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Women in South and Southeast Asia

Introduction to The Future of Population in Asia

“For most of the history, Anonymous was a woman” - Virginia Wolf

Women consist of half of the population of the world. From earlier times, the woman is considered to stay at home and do all the household chores and taking care of their children. They have been discouraged to venture out of the home and work. Women in every country faced this kind of discrimination, it is discrimination because they have been forced for such things and have been limited in their scope (Barbara, n.d). However, with the passage of time, as societies started to improve their views on human rights, the position of women has also improved, women are no longer confined to their homes and are allowed to do a wide range of works which were hitherto not even tried by them. The worth of a civilization can be judged by its place given to the woman in its society. However, when women's rights have advanced to be accepted in the world, this process is not the same all over the world because of various factors including socio-economic, development, religion, and history of that particular region. It has generally been argued that between man and woman, it is the powerful personality which dominates between both and it is generally seen in all the mammals that it is the male who holds the position of dominance, though in few cases, the female has also been seen to exercise control and command. Looking at the history of human beings, it has been seen that women have been dominated by men since the early periods of history in all the cultures and anthropologists have proved it (UNICEF, n.d.).

Asia and South East Asia

Asia is the earth’s largest and most populous continent which is located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres with many religions followed such as Buddhism, Abrahamic, Indian culture of Hinduism, Muslim culture, and Christian. These cultures and religions have an impact on the status of women in different countries specifically in South East Asia. In the south and south East Asia, gender discrimination and disabilities are widely practiced (Niaz & Hassan, 2006). Women are considered as the weaker section of human society and are given special status in many of the laws of the lands in the giants like India, Indonesia, and Thailand. There are some of the qualitative and quantities criteria by which the status of women in different societies can be compared, such as-

According to Lowie, an eminent anthropologist status could mean four different things-

The actual treatment

Legal status

Opportunities for social participation, and

Character and extent of work, all these determine the status of women in society. All these factors are independent of each other but are indifferently related.

To what extent women enjoy the freedom of education, marriage, and occupation outside the home in a particular society or region? (Niaz & Hassan, 2006).

To what extent their opinion is honored?

How the laws and constitutions are made with reference to women?

How far they have been given equal treatment in terms of pay, power, and other economical?

What is their representation in the political sphere?

To what extent the society or the country allows a woman to remarry, and forbid conventional social activities in various religions like burkha, purdah, sati system, child marriages, etc.

Woman In The Pre-Modern South East Asia

The 11 countries in South East Asia region consist of over 550 million people. Despite this region's great cultural and political diversity, this region has a relatively favorable position of the woman as compared to its peers of west Asia, neighboring eastern parts, or northern parts (ADB, 2018). It can be explained by several reasons like traditionally in southeast Asia, kinship was made from both the paternal and maternal sides, a daughter was not considered as a financial burden because of the practice widespread here of bride price and a married couple lived with the bride’s parent most often, women also had prominent roles in the indigenous rituals, in the local markets and agriculture work, the hold the big hand since older times. However, over time the rise has been focused on imported cultures of Confucianism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity which increasingly privileged male and lay stress on female domination (SWAN, 2020), however, these practices and culture remained among elites in this region and a moderating force was always dominant among the local traditions. These cultures and morphed traditions changed the place of women in society for reasons of political and social favors. For example, in India woman in its ancient texts known as Vedas have always been revered and in all the rituals and offerings to God, women hold prominent positions, but in the later period when the country was divided into various regions and cultures with the import of several ones, the stature of women was lowered at a very fast pace all over the country among different societies and states.

Woman And Colonialism

In the nineteenth century, the economic and strategic position in the region was contested by India and China which led to European involvement in the region. By the year 1890, the entire region except today’s Thailand was under European influence and control. In some areas, women were hired as cheap laborers in the areas of tea, sugar, rubber, tobacco, etc, and in the processing work (SWAN, 2020). On the level of the village, the colonial influence of the Europeans had made the male position a dominant one and had reformed the customary laws which had given the woman a considerable position hitherto (Niaz & Hassan, 2006). A similar system can be found in Siam, the only non colonized region having a legal codification which strengthened patrilineality. Thus these developments gradually encouraged preference for sons despite daughters. However, the position of women was still prominent in the community, leading to even many rebellions. With time, increasing female literacy with flag bearer being the Philippines and Southeast Asian regions’ exposure to western feminism and education system has encouraged the elite women to fight for the female subjugation and inequality issues which trickled down in the society to lower socio-economic classes also.

