Tag Archives: legal issues

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 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)

Day 17: They [Rape Victims] Had It Coming? Stop Justifying Violence.

29 Feb

Despite the fact that facebook makes you waste a lot of time, it doesn’t matter so much to me now because I have almost too much time in my hand J. And facebook happens to be my news source where I encounter some quality articles and exchange different views with my friends. The article that I just read was posted by my friend Aarushi and published in the NYT.  It gave an excellent overview on the injustice regarding victims of sexual violence.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/world/asia/29iht-letter29.html?_r=2

It is talking about the “blame the victim” mentality in India in cases of sexual assaults while there are many holes in terms of policies and laws, policy makers’ views, and prejudices against women who are victims of such violence. Well, this proves that whether it is in a developed country like the US (remember my posting on Day 15 and Liz Trotta?) or a rapidly developing country like India, the victims of sexual assaults are tremendously stigmatized multiple times because of the society’s general support of violence.

Yes, I said it. Many societies support and justify violent men, because many think that that is just a part of their nature, and women just have to be careful about it (and if not, it’s considered all women’s fault, not men’s). We have to change this mentality. We need to nurture our society so that the violent “nature” does not prevail and get justified. And no, I don’t think violence is a given nature of men, and it’s rather a product of patriarchal nurturing.

Here are several words that I want to be ABSOLUTELY clear about sexual violence. Although I don’t claim to be an expert, I do believe that these are some absolute facts that all men and women should be aware.

A man does not have permission to sexually assault women at any time of the day. Whether it is during the broad daylight or 2:30am, no one has any right to impose such violence against women. At 2:30am, she might be coming back from work which supports her family, and don’t you ever blame her for being outside when it is so late. The fact that a woman is out late doesn’t give anyone the right to rape her.

It is a rape if you try to have sex with your girlfriend/wife/partner when she has clearly said no. The fact that you feel entitled to have sexual intercourse with your significant other doesn’t mean that you always have free pass to do so. That makes it an unequal relationship, and that is not healthy. Without mutual agreement, it is called spousal/date rape, and yes, you become a rapist without her consent.

A man does not have permission to have unwanted physical contact with women no matter what she is wearing. The standard for “revealing outfits” varies from country to country, and what one wears does not automatically invite you for any unpleasant contact or sexual assault. It is easy to blame women who wear “revealing” clothes, but a decent, normal man would not even think of such gross acts whatever he sees while rapists probably won’t even care what women wear (sadly true).

It is sexual assault if you try to have sex with a woman who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs (which might have been taken against her will), because her ability to make reasonable decisions for herself is impaired (and same to you). FYI, big NO to date rape drugs that some men slip into women’s drinks and spike them up. You have to walk away.

It is a rape if you have sex with children who are in brothels. In many countries, girls are often trafficked, because there are families who are too poor and do not value girls and because there are many men who want to have sex with them very cheaply.

Of course, there are many grey areas when it comes to sexual assault, and that is precisely the reason why many women are at disadvantage in current legal systems. And I do not mean to victimize all women, especially the survivors of sexual assaults, but at the same time, the systematic injustice is precisely the reason why many of VAW cases are not reported and still considered “something that should be taken care of between the two people.” Well, the physical strength tends to take care of the business all the time. And in India’s case in the article above, the people who are making policies and laws are oblivious about what is considered violence against women. Maybe we should just invent a program that can educate these old top dogs and implant chips in all of their heads. Such ignorance on sexual violence/VAW is a social disease that should be cared as soon as possible.

Day 15: What Part of Violence against Women Is Acceptable to You? (Hope None)

27 Feb

Yes, I skipped a day of writing, part of it because of the lack of inspiration and unexpected work that overwhelmed me until today. But I’m back, so I hope that such slip would not happen again. And I’m back to a heavy topic: Violence against Women (VAW). This is inspired by the recent debate on Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the United States, and a VERY disturbing video clip of Liz Trotta’s rant on how feminists are increasing the military budget tremendously because they push for military women’s protection from sexual violence from other soldiers.

Initially, I ran into this Forbes article on facebook which talked about the Republican’s opposition on reauthorization of VAWA which has been in place since Clinton administration along with Trotta’s absurd junk on the Republican channel (Fox News). Then I was led to Liz Trotta’s video clip, which honestly upset me very much.

I have to admit that in American politics, everything has to be bipartisan (democracy? hmph…) even on the matter of women’s human rights. I hate this whole politicization of women’s bodies, while it is mostly patriarchal men (and women) talking about how they should be controlled.

But it is what it is at this point. And I must express that I’m strongly against the stance that some extreme conservatives are taking. They are saying that violence against certain women count more than violence against others. And these other women (and men) that cannot be protected are parts of undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ and Native American communities. Those who are not REAL Americans cannot be protected, in sum. Here, we see the political agenda deeply enrooted in the opposition as Republicans are generally for stricter border controls and against LGBTQ rights issues. But claiming that women in these minority communities deserve to get their rights freely violated (by not providing proper protection measures) is simply outrageous.

And according to Liz Trotta, military women should not be protected either, because they all cost too much of the precious military budget. Those who are risking their lives by taking professions which are often dominated by men (“masculine” professions) cannot be protected? And they should expect such violence, not coming from the enemies at the frontline but from their own comrades who are supposed to trust each other firmly? Well, I’m sure she was expecting such violence when she took on her career as a journalist.

Hence her anti-feminist ranting is mostly laughable. She herself, as you can see in the video, is quite an elite journalist, who has been to Vietnam War as a reporter and attended prestigious Columbia University. Well, excuse me, weren’t her professional field and high education all-men’s fields merely a few decades ago? Without feminist movement pushing boundaries for women to get into men’s territories in reporting and education, she would not even be talking on Fox News.

