When the nail sticks out

rants, raves and randomness

Best and worst places to be a woman

Jyoti and the Plight of Indian Women

I’m sure everybody has heard of Jyoti’s story last year. It was December and I was working in the kitchen with my Norwegian co-worker.

“What is going on India?” he asked, clutching his phone, while waiting for orders to come in.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The rape! It’s unthinkable in Norway.”

I’m sure we’ve all been shocked by the brutality of what Jyoti has gone through on a Delhi bus at the hands of 6 men one year ago.

Jyoti Singh-Pandey

Jyoti Singh-Pandey. Image from this site

Jyoti. At least now we can say her name.

It’s really appalling, shocking, sickening. Sure, rape has been happening elsewhere in the world – here in Japan, in the Philippines, in Norway. Everywhere. But the sheer brutality – torturing and inserting a rod in her, pulling out her intestines – still doesn’t fail to horrify me as I write this down. I can never understand these brutalities. I don’t understand gang-rape. And I don’t mean just morally, but psychologically as well. How a person can even think of inflicting such harm to a fellow human being is beyond me.  

In India, infamously tagged as the rape capital of the world, violence against women stems  from the view that women are worthless. From  female infanticides to acid attacks, from sexual harassment and gang-rapes, all these violent crimes are not foreign to Indian women. And it’s not new.  

Indian society is regressive for women, Mallika Sherawat has claimed.

The usual thinking is that the woman was “asking for it” by “dressing up provocatively”

This is not an invitation for you to rape me.

Image from http://www.thisisnotaninvitationtorapeme.co.uk/

 Or  by  going places no respectable women ever would. Of course, men get to be the judge of that!  To make matters worse, women are also being punished for the crimes committed to them. Think social stigma post-rape. 

I feel that many women keep silent to avoid this stigma, but suffer tremendous agony because of their silence. Men blame the victim for many reasons, and,shockingly, women too blame the victim, perhaps because of internalized patriarchal values, perhaps as a way of making themselves invulnerable to a horrifying possibility.

From “I Fought For My Life…And Won” – Sohaila Abdulal

Some claim that these are reactions to a changing society, where women are getting proper education and slowly “usurping” what men like to believe as their own by virtue of their gender: power.  It’s a way to put women back in their place in society.

Acid Attack Victim

Acid Attack Victim. Image from this site

Whatever it may be, it has to be stopped. Sohaila’s rape,  Jyoti’s rape and death – they cannot be for nothing. At the very least, we owe it to our children to change the society that oppressed (and killed) these women.

Philippines, The Land of Power Women or the Abused?

All the alpha Filipinas currently holding powerful positions in government – including chief justice and justice secretary – are just the tip of a larger truth: women are more empowered in the Philippines than in most countries in the world.

In a BBC report, Filipina journalist Marites Vitug was quoted as saying that the Philippines has a “very liberal work atmosphere” with a “fantastic support network” from household help to extended families.

She attributed the country’s high ranking to its matriarchal society. “Women usually hold the purse. Even if they are not the major breadwinners, they do the budget, decide how money is spent,” Vitug explained. “Thus, men don’t have a dismissive attitude toward women.”

For its, part the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) was “elated” on the country’s advancement on the index.“The collective hard work of government agencies, non-government and civil society organizations, academe and various stakeholders proves that the country indeed is recognizing and valuing women as active drivers of development,” PCW said in a statement released on Saturday.Still, the commission noted that there were areas on gender disparity that can be improved.

“Efforts to keep children in school… to expand economic opportunities for women and increase women’s participation in decision-making positions need to be accelerated and sustained in all spheres,” the statement read.

GMA Network. Land of power women: PHL rises to 5th in global gender survey, highest in Asia.  October 25, 2013. Web. December 5, 2013. < http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/332566/news/nation/land-of-power-women-phl-rises-to-5th-in-global-gender-survey-highest-in-asia >

Has this something to do with our  “matriarchal tendencies“?  Before the colonizers came, the pre-Spanish Philippines was (allegedly) largely matriarchal, where women could divorce their husbands and own properties and the spiritual leaders were females called Babaylan. From Wikipedia

In general, the spiritual and economic leadership in many pre-colonial Filipino ethnic groups was provided by women, as opposed to the political and military leadership according to men. Spanish occupiers during the 16th century arrived in the Philippines noting about warrior priestesses leading tribal spiritual affairs. Many were condemned as paganheretics. Although suppressed, these matriarchal tendencies run deep in Filipino society and can still be seen in the strong leadership roles modern Filipino women are assuming in business, politics, academia, the arts and in religious institutions.

