JASS Blog Archives for September 2013

by Yit Sophorn on September 20, 2013 on 3:32 am

“I really would like to be part of the First Aid Group. It makes me really proud because we can help Cambodians who need immediate medical attention in case violence erupts in the peace demonstrations. We have to be prepared. Apart from being involved in social action, I can also get more information and get the gist on the political situation. Another reason why I joined is I feel it is necessary for me to know how to respond and to help people in a risk situation,” says Sum Dany, a member of the JASS-inspired Cambodian Young Women’s Empowerment Network (CYWEN).

As the political tension rises in Cambodia, several women’s groups and NGOs formed the First Aid Group – an “on call” group that will take charge of the health situation in peace assemblies – initially on the huge demonstration on September 7. The women’s groups and NGOs who created the First Aid Group are: Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC), SILAKA, Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC), Strey Khmer, Empowering Youth in Cambodia (EYC), CYWEN, and other NGOs. These groups announced a call for youth volunteers who are willing to be trained as paramedics specifically for the peace assemblies. A lot of CYWEN members joined the First Aid Group while at the same time they also enjoined their young women volunteer network in different universities to join the peace action. 

To prepare the First Aid Group, SILAKA and GADC provided the young women volunteers with training courses on first aid and gave them medical packages. After the trainings, the young women were divided in three sub-groups: the Group Mobile, the Group Transfer and the Group Home Base. Group Mobile members have to stay in Freedom Park in Phnom Penh where the protesters are. Group Transfer’s function is to transport injured protesters to the hospital in case they get seriously wounded. Group Home Base members, on the other hand, have to take care of protesters who get injured near the office which serves as the ‘home base.’

The Political ‘Deadlock’

Following the July 28 Cambodian national elections, opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) claimed that there were ‘widespread irregularities’ and ‘fraud’ committed by the ruling party, the Cambodia People’s Party (CPP). The National Election Committee proclaimed that the CPP won majority of the seats in Parliament but both parties declared victory.

According to preliminary election figures released by Cambodia’s Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, the CPP won 68 of 123 National Assembly seats. This is a loss of 22 seats from its sweeping victory in 2008, but it is still a majority, giving the CPP a continued hold on power. The CPP lost ground to an energized opposition, the CNRP, which won 55 seats, according to early figures.

However, the opposition party rejected this preliminary election result and called for an independent committee to observe and check election irregularities. The CNRP leaders have announced its rejection of the alleged election victory of CPP and called for support from Cambodia’s kingdom. The opposition party also vowed to hold mass demonstrations if the voting irregularities were not addressed by the independent committee.

The election deadlock and tension has kept some people indoors. Though unsatisfied with the results, these residents in the capital expect post-election unrest. Some parents have even prohibited their children to attend the CNRP deCambodians in 7Sept2013 Peace Rallymonstrations because they are worried and concerned that the demonstration will lead to violence and cause greater problems.  

Before the September 7 demonstration, authorities have imposed unusual travel restrictions in a southeastern province and blocked some national roads. Despite these restrictions, the event was held without many hitches. Protesters were in full support of the opposition party in finding justice and in calling for an investigation of the alleged “illegal” election victory declaration of the CPP. 

At least 5,000 Cambodians joined the September 7 peace rally – including monks and grassroots people who come from different provinces such as Prey Veng, Svay Reay, Ta Kao, Kampong Spu, Kampot, Kampong Chheay Province.  There were also a few human rights observers, professionals, NGO workers, and of course, the First Aid Group. 

Women Come Together for Peace

Chea Sem, a woman from Prey Veng province who was carrying her baby with a message on her forehead that says “My Vote, My Nation” was one sight that struck me. I asked her why she joined this event and she said, “I came here together with other grassroots women because we need peace and justice. We need to improve the lives of the grassroots people who are facing greater challenges. I hope that our challenges will be solved by the new government.”

Grassroots Woman Protester from CambodiaGrassroots women like Chea Sem are in full support of the opposition party:

“We also came at Freedom Park to greet CNRP President Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, to join the peace demonstration, to support the call for non-violence and to ask for justice for our votes,” adds Chea Sem.

Apart from grassroots women, what is noticeable is that the youth supporters of the CNRP are also active in checking on the developments concerning the political deadlock. They support the CNRP in rejecting the results of election and try to find ways to get at the truth concerning the national elections.

Some of the youth supporters of CNRP played an active role through the First Aid Group. On the actual day of the peace rally, the First Aid Group was divided in 34 small groups at the Freedom Park. CYWEN members were spread out in all three sub-groups of the First Aid Group. For Kong Rachana, a CYWEN member, becoming a part of the First Aid Group was more than a memorable experience:

“I learned that we as young women can build awareness, solidarity, and collective voice to help our people. We can also be a role model for other young women to get them involved in social action. I have learned a lot from the situation and from being a First Aid Group member. I will join more assemblies in the future. I am willing to be a paramedic in these assemblies again if necessary.”