From the later nineteenth century, nationalist movement movements started in the south East Asian region. The male leaders were more focused on political independence and autonomy and educated women were equally concerned about independence with polygamy, domestic abuse, divorce, and the financial responsibilities of fathers. However, women increasingly started to accept that the matters concerning women's independence and male dominance could be withheld till attending political independence, and these matters could be discussed and given priority after independence. But despite their active role in the rebels and independence attainment fight, their role as organizers, journalists, and hidden agents was always seen as supporting rather than being a partner in the procedure. This system could also be seen in the independence movements which exploded after the surrender of Japan, who was occupying most of South East Asia between the years 1942 and 1945 (World Bank Group, 2012).

Women Position In The Contemporary South East Asia

With the end of World War 2, the downfall of the Euroe4pan Empire in south Asia began. In conception, the states that emerged in the next 15 years of this were content of gender equality but not in reality as this was a rare real process in these countries. In recent times, the number of women holding public offices has increased, especially in the local governments all over the region, and in the Philippines region, the women representation in the national assembly increased by 10 % (UNICEF, 2017). Women are managing the entire political arena and they find themselves marginalized in a male-dominated society and culture, with real power still remaining in the hands of men, though this condition is much better in Southeast Asia than in other regions of Asia. Few women individuals who have attained the highest political office of nation ice the president in Philippines and Indonesia are because they were daughter or wife of a famous political personality save the case of India where Indian 12th Indian president from 2007-12, was a female with no political kinship (Sciortino, 2020). This is because female involvement, in general, is seen as the way candidates are recruited and their entrenched behavior which perceives women as in the role of mother and wife. Gender stereotypes are often taught in religious texts and could also be found in some of the school textbooks. For example, Buddhist religious belief still says that rebirth in the form of a woman indicates that lesser merit was earned in the past life as compared to what it requires to be a male. Islam is seen as a major religion that suppressed women's rights from older times to even today with much confidence. However, Islam in South East Asia has been tolerant but for the last 2 years, there have been debates on correct dressing and public behavior. Though all the South East Asian nations have signed the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women except Laos and Vietnam and have since then also made considerable success in eliminating these gender biases in the forms of awareness in society and including such laws into the constitution. However, it is very difficult to change the societal bias inculcated deeply into the lower levels where preference is still the son, especially in Vietnam with prominent culture being the Confucian.

However, it is not easy to generalize the condition of women in the countries of Timor, Laos, and Cambodia (the poorest countries in the region) because of the development gaps in these countries, and the prosperous nations of Singapore and Brunei. But the continuing idea and increasing awareness about the woman who can generate her own income and can be independent in all the aspects are still evident, though there are lesser options of work for women even today and the pay is still lesser as compared to men and still it is a norm to find out the status of women in a country. In poor countries with impoverished women conditions, it is an appearance in the prevalence of prostitution and trafficking of children and women. From the period after the 1960s (East-West Center, n.d.), the South East Asia region was moved towards an exporting region with a factory with women being an essential factory worker like the sweatshops of Nike and aides. With the view of an overseas domestic wage earner, they also have been important for remittances into their countries remitting huge amounts of money. As there is still a worldwide shortage of qualified women jobs, they can find work abroad and can remittance good money into their country, for example, the job of a nurse in the UK. 