But things seem very contradictory: RH Bill was hard to pass. Domestic violence is still happening. Women are still getting raped.

According to the Gabriela Women’s Party, a Congressional group committed to promoting the rights and interests of marginalized and disadvantaged women, a Filipina is a victim of domestic abuse every two hours.

“The problem of domestic violence is extremely common,” says spokeswoman Gert Libang, “but the question that always pops into the heads of victims is: ‘How will I feed my children if I leave?’

She adds that nearly all of the 400 women who sought help from Gabriela Women’s Party last year were jobless mothers with no means to make a successful getaway from abusive partners.

Delfin, Claire. GMA Network. Victims of domestic violence: Attacked by husbands, trapped by society. July 11, 2008. Web. December 5, 2013. < http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/332566/news/nation/land-of-power-women-phl-rises-to-5th-in-global-gender-survey-highest-in-asia >

Similarly, according to a seminar I went to, women who start making money  indirectly threaten men’s authority. Men resort to beating up their wives in order to reassert themselves and put women back in their place, very much like what is happening in India.

In a report entitled “Gender Issues – Philippines,” the German donor, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation claims a “sharp contradiction” in gender equality.

It says that while significant inroads have been achieved in recent years, including the election of two women as president and having many high-standing political, business and academic Filipinas, many women continue to suffer domestic abuse.

The presence of a relatively strong women’s liberation movement has not reduced a deeply engrained patriarchal culture in Filipino families, mostly Catholic and Islamic which views the father as the head of the family.

“Traditional sex-role definitions assigning homemaking to women and financial provision for the family to men still persists,” says in the report.

Delfin, Claire. GMA Network. Victims of domestic violence: Attacked by husbands, trapped by society. July 11, 2008. Web. December 5, 2013. < http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/332566/news/nation/land-of-power-women-phl-rises-to-5th-in-global-gender-survey-highest-in-asia >

These claims are really surprising, although I’m sure that there are studies and cases to support them.  However, I can’t, for the life of me, name one female in my family and social network  who is not working or who still subscribes to the “traditional sex-role” of home-making. Heck, even the men, who would logically like to support this idea, look more than happy to take the backseat and depend on their women. This holds true for my own family and the families of the kids I grew up with: working mothers+ “housebands“.   Is this a coincidence? Am I to trust the newspapers or my experience? But there has to be an explanation between the discrepancy of my reality and what is really going on. For it cannot be denied : sex crimes and violence still happen in the Land of Alpha Females.  What is then?

Lower levels of household wealth and urban residence are associated with a higher likelihood of IPV (IPV= Intimate Partner Violence)

Adair, Linda and Hindin, Michelle. Social Science and Medicine. Who’s at risk? Factors associated with intimate partner
violence in the Philippines. 2002. Web. December 6, 2013.

And before you bomb me with your hate comments, claiming that domestic violence is not a “lower class” phenomenon, please read through some of the other studies done.

The claim is often made that domestic violence affects individuals in all social classes. This assertion has been critical in raising awareness about DV by reminding the public that wealth does not protect against victimization. At the same time, the data we have about DV comes from samples to which researchers have greatest access, such as individuals who use social services, and these individuals are more likely to have low incomes or be living in poverty. More financially secure women have the resources (e.g., access to private physicians, money to stay at a hotel instead of a battered women’s shelter) to keep abuse hidden from public scrutiny. Nevertheless, various types of research show a strong relationship between financial status and a woman’s risk for domestic violence victimization. Although it is certainly the case that middle class and affluent families do experience domestic violence, studies consistently indicate that as the financial status of a family increases, the likelihood of domestic violence decreases (Benson, Fox, DeMaris, & Van Wyk, 2003; Benson, Wooldredge, Thistlethwaite, & Fox, 2004; Greenfeld et al., 1998; Lloyd, 1997; Raphael, 2000). For example, Benson and Fox (2004) analyzed data from the National Survey of Households and Families, which uses a large nationally representative sample of U.S. households, and data from the 1990 U.S. census. They found that as the ratio of household income to need goes up, the likelihood of DV goes down. Their findings confirm earlier analyses of data from the redesigned National Crime Victimization Survey, also derived from a large nationally representative sample, that showed DV rates five times greater in households with the lowest annual incomes compared with households with the highest annual incomes (Greenfeld et al., 1998).

