Archive | March, 2012

Day 30: Finally the Last Day!!!

18 Mar

So this is FINALLY the last day of my 30-Day Project (although I’m posting this a couple of hours after Saturday)! Spending my entire evening packing my luggage –yet again— to head to Singapore (yes, I have a job now), I asked myself why I began and held on to this project over the past one month or so.

Yes, of course, I wanted to do something productive with my time, and I wanted to commit to something for at least for a month (although I don’t think I’m over my “commitment-phobia” issue, just yet). But as I went along, I realized that it was more than that. I was re-learning about what I had been passionate about and who I really was. During the past 2 years or so, I had been studying public policy and utterly confused about how the discipline could actually be connected to my passion, to the things that really mattered to my life, from my home country to academic origin as an anthropologist to social justice and human rights issues. But by writing about something everyday, whether I had something that I was dying to write and talk about, or I was going through internet endlessly seeking some inspiration, I always found something that I could write about. Some postings were over 1,000 words and others were only 200 words or so. But everyday, I thought about what I would write (throughout the day), then sat down in front of my laptop in the evening, then I produced, sometimes to fulfill my “public duty” or other times, to bring my thoughts together.

And I learned how to be myself in front of others. Yes, I promised that I would write on women and gender issues, and I think I was pretty good with following the theme. However, when the whole thing comes down to the essence, I was selfishly and shamelessly writing about myself. I rarely talk about my personal stuff with others, and many of my friends find it difficult to get to know me, because I rarely share anything personal. It hasn’t always been intentional, but it has been more of my personal habit of protecting myself, perhaps overly. But here, whatever the topic of that day was, I always related it to my personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. During the process, I remembered lots of my life stories. My life hasn’t been that long, and my memory can be very selective (just like yours), but I had to collect them together in order for me to survive. I was working on a “storytelling project” for a very, very selfish reason of telling my stories to others via this internet means, and ultimately, re-narrating them to myself, so that I can locate where I am in my life.

Chimamanda Adichie said that she once thought that a good writer/storyteller is someone who had gone through tremendous tragedies in her life, and when she realized that she didn’t have anything standing out in her own life, she mourned for the lack of tragedies (However, she later realized that the power to tell different stories can be much more powerful, while there is always the danger of telling a single story). I was worried at times, too, and even afraid. I don’t particularly feel that I’ve had many challenges in my life that I could tell others with interesting flavors. And because I was like this, I always had the thoughts behind my back, asking “who am I to make comments about the others’ stories as if they are my own?” This was perhaps related to my old habit of self-consciousness that I mentioned earlier. But I chose not to be afraid of judgments, because I know that I (and my thoughts) cannot be loved by everyone, and I want to accept that it is OK not to be part of the harmony that other people demand.

BUT I would like to think that some of my stories were different (from what? I’m not sure), yet genuine. I hope that some people were able to relate to my thoughts and experiences, and find themselves in my stories. This habit of writing is likely to continue (although probably not on daily basis), and I hope that I will have many more stories and dreams to share with others.

And I give a gentle, self-congratulatory pat on my back.

Day 29: Maya Says…

16 Mar

I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.
-Maya Angelou

I hope that every woman has young spirit and does what Maya told us. We must defeat what the world says on how we should be and tell the world to just shut up. We are gonna tell the world how it should be. And I hope that many of us really do kick some ass seriously.

Day 28: Elections Are Here- Korean Politics and Women

15 Mar

It’s about election time in Korea. It will be held on April 11th, and the hopeful congress-men and women candidates are running around like mad chickens. One thing that the Korean media focused was the fact that the heads of the two major parties –Saenuri Party (conservative- formerly known as the Grand National Party) and Democratic United Party— and one minority party (United Progressive Party- I directly translated, and I’m not sure about their English name) are all women.

For Saenuri, the head is Park Geun-Hye. She is the daughter of a former president Park Chung-hee, who is known as a “benevolent dictator” who held his power for 19 years until he was assassinated. Han Myung-Sook leads Democratic United Party, and she was deeply involved in women’s activism, although not many people seem to know about this. She was also a prime minister for a few years. Lee Jung-hee is a former lawyer who graduated from an elite school yet she has always been with the non-profit law and labor activism. I read an article somewhere that when she was in undergrad, she took a class by Han and was motivated by the feminist education.

So doesn’t Korean politics look more or less over with this gender inequality stuff, no?

But in reality, only 6% of Saenuri’s candidates and 11% of DUP are currently women, and the actual politicians who are at the National Assembly participating actively in policy and law making are even fewer. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, only 44 out of 299 seats in the National Assembly were taken by women, and South Korea ranked 87th out of 143 ranks (there were more than 150 countries while some where ranked the same). This is even below North Korea, although they certainly have a very different system than the rest of the world. This is below the world average of 19.7% and Asian average of 18.3%.

