New Asia-wide platform for feminist dialogue

Singapore (Singapore)—Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung starts FutureLab to unite feminists across Asia through a regional platform

Participants from Indonesia and Thailand signing in at the FutureLab in Singapore, 23 March 2017, by FES/Mila Shopova

Sharmee Hossain, participant from Dhaka (center) at FutureLab in Singapore, 24 March 2017, by FES / Mila Shopova

The struggles of women across Asia echo one another, but “we are not connected”, said Aliya Hashmi Khan, an economics professor at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad (Pakistan). “We work in our own silos.”

Khan was one of the 21 participants who attended the first edition of FutureLab on Political Feminism in Asia, held by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Singapore in March. This regional workshop gathered feminists from seven Asian countries (Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand), and was designed to find answers on how to challenge the patriarchal power structure in politics, the labour market and societies, to come up with innovative initiatives for the next two years.

Providing a regional platform is about sharing experiences and about finding a unified voice

“Women's and feminist movements in Asia need to find more meaningful ways to engage with the public and power players”, said Adrienne Woltersdorf, Director of the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia, which organized the workshop. “Providing a regional platform is about sharing experiences and about finding a unified voice, a common message that can influence and effect change at both national and regional levels.”

The new platform provided by the FutureLab on Political Feminism aims to find entry points at a regional level to connect a very active but fragmented feminist landscape in Asia.

There is a misconception that the feminist movement is a restricted space

“There is a misconception that the feminist movement is a restricted space”, said Sharmee Hossain, musician, activist and lecturer at North South University, Dhaka. “For me, being an environmentalist, a feminist and an Adivasi [South Asian ethnic tribe] activist is not mutually exclusive. I see it as different expressions of my identity.” Therefore, applying cross-sectoral and inter-generational approaches is one of the keys to understanding different layers of inequalities faced by women, and to forming a joint approach between feminist and labour movements, between online and offline activism, and between generations.

As much as globalisation helps build up these transnational networks, the spread of neoliberal policies and modernisation has put pressure on countries which face various dynamics of development in Asia. With increased integration of labour markets and the high number of workers searching for jobs across borders, women are at great risk. They are highly present in the informal sector and are over-represented in low-quality jobs such as in the clothing and textile export industries.

Only a few women make it to the top of political parties or trade unions, and their access to public spaces is often limited

At the same time, women’s voices are rarely heard. Only a few make it to the top of political parties or trade unions, and their access to public spaces is often limited. Traditions, religious conservatism and oppressive structural patriarchy are additional burdens deeply anchored in these societies, and despite progress in further reducing gender inequalities, the gender gap remains wide in many areas, particularly in economic participation and political empowerment, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2016. In South Asia, the gap is projected to close within the next 46 years, compared with the projected 170 years needed to eradicate gender parity worldwide. But there are great disparities in Asia that still need to be overcome. To address these, closer collaboration between different movements is needed. ###

Leïla Cellérier is intern at the Singapore-based FES Office for Regional Coordination in Asia. For more information about the regional work by FES on gender justice and equality contact Natalia Figge, Programme Manager at the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia.

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