Sophorn Yit is JASS Southeast Asia’s Program Assistant. She is also a CYWEN member and First Aid Group volunteer.

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by JASS on September 18, 2013 on 9:20 am

Written by Dr Simukai Chigudu

JASS’ work in Malawi has many lessons to teach about activating the energy women have and opening safe spaces for them to interrogate issues of power, organize collectively and demand a say at the decision-making table. It is in this spirit of such global solidarity that counter-hegemonic movements garner momentum and can present ethical, pluralistic and viable alternatives to existing modes of political and economic oppression in Africa and beyond….

Following bitter struggles for liberation promising to deliver socio-economic justice and political freedom across the African continent, it is striking that life for many ordinary Africans remains a precarious struggle for inclusion and rights despite nominal independence. The factors giving rise to this reality operate on multiple levels from the local to the global; they are interrelated in complex ways; and they remain the subject of considerable debate. How does globalisation reinforce and maintain geo-political inequalities? How do global markets threaten the poor and marginalised? How are Malawian women activist leaders fighting back against this in their fight for access to alternative ARV (anti-retroviral) drugs and better lives?

At a macro level, the modern global political system reinforced by neo-liberal ideologies has worked against the prosperity and freedom for the majority of Africans. The widely criticised structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) of the 1980s, advanced by International Financial Institutions (World Bank, IMF, etc), which favoured a diminished state through expanded markets, reduced social welfare, and limited regulation are just one example. SAPs contributed to Africa’s ‘failure’ to produce robust and publicly accountable institutions as part of the post-colonial state-building project. There has been extensive documentation and debate on the many ways in which this political-economic system has undermined governance, restricted the capacity of the public sector (leaving many impoverished and without recourse to social welfare), and has paved the way for many state functions (such as healthcare, education, or natural resources extraction) to be supplanted by profit-driven multi-national corporations. As a result, we have seen the encroachment of the market into virtually all spheres of life thereby exacerbating inequality both locally and globally and eroding the claims that citizens can make on the state.

In my field of interest, public health, the privileging of the market and its role in matters of life and death is particularly disturbing. Controversies over large pharmaceutical companies and their de facto market restriction over who has access to life-saving medication have opened up critical debates over public ethics and moral economies. These questions begin to expose and interrogate the multiplicity of forces that leave certain social groups mired in poverty, unable to access healthcare, and unrepresented by a state that is charged with attending to their citizenship rights. In many African contexts, it is women who bear the brunt of this ‘structural violence’.

It is against this backdrop, that JASS’ support for Malawian women – part of a local, regional, and global movement – demanding their antiretroviral therapy is particularly urgent and impressive, and also instructive about how we think about citizenship in the postcolony. The emergence of a grassroots feminist movement represents a break from political and economic mechanisms of oppression. At the same time, this social struggle should not be viewed solely as the renegade offspring of neoliberal globalisation or a simple demand for material resources. In its emergence and evolution, the women's health movement yields tremendous creative power to question the limits of capitalism and to unveil the enduring legacies of violence and exclusion within the colonial and post-colonial institutions. It helps to shift the broader political narrative in southern Africa from a parochial preoccupation with how the region’s political elites assert sovereignty against Western states, to one that foregrounds plurality, inclusion, civic rights and representation as part of the purpose of colonial liberation.

In the international sphere, it challenges the notion that Africans are to be acted upon by development agencies and calls into question the power, authority and legitimacy of rich nations to frame the position of women in AIDS discourses – passive victims in the 'feminization of HIV' for example – which limit feminist aspiration to 'bare life' that can only be attained through the generous issuance of pills and technology. The demand for ARVs is not just about surviving a deadly disease, it is about holding governments accountable; it is about pushing for just governance and public accountability; it is about challenging the immoral praxis of multinational corporations; it is about demanding recognition of agency from global actors; and it is about respecting women’s rights to bodily integrity. 

As an academic, I believe that there is a fundamental need for more in-depth analyses of feminist social struggles both historically and contemporarily. How do the excluded and oppressed come to visibility with their own voice and words? We must study the emergence of social movements not just as an inevitable reaction to a hegemonic order but also as a creation of new public spaces and ideas. This way we can begin to explore how states and international actors can accommodate and address the needs of those marginalised by society while recognising their dignity and autonomy.

About Author:

Dr Simukai Chigudu is a Zimbabwean public health doctor who has worked and conducted research in South Africa, Tanzania and The Gambia. He is currently based at the University of Oxford where he is studying for an MSc in African Studies.



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by Niken Lestari on September 12, 2013 on 2:54 am

Just like a saga, the recent media brouhaha on virginity testing for young girls in Indonesia proves that the discourse on this testing is far from over.