There is certainly a long way to go for South Korea’s political scene to be more inclusive of women. We need more women in the National Assembly, because we need more policies and laws to accommodate the needs of every citizen of the country, not just half of its population (male population, to be specific). I would like to believe that policies and laws are meant to provide social frameworks that guarantee better democracy and human rights for everyone. I can’t imagine people who are not necessarily in need of maternity leave even thinking about the necessity of such laws or making a comprehensive, user-friendly policy. I’m not saying that men are not capable of making women-friendly policies and laws, but they are often hindered by male biases, not capable of seeing the other half’s needs.

I honestly don’t know what lies ahead of Korean politics this year, as there are elections for the president as well at the end of the year. But I hope that there would be more women in the National Assembly, speaking up for those who have been muted for long, whether they are policies on women or others who have been disempowered systematically within the society.

Day 27: How Is Your Culture (and Are You) Treating Homosexuality and LGBTQ Population?

14 Mar

While visiting my grandparents in the province, I have had to travel to a place where I have limited internet access. I apologize for the delays, but there is no way that I would give up on the last 4 days of my blogging project, so don’t worry J. What I ended up doing, instead of writing, was reading lots of articles, way more than I usually would, because I still had some internet access through my phone. And I thought a lot about how I could connect those to my writing, and here’s one topic that I will talk about today.

I ran into a very interesting article on the LA Times, which featured a Korean actor, Hong Seok-Cheon. He is not one of those Korean drama stars, but he has acted in many series acting in supporting roles. What is so significant about this guy is the fact that he has been an openly gay public figure since 2000.

You may think, so what? If so, good for you, since it may mean that you don’t really feel any prejudice against homosexual entertainers and individuals alike around you. Or maybe you just think that that’s an irrelevant topic to you, although you may feel a slight discomfort with the subject and want to avoid discussing about it. Or maybe you just feel pure disgust by even thinking about it. Within Korean culture, which is still very much conservative at its core (although it has been changing quite rapidly), being openly gay means risking everything in your life. It was even worse about a decade ago when Mr. Hong came out, especially as a public figure.

Hong had to have a press conference as he could not live in the dark (“in the closet”) anymore. He wanted to be someone who he really is, and that is all he asked for, but to make it so public, I am sure it required extraordinary courage. He was on several shows, but he was kicked out immediately. According to the article, he remembers it as the moment where everyone turned back against him, and he even received many death threats. I still remember his “coming-out” event which happened when I was in middle school. It was a shock to me at first, but then I never gave it a serious thought about what kind of impact it would have on the individual and the society as a whole. I was simply too young, while I was living a “normal” life as a majority in which everyone I knew was living a heterosexual middle class life.

Then several years later, I attended a camp called AnyTown during high school in the States. It was a camp to expose teenagers to diverse cultures and social challenges (racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, etc.) so that they can build up more tolerant and vibrant future. I was attending a private school, and it was a privileged environment where I didn’t necessarily experience much diversity. However, AnyTown totally changed my view towards the world as I was exposed to a huge range of social issues besides racism, which I was already interested in. It was my first time to make friends with people who were of LGBTQ origins and to learn about them. Previously, it was not an issue that I had to deal with or was concerned about, because I didn’t have to as a heterosexual female. And the only issue that I had to deal with was mainly related to that of race, being a racial and linguistic minority in the US. But being in the same small group with them, sharing meals, chats and tears, and discussing about intensely personal issues, I became very much aware about the challenges that my friends had to go through in the conservative social norms and hatred-driven (and unreasonable) views towards them. I became a totally different 16-year-old by accepting the diversity that is beyond black and white racial dynamics.

I really believe that anybody can overcome her/his ignorance if s/he is willing to acknowledge the ignorance and prejudices from it. However, I really (and sadly) think that not many people have the ability and courage to do so. Instead, many people learn to dislike/hate others first in the midst of hugely competitive era, where everyone must be a winner of some sort while oppressing those who have some level of disadvantage in the society (whether that be race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical disability, etc). I cannot help but think that we all end up hating ourselves in the midst of the ugly fight, and then hate others even more, just fulfilling a terrible cycle.