Renzetti, Claire and Larkin, Vivian. National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women. Economic Stress and Domestic Violence. 2011. Web. December 5, 2013. < http://www.vawnet.org/applied-research-papers/print-document.php?doc_id=2187 >

What about rape? Rape is an age-old crime that we haven’t managed completely to put a stop to. In fact, reported rapes has been increasing. However I also take this is a good sign : it doesn’t necessarily mean that rape has gone up, but that more and more women have decided to report. Women are becoming less afraid to come out.

Rape is one of the most prevalent forms of violence against women (VAW) in the Philippines. Reported rape cases ranked third (13.1%) of the total reported VAW cases in the country from 1999 to 2009. The hard fact is that this is not yet the true representation of the problem. Due to cultural and social stigmatization associated with rape, many women victims prefer to maintain their silence and not report their ordeal to the authorities.

Philippines Commission on Women. Rape. Web. December 6, 2013. < http://www.pcw.gov.ph/focus-areas/violence-against-women/rape >

The most famous rape case in the Philippines is probably that of Maggie dela Riva, way before I was born. And yes, President Marcos sent the elite-born suspects to the well-deserved electric chair. Rich rapists, poor rapists. They all deserve to die.

Maggie dela Riva

Maggie dela Riva. Image from this site 

Japan , the land of Housewives

Women are still not empowered in Japan. But to be fair, it doesn’t seem like the women are interested in having power anyway, because power entails responsibilities. Who  said it again?

 With Great Power comes Great Responsibility

WIth Great Power comes Great Responsibility

Great responsibility doesn’t mean saving the neighborhood from evil Yakuza. But in Japan, it means working for 15 hours a day and letting the kaisha (company) rule your life. Who wants that?  Who can blame the women if they’d rather be the cute sex who takes charge of their husband’s laundry and makes bento for their kids? I wrote more about women in the Japanese society in this other article : WHY DO JAPANESE NEED TO LEARN ENGLISH? AND WHY DO GIRLS NEED TO GO TO SCHOOL?

Now let’s go to harassment and rape.  

Sexual harassment seems to be happening  all the time more frequently than we think. Near my university, there were signs in the park that warned people of “chikan“. Chikan can be flashers or gropers. Last week, I recounted on FB my close encounter with a chikan on the train. What was surprising was how it was happening right under our noses and I didn’t even notice until when the girl start accusing her groper.

Chikan in Keio Line
Chikan in Keio Line

I recounted this experience to my wax therapist, who told me the story of the chikans back in the day. Fifteen years ago, as a student, she had to commute by train (Yamanote Line) to her school and back for an hour everyday. Remember, this was before the advent of anti-chikan, ladies-only car.  While personally, she never encountered or suffered any form of harassment, being tall and mighty, her weak-looking classmates would arrive in school with tattered skirts. The train chikans were using scissors!  Personally, I found this really disgusting. To prey on the weak ones! But to be fair, I have been living here for some time and that train chikan I encountered last week was the first. I would still rank Tokyo as a helluva much safer place where women can walk the streets late at night by themselves than Manila.

Rape, on the other hand, seems very rare.  (Reported) Rape is very low at .014 per 1,000 people compared to Philippines’ .025 per 1000, if these stats are to be believed. Of course, it also counts that rape in Japan has a very narrow definition. That is, penis inside a vagina. Men, for one, can never get raped. But rape, when it happens to women, has been treated so lightly it beggars belief.  To prove my point, many years ago, the word “rape” was censored in the media and substituted by the less-offensive word, “mischief”. (Now, the word is “violence” ).  When Cristiano De Angelis, a couchsurfer, raped his Japanese host, the cops were not very helpful to their compatriot.

I just came back from Kyoto Shichijo-Karasuma Police Station, where I took M. to file a formal complaint. Although I of course did not attend the interview itself, what she told me of it was that, according to the police officer, it was “too late to collect physical evidence” and there was therefore nothing to be done (despite mountains of circumstantial evidence and her own word, which should warrant at least some questioning). Judging by the relative brevity of the interview (30-40 minutes), I suspect the officer was not overly motivated in opening a case against a guy long gone from the country, and since M. was rather reluctant to share in the first place, it could not have gone very far. (Read: http://unknowngenius.com/blog/archives/2012/01/12/cristiano-de-angelis-travelling-rapist/)

Maybe because she was hesitant about the case herself. Nevertheless, it’s not the first that we hear this kind of attitude from the authorities. Remember the utterly low profile case of Honiefaith Ratilla Kamiosawa?

Honiefaith Ratilla Kamiosawa

Honiefaith Ratilla Kamiosawa. Image from this site

The second-time offender chopped her body and dumped them in the canals and almost got a free pass.