In 2007, several students of Indramayu got involved in a sex video case. Indramayu regent Irianto MS Syafiuddin said back then that mandatory virginity tests will be enforced on young female students to determine if they are virgins – subject to their dismissal if proven otherwise. Although the testing never happened, the ‘virginity’ discussion continues to roll.

On 30 October 2012, the District Education Office of Seluma Regency and North proposed that virginity and pregnancy tests be conducted on young female students. After this pronouncement, the high schools came directly under fire from women’s groups such as the Concerned Women’s Network Bengkulu (JPPB) – an alliance of women’s organizations in Bengkulu composed of 12 NGOs. The virginity testing proposal originated from the dismissal of a pregnant student in one Bengkulu school. At that time, a spokesperson of JPPB said, “If these tests are implemented then the state would have power and control over women's bodies. Psychologically, virginity tests without the consent of the child and without the presence of the child's parents can be a traumatic event for them.”

In 2012, two cases related with virginity tests appeared on 24 September 2012, at SMK Hasanuddin, Eretan, Indramayu and in early May 2012 in the Madiun Public Junior High School. In these two cases, one female student was forced to drop out of school because after the testing, it was “proven” that she is allegedly “no longer a virgin”. The other female student was so ashamed of herself because of the publicity caused by her case that she had a difficult time finishing the school year.

There were no serious efforts of the schools and other agencies to give a fair hearing to the students. The female students forced to undergo virginity tests were asked to make a statement that they are still virgins. Their parents were likewise ‘reprimanded’ by the school for not being able to give a ‘good moral education’ to their children. As a result, these students felt guilt, shame, and trauma.

Last August 2013, the Department of Education in Prabumulih City, South Sumatra was on the spotlight over the alleged proposal for mandatory virginity tests for female students in high schools in the province. In confirmation of the reports in the media, HM Rashid, the education head of the province, explained that virginity testing is a proposal from parents of students to respond to allegations of human trafficking teams that “their children are no longer virgins." Rashid said, “I only responded to their proposal and I supported it in order to prevent defamation.”  

The media has succeeded in blowing this case out of proportion in pursuit of high ratings and ultimately for the benefit of the media business. The media has given a misleading picture about women's sexuality. The “virginity myth” is perpetuated once more and created a stir in the communities.

Print and online media could serve as a friend or foe of the women's movement. Despite having an extensive network, journalists failed to dig deeper into the issue. They package the news in such a way that it can reach as many readers and advertisers.

In this case, the importance of women activists participating in online community media network in order to provide rapid response and give a different perspective to mainstream media coverage is paramount.

In addition to gender-biased news media, educators and parents can also fan the flames, to the detriment of the young students. In the case of Prabumulih City in which the students were caught in human trafficking raids – female students were then “accused” of not being virgins anymore. In Indonesian context, these allegations stigmatize women and condemn them as “immoral.” When parents feel their ‘dignity’ is smeared; without thinking, they propose virginity tests.

Most educators and parents believe that virginity tests are the easiest answer to tackle students' freedom of sexual behavior and to curb the increasing cases of human trafficking. However, as expressed by Dr. Andri Wanananda MS, of the Tarumanegara University – a sexology expert, female virginity is often exaggerated out of proportion. Female virginity is considered “easier to determine,” although the cause varies.

According to Dr. Wanananda, "intact hymen should be examined by the obstetrician or midwife - experts in obstetrics clinic procedures through intra-vaginal examination.” For many women, these checks cause discomfort physically and psychologically. Social pressure is also a contributing factor. Results of virginity tests, when used, cause the female students to be more vulnerable to discrimination and psychological violence instead.

Educators, health workers and parents need to understand that every woman, including their daughters, have the right to decide for themselves – including their own bodies, including when or whether she wants to get married, when to have children , how many children and so on. Pregnant students also have rights to continue their education that are protected by the state. Everyone, both men and women, must maintain his or her health and respect to other people's bodies.

Both men and women need to know information related to their bodies and sexuality. Fulfilment of the right to quality sexual education is not as easy and not as fast as virginity testing. But the long term impact is very broad, including giving the confidence and understanding the biological aspects of the body.

Ignorance about sexuality will continue to lead to ‘virginity testing’ debates in Indonesia. Next year or two years from now, the same stories will appear elsewhere as long as the media picks up the issue to create sensational news rather than to speak up for women’s rights as it happens in rape and sexual harassment cases. Recurring events like this cannot be allowed because it will give space for mass media to publicize a false myth of female sexuality. Women’s rights activists should also understand the way mass media works so they check and re-check the news in order to give appropriate responses.

Forum Aktivis Perempuan Muda (FAMM-Indonesia)

Original Statement Released on August 27, 2013 (in Indonesian language)

Photo Credit: www.irrawaddy.org

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