Mr. Hong does not have to suffer such extreme hatred anymore. He is now back on TV and is a successful restaurant owner. His restaurant is very famous for the great food and atmosphere, and people want to meet him. He takes picture with the people and proudly walks around the restaurant asking people if the food is alright. Just like a normal person. Nowadays in Korea, I heard that there are even some cable TV channel and social network celebrities who have marketed their “gayness” so well that people actually think that their being gay is actually very “cool.” But there was also an incident about a year ago when a Korean drama series featured a gay couple, many organizations, including national parents’ associations and Christian associations, put a huge ad on a major newspaper saying that “SBS (the broadcasting company which aired the drama) should be responsible if our children die of AIDS.” The advertisement wrongly claimed that the series will make the children want to become homosexual, which is wrong apparently (and where did they get the idea that being homosexual will directly cause AIDS?). Well, have they ever thought that many Korean dramas featuring divorces and couples cheating on each other were actually giving more unhealthy examples of relationships and challenging social norms hence they would be more harmful to their children? Of course, the very same people have not said a word about the influences of such Korean dramas. At least the gay couple in that particular drama actually had a very healthy relationship. What is more family-friendly in this case? Take that.

And for God’s sake, no one has the right to judge someone, because s/he is in love. And everyone should support love, no? Cultures are their to change, so shift your prejudices NOW.

Day 26: The Power of Listening- Kony2012, Development and “the Other” Voices

11 Mar

As a feminist and a hopeful future scholar from the developed part of the world, I always have to deal with a guilt-ridden question that I don’t necessarily have the answer for. “So what gives me the right to talk about ‘the other’s’ story with so much self-righteousness?” After all, this is why I have lots of problems with Nicholas Kristof and his stories, and maybe as a privileged woman, I probably do not have any right to talk about “the other’s” stories, however I am heartbroken and angry about them. It is obvious that I am always (unconsciously and unfortunately) likely to have the “first-world” bias, because I am a product of such education.

What I can do the best for now, until I do get to understand the uncanny boundaries between truly understanding and mistakenly knowledgeable, is listening and learning from those who do speak out. Some do not speak as loud, and others may not speak the same language. But it is my job to develop the ear through constant learning, instead of just being frustrated with more Kristofs who are out there, trying to fix the world with their assertiveness in their own ways. It is not my job to change their perspectives, but to develop my own perspectives from the alternative voices which are way more powerful (Yes, I have been reading Thich Nhat Hanh a bit).

So this time, maybe I won’t speak so much about my opinion on the current debates on Kony 2012, which initially bugged me quite a bit. I will just leave you with a very passionate, intelligent (yes, one can be both) statement from a Ugandan journalist, Rosebell Kagumire, who has written extensively on women’s war experiences in Uganda, South Sudan and DR Congo. There is nothing more powerful than peace and conflict stories told by a woman who is in the midst of them and tries to generate a powerful voice.

I think we need to have a kind of sound, intelligent campaigns that gear towards real policy shifts rather than a very sensationalized story that is out to make […] just one person cry and at the end of the day, we forget about it. I think it’s all about trying to make a difference, but how do you tell the story about Africans is much more important than what the story is, actually. Because if you are showing me as voiceless, as hopeless… you have no space in telling my story. You shouldn’t be telling my story, if you don’t believe that I also have the power to change what is going on. And this video seems to say that the power lies in America, and it does not lie with my government, it does not lie with local initiatives on the ground. That aspect is lacking and this is the problem. It is furthering that narrative about Africans totally unable to help themselves, and needing outside help all the time.

Day 25: Growing Up to Be a Woman, Not a Girl

10 Mar

While I have been online aimlessly, looking for some sort of inspiration for my posting today, I ran into this “call for submission” on the Huffington Post. It was a call for video on “The moment I knew I was a woman, not a girl.” Really, when did I become a woman from a girl? Interesting question to ask myself. I mean, there is no clear boundary in between, but I know for sure that I’m not a girl anymore (well, I still have my kid moment time to time). So I started to look back in my life.

I would say that it was the time when I learned that I had almost no money left in my bank account during graduate school. I declared to my parents that I would not get any more money from them unless I was desperate and borrow some (to be paid back later), and other than the money I received for the initial settlement in Singapore, I refused any monetary help from them. It was horrible to think that I had to count every single penny in my wallet while the grad school stipend was not enough. Often, I was looking for the cheapest product at the grocery store, and there was absolutely no possibility for shopping just for fun. I have had a part time job or two since I was 16, but this time, I really needed every single dollar that I earned for mere survival. In times of emergencies, I did borrow some money from my parents, though, and until now, I owe them about 3,000 dollars for the period that I had been in graduate school, which I’m planning to pay back after I start working (very soon!).

Now I ask you. When was the time that you became a woman, not a girl? When was the time that you became an individual who is fully responsible for your actions and thoughts without depending on or blaming others? It is still terrifying at times to think that I am the only person with all the duties, but I guess we all would have to face the exciting and challenging times.

Day 24: ALL Women Deserve Some Time Off, including Domestic Workers

9 Mar

I hope that everyone celebrated the International Women’s Day yesterday. And celebrating this, I spent all day with the most important woman in my life, my grandmother, hence the no writing again… But I have thought about today’s topic long and hard over the past 2 days, and hope this makes sense. Some information is obtained from my research for my master’s thesis, so hope you are OK with the “no source” fact for some numbers and such.

