At the last day of the HPAIR Asia Conference 2014, on August 26th, delegates had the opportunity to attend an extremely enlightening seminar regarding the human rights in Asia, and more particularly the gender problems that still continue to plague the continent with detrimental effects on women and young girls. Ms. Kaoru Nemoto, the Director of United Nations Information Center (UNIC Tokyo), was the speaker of the seminar and gave us some insights into the vast discriminations that women in the Asian continent still continue to suffer from but are rarely mentioned or tackled. The purpose of this report is, thus, to outline the most important facts mentioned in this seminar, which were the violence and discrimination against women in terms of education, marriage and childbirth, politics, and professional life. Moreover, solutions for the alleviation of the problems are proposed, according to the suggestions of the delegates who attended the seminar.
During almost a decade from 2000 to 2011, the percentage of girls’ enrolment in primary education in developing regions in Asia increased from 79 to 89 per cent and from 67 to 79 per cent for lower secondary education. However, these countries are far from achieving universal enrolment for girls and especially at higher grades of education, such as higher secondary or tertiary education. The main reasons are the poverty, the deeply established beliefs that the women should remain at home raising a family from a young age, the absence of safety measures for girls who want to continue their education into higher grades and the compulsive marriages they face from their families and societies. One tragic example illustrating the difficulties that women in these regions have to overcome in order to get educated is that of Malala Yousafzai, a young girl from Pakistan, who was shot in the head by the Taliban, just because she fought for her right to education.
MARRIAGE AND CHILDBIRTH
In the developing countries of the Asian continent, marriage continues to be an obligation for women from a very young age (around 12 to 15 years old), under the guidance of their families and without the slightest ability for girls to express their opinion about that. Moreover, after marriage they are most of the times forced to live isolated at home raising their children and taking care of the household. To make things even worse, 30 per cent of the women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from their partners. In a survey conducted at the countries of Asia, 1 out of 10 men admitted that they have raped at least one woman in their lifetime, and most of the times when they were only teenagers. Even more men admitted that they have used violence against their wife or partner and the reason for this was their strong beliefs that men are permitted to use violence as a demonstration of their toughness or their beliefs that they are responsible for their women’s lives and bodies. As long as childbirth is concerned, even though child mortality due to poverty in these regions has significantly decreased, girls’ mortality is still higher than that of boys’, implying the existence of discriminatory practices related to son preference.
Despite the significant progress towards the gender equality in politics and the equal representation of both men and women in the political life of the Asian countries, only 1 in 5 parliamentarians was a woman in 2013. Women still continue to be denied access into the decision-making of their countries and lives in general. That discrimination expands even at the purview of their families, where decisions still continue to be made in the vast majority by the men. Unfortunately, that unfair treatment towards women can also be seen in Japan, one of the most developed and strongest countries in the world, where the female representatives in both national and local administration are considerably less than those of their male colleagues.
Due to the combination of low education, pressures from their society and their families and unfair treatment in professional fields, millions of women in Asia still continue to face an exclusion from professional life or a racist treatment. The low education of women in many regions, which is only limited to primary school in most cases, doesn’t leave many opportunities for those women who wish to take an active role and have a job. Furthermore, the absence of childcare facilities and the strong beliefs that the roles of a woman in a society are restricted to those of a mother and a housewife, make the situation even worse. Even in cases that women have succeeded in finding a job and/or climbing up the ladder and getting prominent positions in companies, their salary may continue to be smaller than those of their equal male colleagues. Again in Japan, many women are forced, either willingly or not, to quit their job after the birth of their first child because of the absence of adequate childcare facilities and the common beliefs about their obligation to raise their families instead of working. There were also many cases of women who were very willing to return to their job after a few months from their childbirth, but they faced the refusal and the absence of support into doing it from their former workplace.
After the presentation of all these facts, delegates were asked to be divided into groups of five people each and discuss about potential solutions to the problem. The increase of women’s education was the fundamental solution proposed by all the groups. The ways of achieving this goal is through campaigns sponsored by both governments and NGOs, the increase of safety measures for girls attending school so as to protect them from racist attacks against them, and the increase of facilities and motives given to girls by their governments so as to study. In terms of professional life, the presentation of economical patterns (such as that of the Japanese Prime Minister Mr. Shinzo Abe) that clearly state that women’s participation in the production line of a country can result to this country’s economic and productivity growth, will facilitate the promotion of women’s labor. What’s more, the construction of efficient childcare facilities, as well as the increase on women’s and mothers’ subsidies, will increase the motive of young women to pursue a career, even though they have families. Finally, the proper school education of both boys and girls towards gender equality and sharing of responsibilities and duties in a family will prove of vital importance in combating the traditional beliefs and practices against women.
On the 21st century, Asia has still many challenges to overcome regarding the equal treatment of both women and men. Despite the considerable improvements during the last decades, millions of women in Asia still continue to face racism daily in every aspect of their lives. Therefore, only by having the active participation and commitment of everyone towards eliminating discriminatory practices, will the future generations of women in Asia be able to cherish equal rights like those of men and have a better life for themselves and their families.
Authors: Paraskevas (Paris) Verginis, with Daisuke Kato