JASS Blog Archives for December 2013

by Yit Sophorn on December 30, 2013 on 5:26 am

The young women of Cambodia stood in solidarity with women workers, particularly in the call for justice for the woman who died in a recent SL workers’ demonstration in Phnom Penh.

“The Cambodian Young Women’s Empowerment Network (CYWEN) and other young women’s groups released a statement condemning the death of the woman protester. We are also planning to participate in a radio talk show to raise awareness on this issue,” says Sophoan Chan of JASS Southeast Asia and chair of CYWEN.

Cambodian workers from the Singaporean-owned SL garment processing factory went on strike and gathered outside the SL garment factory on 12 November 2013. Factory owners of SL failed to pay its workers since August 2013. At least 600 mostly-women protesters staged a rally as local and international NGO workers joined to observe. One group walked along the Meanchey road and another group walked towards the Ministry of Labor. The first wave of violence broke out at the Stung Meanchey bridge in the capital’s Meanchey district.

"The Cambodian government should take urgent action to investigate the case of the woman who got killed in the protest rally. We demand no less than justice for her,” says Neang Sovatha, gender coordinator from the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC) who, along with young women’s groups such as CYWEN, joined the SL garment workers’ demonstration.

The garment industry is Cambodia's largest income earner, representing more than 80 per cent of the country's exports. Currently, the country has about 500 garment and footwear factories employing around a half million workers, majority of whom are women. Last year, the country exported garment products for Western clothing firms in equivalent to US $4.6 billion.

The garment worker’s life is very miserable. The government should take immediate action to improve the working conditions of Cambodian workers especially women workers -- by increasing their wages, by ratifying the International Labour Organization Convention (ILOC) 183 on maternity protection, by strengthening law enforcement and by generally improving their working and living conditions. It’s sad to see this government striking down its own people,” states Neang Sovatha.

Currently, the minimum wage for a garment worker is US$ 80. Apart from low wages, garment workers in Cambodia face long shift hours with no workers’ benefits. Workers are always calling for better wages but both factory owners and government ignore their plight and barely address their demands.

The violent clash between the SL protesters and the police began when around 100 police blocked the protesters who tried to march from the SL Garment Processing factory to the home of Prime Minister Hun Sen. One woman was shot dead and nine other people were wounded allegedly by the Cambodian riot police shot; more than 40 protesters, including monks, were beaten and arrested.

Through this demonstration, the plight of Cambodian garment workers was put on the spotlight. Hopefully, women’s situation will improve, particularly women workers in the garments industry. Workers deserve increased wages and other benefits based on labor laws for all workers. Women will have stronger collective voice and power together,” concludes Neang Sovatha.

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by on December 29, 2013 on 4:20 am

November 20, 2013 -- I will be traveling to Bangkok with hesitation. I had an email from Bytes for All, inviting me to represent JASS Southeast Asia about a discussion on the freedom of expression in the internet.

In preparation, I did a lot of reading. I was worried that during the forum, I might not be able to give an opinion that supports women. A few days earlier, I also had an extensive discussion with Niken Lestari, national coordinator of Forum Aktivis Perempuan Muda (FAMM or Young Indonesian Women Activists’ Forum) as she recently took part in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Bali, Indonesia. There she also met Association for Progressive Communications’ (APC’s) Chat Garcia Ramilo who kept urging colleagues from Forum Asia and Bytes For All to include women in the meeting.

When in Bangkok, it turned out my name was not in the guest list. I panicked. At that time, all the Bangkok hotels were packed because Bangkok was hosting a lot of fora so it will be very difficult to get a room if one was not registered. Fortunately, some friends from the committee swiftly helped me and I was able to get a room at a nearby hotel. From an Asian Forum committee sharing, I became aware that this event was an effort to give our input to Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, regarding the threats and challenges on the freedom of expression in the internet and how it is linked to the political situation in each country.

Participants from Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Singapore, Cambodia, Philippines, Timor L’este, Laos, Vietnam, Maldives, Sri Lanka, South Korea, and Japan provided a report on their respective countries’ situation. Observers from the US, Norway and Sweden were also present. The forum was also an effort to develop an Asia-wide civil society movement for the protection of freedom of expression on the Internet.

I saw the common problems faced by every country in area of freedom of expression in the Southeast Asian region. Indonesia is a country that has its Information and Electronic Transaction Act, a law that can charge defamation to its citizens and this law is also often used to restrict freedom of expression. In countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar -- in the absence of protection of the rights of speech and expression -- journalists and bloggers can be arrested for writing materials considered as “threatening” by the state.

In terms of protection for women in the media, I asked everyone to consider how they would present their public statement especially where women victims of sexual violence is concerned. I was so pleased when my question was answered a few days later by the chair of the Association of Independent Journalists (AJI).  AJI made a statement in the media to observe the code of conduct, i.e. in order not to reveal the identity of attacked victims, especially victims of sexual violence.