Imagine this. In the 21st century, you are living in one of the richest countries in the world (GDP-wise). Your pay is roughly about 80 cents in USD an hour. And your job is practically being on call 24/7 to take care of every bit of a family’s business, from cleaning to playing with young children to taking care of the elderly to cooking to carrying the teenage daughter’s backpack to school (while the girl would be looking into her iPhone).

These are the labor conditions of 200,000+ women from many countries (the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, India, etc.) working as domestic workers in Singapore. Many women leave their family members (including their children and elderly parents) in order to take care of other people’s families so that the dollars they earn can support their own families back home. Most of them earn somewhere between 400-600 SGD (319-478.50 USD), and most amount is sent back to their families for food, education and other basic necessities. Their remittances have not only been essential for their own families but also for their countries’ economic development. And this economic trend of labor migration is not likely to stop in this globalizing world.

Hence, the recent legislation of mandatory day-off in Singapore (starting in 2013) was a move to the right direction, although it is much delayed. It is probably not the “perfect legislation” which will solve all the problems that have existed regarding employment of domestic workers, but I am sure this will prompt better labor practices starting at every home in Singapore which gets help from domestic helpers.

After this announcement was made, obviously some citizens were very unhappy. There were several reasons why I was more than infuriated when I read the opinion of a particular Singaporean citizen on this issue. He is basically claiming that giving maids a day off a week will 1. bring negative impacts on families while there is barely enough hands to maintain the current difficulties with families, 2. cause every maid to want a day off, 3. cause the maids to waste their money because they have more opportunities to spend it and 4. cause them to clog the popular tourist destinations (while it will clearly give bad impression on foreign visitors).

Let me just say this. He (although I’m not sure about the person’s gender) is a privileged racist, sexist and classist. I’m gonna go one by one from the list.

1. The truth of the matter is that many house chores can be manageable even without extra help from maids, except in special cases. The reason why the domestic labor without domestic workers seems so impossible is because there is no fair labor division within the household to begin with. It is likely that the female partner is the only person who has to take care of all the domestic chores with the helper, while the male partner barely does anything, if the family cannot manage a single day a week without the helper’s magic touch.

2. Yes, they will want a day off, and what is the problem? Don’t you, as the employer, have 2 days off while working more or less a regular shift (OK, if you are a workaholic, you probably have almost no day off)? Why shouldn’t someone who has a job working for your family, although it may not be as prestigious as your own somewhere at the Raffles Place, have a single day off so that she can re-charge and be free from the physical and emotional burdens that she has to bear with? And even without the law, there have been many households who are giving their helpers a day off. Are they having serious family crises, because they are giving a day off? I have yet to hear of a single case like that.

3. Here, you are basically saying that since they are not as educated as you are, they are not capable of spending money wisely. Are you aware of the amount of money that they get in a month? Are you aware that most of it goes back to her family so that they can meet their basic needs? You are probably using the same amount of money to get something that is not as meaningful, perhaps a fancy cell phone or a bag.

4. This is just a simple excuse that you want to put on there so that you sound like you are concerned about your own national interest. But the truth is that you just hate the fact that there are a bunch of foreigners (who clearly seem inferior to yourself, you racist) on Orchard Road while you are trying to get to your next destination to spend your precious money. Or maybe you are just blaming your own country that there are not enough place to go for foreign visitors in your island, besides Orchard, a shopping hub.

I don’t mean to demonize all the domestic worker employers or make these workers seem like helpless victims. However, if legal system would continue to justify the violence –which broadly applies to emotional insensitivity such as not giving a single day off in a week— with indifference, as the writer of that opinion piece seems to want, Singapore will eventually have very difficult times having continuous stream of domestic workers. And as the writer seems to know already, they are a very important part of Singapore’s families and economy. I already heard that many women prefer other destinations such as Hong Kong, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, etc. because the conditions in Singapore are not as favorable.

And more importantly, I really wonder why some people may think that guaranteeing basic human dignity is so troublesome. Below is a note from a current domestic worker on Temasek Times, and hope this makes people think.

Put Yourself in Maid’s Shoes

–       Letter from Bhing Navato

WITH all due respect to employers who are complaining about the weekly day off for maids, as a helper, I ask them: Why not be a maid overseas for a month, away from your family, sometimes forbidden to talk to anyone?

Try living in another family’s home to serve them. Would you work without a rest day? You might think homemaking work is easy but it is not because we are just like you.

We are always thinking of how to please our employers, to ensure our job is done before they come home. We are not robots. We get tired, too. We need rest to relax, to work happily the next day.

If others can give regular days off to their helpers, why can’t you not?

(First posted as a comment at http://www.todayonline.com/voices)