JIADEP NOTE: An extremely bizarre case. Nozaki was first sentenced for mutilating and abandoning a corpse. The victim was a Filipina, and no arrest was made regarding her death. Some Philippine commentators express astonishment at the first charge, and rightly insist that if the victim were European or American, he would have been sent away for life.

Japan Innocence & Death Penalty Research Center. Nozaki Hiroshi. October 9, 2010. Web. November 6, 2013.< http://www.jiadep.org/Nozaki_Hiroshi.html >

Fortunately, he was eventually sentenced to death. But Honiefaith wasn’t the first. Google Lindsay Hawker and Lucie Blackman. Or for a more recent case, Catherine Fisher. You’d find that the Japanese cops  are consistently ambivalent in dealing with cases of rape and sex crimes.

Later, she received compensation from the Defense Ministry that came out of a fund for civilian victims of crimes by U.S. military personnel. She sued the Kanagawa Prefectural Police for what she described as their incompetent investigation into her rape but lost in December 2007. She appealed the decision.

At several stages, Fisher said, Japanese plainclothes officers followed her when she appeared in public.

Her treatment highlights profound problems with how the U.S. and Japanese authorities handle such cases, she said.

“A U.S. serviceman, here to serve and protect civilians, raped me. I was then denied criminal court action by the Japanese government. Nobody would help me.”

Mcneil, David. The Japan Times. U.S. sailor’s rape victim wins case. November 21, 2013. Web. December 6, 2012. <http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/11/21/national/u-s-court-rules-in-favor-of-australian-victim-raped-by-u-s-serviceman-in-yokosuka/ >

Gender Gap in the World

When my Norwegian co-worker boasted that Norwegian women enjoy more rights than all the other women in the world, I told him the Philippines is probably not far behind.  I haven’t been to a country that has as much female politicians as the Philippines. (Yes, I haven’t been to Norway)

Philippine ranking World Gender Gap

Philippine ranking World Gender Gap.From this site.

As what my co-worker claimed, Norway is indeed way up there at #3. The Philippines ranks at #8, down from #6. I’m proud-  the only Asian country in the top 10. But I took me to living overseas in a very male-dominated country to realize how different I am being treated here and at home.

Gender Gap in Japan and India

Gender Gap in Japan and India

What I observed right away was how different this society treats their own women from mine.  Cases of domestic violence  may be low, but Japanese men know how to keep the power among themselves in a subtle way. A Japanese female, no matter how good  her credentials are, can hardly hope to become anything more than an office lady who makes tea for her boss. In my school, the  “least” gender biased of all industries, the pictures on walls are of the previous principals’:I observed that only one was a woman.   As another example, my husband, from the moment he was hired, had a certain career path made out for him that is is different from his female officemates’. When it comes to benefits, our house is subsidized (at 80%) from day 1; the women never get housing subsidy. His pay grade is different from his female colleagues, in such a way that,  after twenty years, a male would be earning 5,000 USD or more per month while the female would be stuck at USD3,000. In terms of personal growth and development, training and seminars are available to my husband and to his male colleagues. Sure, the women can go to an English conversation school. But what else? It stems from the belief that it’s not worth investing much money in women, who will “retire” once she marries. But Japanese women are not alone: women from all over the world suffer violence or discrimination one way or another.

Sympathy and the Objectification women

Why is it that even when people are sympathetic, they can be gender-specific ? How many times have you heard someone say, “Think of her as your mother, or your sister or your daughter!” One would think that tragedies like Jyoti’s death would bind members of a society closer together, dissolving the lines that divide us. Unfortunately, gender gap doesn’t appear any larger than moments like this. Why can’t we say, “Think if it were you.”  You. Think if it happened to you as a person, as a human being. It’s not like suffering knows a gender, as if women hurt more than men or the other way around. If people don’t stop seeing the lines separating men and women, then true equality will, more likely, never happen.

It is because society tells us that women are objects, not subjects, that even good men, when speaking out against violence against women, tell other men to imagine her as “somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter, or somebody’s sister,” it never occurring to them that maybe, just maybe, a woman is also “somebody“.

It is frightening to consider just how deeply entrenched objectification of women really goes. We must certainly combat sexual objectification, but the battle will not end there. Women are objectified in more profound ways than we realise, and we must tear down every entwined shred of the patriarchy, in order to achieve our modest goal of being recognized and treated as human beings.

