and shade from class to class, society to society and culture to culture. The position and status of women have hardly moved.

Bangladesh is situated in South Asia. It is characterised by a very high population density of 920 persons per square kilometre, a high population growth rate at 1.8% with a total population of 127.7 million people, a very low per capital income of GDP per capital at USD330, a very low literacy rate at 35% and a widespread of underemployment. However, some of the brightest hopes for Bangladesh in future rest with its women. A society that has traditionally organised itself around the needs of the men has to gradually work up new perspectives and new possibilities. However, this realisation is drawing very slowly and only in certain pockets of the society. Most women in Bangladesh still suffer discrimination from birth to childhood and beyond. Women do not have equal rights and opportunities and the evidence is everywhere.

The literacy rate for men is 49% while for the women is 26.5%. Women earn less than men, the average wage rate of a day’s labour for men is Taka 46 while for women is only 26. Women receive less medical care, for instance, of children under 5 years of age with respiratory infections, of those who receive treatment, 37% are boys while only 29% are girls. In Bangladesh, female children have a lower infant mortality rate than male children, but this biological advantage is soon out weight by gender discrimination. For children aged 1-4 years old, the mortality rate for boys is 91 per ten thousand but for girls, it is 102.

Early marriage is also another main problem for women in Bangladesh. It is a traditional custom among Muslims and Hindus to marry their daughters and sisters before they attain puberty. The women are married off even before they understand what exactly their duties are and would often become mothers before their childhood is over. A good number of women also died during childbirth and many of them suffer from unwanted diseases. Less than 5% of women with obstetric emergencies get appropriate medical care and the maternal mortality rate is 450 deaths per 100 000 births.

Girl child is also often treated as a temporary guest in the family who will eventually leave the household after marriage and even their marriages would cost a hefty dowry. Thus the status of daughters are very low in the family and this status is carried on to the family they are married into.

In conclusion, women remain very invisible in the Bangladeshi society and they are subjected to increasing levels of violence against them. Many cases of sexual abuse are reported every year and the horrifying trend that has developed lately is the throwing of acid onto the women if they reject the advances of the men. Hence, we can see, the situation of women in Bangladesh is still very unfavourable and we need to work very hard to reverse the oppression and marginalization towards women.