Women must claim their space in the virtual world and immediately deepen their knowledge of technology and the digital world to protect themselves from a variety of cyber crimes that deliberately target women. Safe surfing in the internet needs to be on the agenda of women's education in order to curb the growing internet “insecurity”.  Anonymity in cyberspace is often misused and abused by some unscrupulous groups to lure and trap women into trafficking, prostitution and various other crimes such as fraud with seduction.

On the last day, we discussed various controls by the state through Facebook, Twitter and other social media and how surveillance limits the freedom of expression in various countries. In the virtual world, monitoring is also done covertly. In some of these cases, bloggers and journalists become the biggest victims and so need protection.

One of the concrete things that can be done is to prepare for the ASEAN Youth Forum and the ASEAN People 's Forum (APF) and include in these meetings the demand for the provision of protection for the public, bloggers, and journalists in order not to lose freedom of expression, particularly in the internet.

The forum concluded in a group photo. I had to immediately go back to Indonesia to prepare for the One Day, One Voice campaign in my area – in Surabaya, Indonesia. One thing that struck me in this conference is that women's voices have been delivered. Indeed women do have a number of vulnerabilities in the internet but women must continually seize the space and make their voices heard!

Indonesian participants to the Civil Liberties Forum Nov2013

Maria Mustika represented JASS Southeast Asia in the Conference on Freedom of Expression for Civil Liberties held in Bangkok, Thailand on November 21-23, 2013.


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by Lisa VeneKlasen on December 22, 2013 on 7:54 pm

Beyoncé has the internet abuzz, but this time it’s not just about her music and the groundbreaking launch of her new album—it’s also about whether or not she is a feminist. From academics to culture bloggers, community activists to girls who never thought about or used feminism in a written sentence before—and many feminists around the world—black, white, young, old, African, Latina, men, women—everyone’s chattering about whether Beyoncé is a feminist. 

As feminists who are part of an international community (JASS) dedicated to grassroots feminist activism and reclaiming feminism as we tackle big problems, we  jumped into this debate with both feet. Since we love the wake up that only comes with contradictions, we’re grateful that Beyoncé  has taken on and shined her big spotlight on this otherwise controversial idea that men and women are equal, an idea so powerful and transformative that it is either stuffed in the corner or hurled as an insult. And we think it’s downright subversive to throw the word into the middle of maelstrom of popular culture using the voice of a great Nigerian woman writer (and feminist), Chimamande Ngozi Adichie.    

Fundamentally, the questions Beyonce’s move raises are age-old and always in need of fresh conflict to snatch the word out of the political closet so we can try it on for size. Questions like—what is feminism? What makes someone a feminist and another not? Who decides? Where and how do race, class and sexuality fit into all of this?  

Here some of the voices that caught our eye:

“Beyoncé is launching a challenge to us all, not only black women, but everyone, especially men to examine our gender biases and the ways we sexually shame women for using their sexuality, money and bodies (and the ways these do not equally apply to men). She sings unapologetically about owning her sexuality and sexual pleasure (drunk in love), dealing with grief (heaven), love (XO), and parenting (blue) among others. As a black woman artist operating under the confines of a white supremacist industry overbearing with the sexualised (heterosexual) male gaze and desire, “Beyoncé” seems to be Beyoncé’s attempt at redefining for herself what her feminism and womanism will look like, and that’s great.” Gcobani Qambela, Beyoncé: A Feminist in her Terms, Mail & Guardian (South Africa)

Its complex politics—Race, Sexuality and feminism…

“Beyoncé means a lot to us. She triggers a lot for us: about desire and beauty and skin color politics and access and being chosen and being the cool kid. Because representations of black female subjectivity are so paltry in pop culture, the mainstream doesn’t know that we struggle with this kinda shit, too. Nerdy girls resent the popular pretty girls. We grow up to become feminists who are beautiful in our own right, to critique patriarchy and challenge desire. And we have a sort of smugness that says, the pretty girl who gets the guy can have all that, but she can’t be radical. That Beyoncé would even want to means she has stepped out of her lane, and lanes matter greatly.”  Brittney Cooper, The Beyoncé wars: Should she get to be a feminist? SALON, (USA)

King Bey always brings her A-game and manages to have fun while doing it. I wish feminism could take some clues here. We don’t always bring our A-game, since we spend a whole lot of time trying to figure who’s in and who’s out as if that is going to get us anywhere. Time’s out for the WOC feminist meangirls shit… (And yes, we can and should have a robust critique, and that in itself ain’t hating. But again, sometimes, folk are just being mean or contrary, and we need to be about building some shit, not tearing shit down. And sometimes folks need to go to therapy and heal from the shit the meangirls in your past did to you. Stop taking it out on Bey. She don’t know you. Seriously.)" Crunk Feminist Collective, (USA)