Goh-Mah,Joy. Huffington Post. The Objectification of Women – It Goes Much Further Than Sexy Pictures. June 10,2013. Web. November 6, 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/joy-goh-mah/objectification-women-sexy-pictures_b_3403251.html >

We don’t want to be treated specially. We want to be treated equally. And that comes from understanding that a woman is somebody too.

If you prick us, do we not bleed?  If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?


Violence against women is rooted in social norms

“It’s not fair anymore,” my Norwegian friend complained. “Companies would hire unqualified females to fill in the quota.”

I like the idea of gender quotas. It’s not the best, but as I argued back, “It’s a start.” For where do we begin? We must start somewhere. Gender quota is tangible, measurable way to see how women are faring in the business world. Norwegian government is only doing its role to protect women and ensure they don’t get discriminated at work. Left at the mercy of men , we’ve already seen how women fared. But why am I even talking about gender quota when I started with Jyoti’s tragic story? It’s because I believe all these stories are intertwined. Violence against women is just the tip of an iceberg that cannot be “treated” in isolation. It is deeply rooted in social norms and traditions that dictate a woman’s worth, and consequently, how she will be treated in her society.

The Elders agree

We cannot treat these issues in isolation; they are part of a bigger picture of systemic discrimination against women. Different forms of violence against women, in different places, are all rooted in deeply ingrained social norms that portray women as less than men.

These norms, often embedded in traditional or religious discourses, create an environment where unequal treatment is acceptable. They strip away women’s autonomy, denying their fundamental right to self-determination. Violence – whether in the form of beatings, bullying, forced marriage or female infanticide – becomes a tool to keep women and girls ‘in their place’.

Brundtland,Gro Harlem. The Elders. Defeating discrimination: how to end violence against women.March 8, 2013. Web. November 6, 2013.  < http://theelders.org/article/defeating-discrimination-how-end-violence-against-women >

5 comments on “Best and worst places to be a woman

  1. Joe America
    November 6, 2013

    Fascinating. Rape is horrendous, no question, and societies like India’s and in the Middle East display a shocking disregard for a woman’s humanity. India has at least had an awakening of sorts due to the absolutely shocking brutality there.

    The Philippines is an interesting case. Yes, a woman can be president and many women hold important government and business positions. But the HR law was not easily passed, and divorce seems out of the question. To understand these handicaps, one has to consider the impact of religion on women. It for sure damages lives if a woman can’t get an education or is bound to an abusive husband philanderer with no escape clause in the contract.

  2. ikalwewe
    November 6, 2013

    Religion remains very important – but the influence is waning. I was talking to my husband about kids out of wedlock just last night and how things seem to be fast changing in the Philippines from the last 5 years. I enumerated the names of my unmarried friends who have kids within the last 5 years vs couples forced to marry 10 years ago vs us married couples without kids (we’re far outnumbered!!). When I was in the university, a pregnant girl stops her studies and marries her boyfriend. When I was finishing, the family pressure seems to be weakening. I saw pregnant girls continue their studies. Besides, because there is no divorce, people think twice about marrying now. Hmm.. I think it’s my parents’ generation that’s more prone to be influenced by religion, Joe. I can say this is true for my own family. But it’s not my generation, and probably now that my generation are making money by themselves they see it less their duty to please their fathers and mothers and marry to save face (definitely true for me!). That’s just an observation. I like to think we’re changing the Philippines. Because what practical and economic use are all these – education, piano, learning English – when all you can ever hope to become is a housewife?

    • Joe America
      November 6, 2013

      I hope you are right about young people. I think we’ll know when laws start to catch up to modern social values (divorce). For sure a middle class is developing here, and given the education and awareness broadly in the Philippines, perhaps we will be seeing a core of enlightenment push out everywhichway. It will take a while to get to the poorer, outlying areas, I think. I thought the arguments against the RH law were unnecessarily dirty, coming from the CBCP political priests, slandering people personally and calling their faith into question. So little dignity or compassion to them. But who am I to preach to you . . . ahahahahaha 🙂

      • ikalwewe
        November 6, 2013

        I think you’re starting to know me well 🙂 I also believe that the church is getting desperate to cling on to their bastion of Catholicism. Thanks to Google, they can’t bullshit their way to people’s minds as they did generations before. I mean…if people really took the church very seriously, how come there are so many gays who are out nowadays? Aren’t they um.. doomed to hell? Looking at history, what Mexico did, the Philippines usually “copied”. Hopefully we’d not only have divorce but gay marriages in this lifetime.

  3. Pingback: A Changing Culture? | wgst170

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