Over the past two decades, South East Asia has seen considerable success in gender equality and giving women equal status I all forms of life spheres like political, economic, social, and cultural. However, there still needs to be done a lot in this sphere and it can be predicted that south East Asia will succeed more in keeping women in the center and this will be a key reason for women's increased position in the region. Remuneration for the working women equal to men is still a visible gap that is needed to be addressed in the region (SWAN, 2020). On average, women in the region earn 30-40 % less than men and this gap still needs to be addressed (ADB, n.d.). There is a certain reason for lesser pay for women, like women taking a career gap for children or prefers to work part-time, but the direct pay gap based on gender also matters. The countries which have made considerable success in these gap ending are china, Hong Kong, the Philippines with a very little pay gap between both the genders. However, this gap in the whole region is widened in the managerial and administrative positions which are still about 45 % between men and women. Security and protection of women's property rights are still not up to the mark for equal treatment for women. Women still lack legal titles and protection of property rights equally to men which concludes that there is still lot to go in this sector. The political participation of women is widely varying between the south Asian regions and south East Asia. One of the frontrunners of Southeast Asia is the Philippines which ranked 17 out of 144 countries in women’s political participation by the WEF global gender gap report outperforming countries like Singapore, Japan with nearly 30 % seats in the national assembly (Sciortino, 2020).

Women As A Key For Economic Expansion In The Region

 Various societies have progressed much in the gender gap-filling especially in the Southeast Asia region. Women in these developing economies such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia have made considerable success in tertiary education enrollments. However, there are some other negative realities that still need to be addressed. These economies despite the varied culture and diverse social landscapes still face a common problem of preventing women from achieving their full economical independence. Southeast Asian women outperform in capability, often from their male counterparts, still, the portion of the woman in the workforce is considerably low and it still has scope to expand. This is because gender gap bias exists on the cultural and corporate levels in the Asian region. Social norms are still there which consider women only as in the role of woven and mother, while men are still considered sole breadwinner. This culture discourages women from adhering to knowledge and education as they still adhere to education as the need of breadwinning. The 10 countries of the ASEAN still have much more to go and cover the journey towards dispelling the gender disparity which will further the emerging markets of this region (Sciortino, 2020). It is to be noted that the women in the south East Asian region have been long encouraged for working as compared to other regions of the world including Asia, and thus this area is prone to rapid development with decreasing disparities among the women.

Conclusion on The Future of Population in Asia

Various factors have been discussed regarding the advancement of women empowered status of the Southeast Asian region as compared to other par so Asia and in the world. These cases however have reacted differently in this part as these cases had taken place in the other parts of the world but those parts had not taken adequate gain from these changes. Still, there is a lot to achieve for these southeast Asian region people in the sector of gender disparity which can become a bandwagon for the economic expansion of this region. Considerable and cautious political, physical, economical, and social changes from time to time are needed to de done and the region can pick a faster pace of development in all the spheres of life and can become a center of power in Asia. These nations need to adopt the policies of the fast-developing economies like Japan, China, and India, and these nations have not achieved gender equality improvement up to the mark of southeast Asia and adopt those policies with women empowerment which can be a boon for these nations.

References for The Future of Population in Asia

Barbara, R. (n.d.). Women in south and southeast asia. Retrieved from https://www.utc.edu/faculty/sarla-murgai/women-in-south-asia.php

UNICEF (n.d.). Gender equality. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/rosa/what-we-do/gender-equality

UNICEF (2017). UNICEF gender action plan, 2018–2022. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/rosa/sites/unicef.org.rosa/files/2020-06/UNICEF%20Gender%20Action%20Plan%202018%20-%202021.pdf

Niaz, U. & Hassan, S. (2006). Culture and mental health of women in south-east asia. World Psychiatry.5 (2): 118–120.

East West Center (n.d.). The future of population in asia: the changing status of women in asian societies. Retrieved from https://www.eastwestcenter.org/sites/default/files/fileadmin/stored/misc/FuturePop05Women.pdf

SWAN (2020). Report on the status of women in media in south asia, march 2020. Retrieved from http://www.swaninterface.net/report-on-the-status-of-women-in-media-in-south-asia-march-2020/

Sciortino, S. (2020) Sexual and reproductive health and rights for all in southeast asia: more than sdgs aspirations. Culture, Health & Sexuality 22(7), 744-761.

ADB (2018). Gender equality and the sustainable development goals in asia and the pacific. Retrieved from https://www.adb.org/news/infographics/gender-equality-and-sustainable-development-goals-asia-and-pacific

World Bank (2014). Toward gender equality in east asia and the pacific. Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/results/2014/04/08/toward-gender-equality-in-east-asia-pacific

“World Bank Group. (2012). Toward gender equality in east asia and the pacific : a companion to the world development report. World Bank East Asia and Pacific Regional Report. Washington, DC. World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/12598

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