Okay. …. I’m here for defending Beyoncé’s right to own her sexuality and make no apologies for it. I’m here for defending her right to figure out who she is and what she believes without having to answer to every white feminist who thinks she’s not figuring it out fast enough. I’m here for all of that. What I’m not here for is pretending that Beyoncé is some champion of black feminism as some kind of “up yours” to white women, especially if it means ignoring seriously problematic things. Frankly, I think we can do a whole lot better than that. I think—I hope—we can defend Beyoncé in all the legitimate ways there are to do so (and there are many) without losing our sense of what black feminism really is, in all of its complexities, and what it’s really not (see again: Ike Turner). I hope—I really hope—we can love Beyoncé and stand up for her without giving her, or ourselves, or anyone else, a pass.”  Mia McKenzie, On Defending Beyoncé: Black Feminists, White Feminists, and the Line In the Sand, Black Girl Dangerous, USA

None of this is to say that Beyoncé’s feminism is flawless or exempted from critique. Her version of feminism is not without issues and will not speak to everyone. But we all need to see this powerful black woman in the media owning her version of highly sexual, happily married version of feminism. We need to see a wide array of feminist perspectives and voices in the media, since feminism isn’t one unified movement. Beyoncé may not be your ideal feminist role model, but what she does and says has a meaningful impact. I’m immensely grateful to have her voice be a part of the discussion.” Athena G. Csuti, Why We All Need Beyoncé’s Feminism, Fem 2.0, (USA)

Trying to determine if Beyoncé holds up to mainstream white feminism is counter-productive, and I think even worse, it’s anti-feminist. I’m not one for saying what you can and cannot do to be considered a feminist, but I think rooting a person out of a movement that only benefits from visibility because she doesn’t see the world with your eyes means you shouldn’t be able to come to club meetings.” Julia Sonenshein, Why White Feminists Are Mad At Beyonce, The Gloss, (USA)

Beyond either/ors…

But she does something new on Beyoncé …Men and love are a focus, but she makes sure to let us know that those songs are also about empowerment: there’s even a spoken word passage in “Flawless” from a Nigerian feminist …She sings about love and sex more boldly than ever, peppering those songs with messages about independence and motherhood. And we’re eating it up.” Eliana Dockterman, Flawless: 5 Lessons in Modern Feminism From Beyoncé, TIME Ideas, (USA)

Almost like the dilution of "slut-shaming," the colloquial definition of feminism has become debatable. Instead of its Merriam-Webster definition …folks like to say that because Beyoncé sang "Cater 2 U" now she's not allowed to sing "Flawless," declaring that she "woke up like this…flawless," nor is she allowed to sample African feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discussion of how women are taught to "shrink themselves."  Hillary Crosley, Can we stop fighting over Beyoncé’s feminism now? Jezebel, (USA)

“”Feminist” is a strong word that many women (even some feminists) tend to avoid using too often. However, Beyoncé’s selective use of Adiche’s words from “We Should All Be Feminists” reflects not only this album’s complex concoction of sex, power, and love, but Beyoncé the Woman’s character as well.”  Aziz Jackson, Beyoncé's new album in a nutshell: 'We should all be feminists', The Washington Post (USA)

Talk shows, radio spots, and even comedians weigh in:

Jessica Valenti, “Beyoncé is ‘Absolutely’ a feminist” on Melissa Harris-Perry, Beyoncé drops feminist manifesto, MSNBC , (USA)

Bilal Qureshi, Feminists Everywhere React To Beyonce's Latest, NPR, (USA)

Andrea Mann, TIME Regrets Naming Pope Francis 'Person Of The Year' After Beyoncé Drops Surprise Album, The Huffington Post Comedy, (United Kingdom)

Feminism is for everyone

Before Beyoncé’s album launch, we had some version of these debates 3 weeks ago across our JASS community when we decided to feature Beyoncé on our 2013 holiday card. We never resolved this debate and created 2 holiday cards instead, the other quoting Maya Angelou.  In the wake of Beyoncé’s buzz, aside from our hallway high-fiving for being trendsetters—albeit invisible— Beyoncé reminds us of something we believe deeply. That feminism is a perpetually unfinished idea and vision that has inspired and shaped some of the most profound changes in the world over the last three centuries—from the abolition of slavery to emotional intelligence—from contraception to the fact that domestic violence is a public crime. That this big, ever-changing idea comes to life in our hearts, minds and daily lives as we struggle with all our imperfection to recognize, respect and love everyone and find more democratic, inclusive and sustainable ways to live in our families and with the planet. That this idea is not just about women and men, but about race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, ability, age and all the many ways that systems and beliefs construct privilege, power and discrimination. And as Bell Hooks says, feminism is for everybody. Feminists—from our sisters (and brothers) working on the frontline in communities with little resources to those with salaries and business cards—need to figure out how to make feminism a household word and embrace the contradictions that this implies. 

Photo Credit: Feministing

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