Come on people, let’s be real. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, how can anyone be OK with the fact that 3 women are murdered everyday by their intimate partners, the fact that more than 600 women suffer sexual violence everyday, and the fact that young women and minority women are more easily exposed to sexual violence? (Information from National Organization for Women, USA) And this is the United States we are talking about, the land of freedom and democracy (so they say…). I can’t even imagine how many women are battered and raped around the world, and practically every woman lives in fear, because of the potential violence they may suffer any time during their life time.

How can anyone be OK with the fact that their own sisters, mothers, wives, partners, girlfriends and female friends suffering such tremendous violence, even more because they are discriminated against by a policy?

It’s not a problem that exists just in America. In many parts of the world, women are considered properties of their fathers and husbands, and they are often subjects of domestic violence, marital rape, human trafficking (often to brothels and as wives to older men) and other violence, and no statistics can explain the seriousness of the problem all around the world. And in some countries, there is no law protecting women who are endangered by sexual violence, and even if such laws existed, they are not enforced in serious manners.

Women don’t need special protections, just because they are these delicate entities that deserve protection and respect, as men have traditionally considered. Women need protections because women are still subjected to way more sexual (and other) violence, and they are certainly not equally protected by laws and policies that are often made with patriarchal biases. And women deserve protection and respect because we are human beings, just as much as men deserve them, too. If you think that feminists are claiming for contradictory stance (“we need more freedom” and “we need more protection”), you’d better realize that we want freedom from restrictions that does not allow the equal opportunities (such as joining the military) and protection from violence (from the fellow soldiers).

FYI, here are some links on opinion pieces on VAWA.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/14/violence-against-women-act_n_1273097.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/opinion/sunday/dowd-ghastly-outdated-party.html?_r=1&ref=maureendowd

I wish I were a Lawyer- long way for justice for rape victims in Korea

31 Jan

By now, my dear friends, you already know that I can’t just sit down and write regularly, unless I get inspired and fired up by certain things or I have pressing needs to share certain things about my life with you. But here I am, writing, because I read about this terrible situation regarding justice system in Korea regarding survivors of rape, especially those who are already socially vulnerable, in this case, female marriage migrants. By writing this, I am not saying that I am an expert on any Korean legal issues, and I’m rather not. I’m purely basing my opinion on numerous articles that I read about it.

So I read this article on Chosun Daily, one of Korea’s major newspapers. Sorry that most of you won’t be able to read this, but this is a vague translation of it.

“Mr. Kim (52) was sentenced 7 and half years in jail as he was guilty of raping his Vietnamese wife (26)’s teenage sister (note: Nothing was mentioned that he was accused of spouse rape but it was mentioned that he beat up his wife severely. I’m not sure what kind of charge was pressed against him regarding the violence committed against his wife). The sister, ‘B,’ now 21, was interviewed by the journalist at a very secluded rehabilitation house that she has been staying after her and her sister were found terribly violated by Kim 2 and half years ago (note: yes, it took almost 3 years to find the minimal justice for the sisters). The officer remembers how awful the sisters looked, the older sister with a lot of bruises and the younger one simply filthy and full of fear. The husband conveniently had seizures whenever he had to discuss anything against his position.

B, a petite woman, seemed more like a middle school girl with her young face. She seemed to feel hopeful since she will be going back to Vietnam soon. The head of the rehab said that at the beginning, she always seemed so depressed and told people that she wants to die when she was talking on the phone.

B lived in a greenhouse, and she worked for 300,000 won (about 300 dollars) for her labor in the farm, but Kim took it all. She feared every Saturday when he came to pick her up, because she knew that he would rape her back home. She reacts with extreme fear towards the word ‘hyongbu’ (which is a term for older sister’s husband in Korean), as well as not being able to have conversations with new people and afraid of Korean men.

For the first fetus, after being raped by Kim, she was able to get abortion, and for the second time, she had a baby through c-section. The police said that she was ‘lucky’ that she could get medical care since she was found after the brother-in-law was under police custody. Her sister (Kim’s wife) had to have the children at home without any medical attention.

The journalist asked why B signed the ‘agreement’ with someone who imposed such terrible violence on him (I wondered about it too!). She said that she doesn’t want her sister to suffer from the in-law’s family while her sister is still married, have 4 children, and will probably have to live with the husband when he comes out of jail.”

By now, I said out loud, WHAT THE HECK?!?!? I suppose the domestic violence charge was dropped, and the couple probably signed an “agreement.” I was angry when I read this article about nothing further was done in terms of the violence that the wife had to suffer and what a short sentence he is obliged to serve.

But I realized that I’m probably coming from a privileged woman’s position with high education and much protection (lucky enough not to go through such trauma) where I believe that in facing sexual violence, a woman should do A, B and C. But the truth is that I really don’t know what would happen if my husband/partner was a violent psychotic predator who has the guts to impose such violence on me and my family. Especially for the case of B’s sister, she is in an extremely vulnerable position, perhaps worse than me. I would at least have social protection, friends who are lawyers, activists and therapists, proper connections, access to justice, and for god’s sake, language skill to explain what kind of situation that I had been in, although I would have been physically and psychologically damaged. But this woman, as someone who probably comes from a not so well-t0-do family back home, has limited human connections, knowledge and power to do anything in a society where xenophobia and racism are still largely prevalent. Even if she had the courage to get a divorce out of him, what is next for her for the rest of her life? As mentioned, she already has 4 kids, and she would have to fight for custody. Can she go back home? I don’t know much about Vietnamese culture, but I know Confucian culture is dominant, and she would be stigmatized with a certain notion regarding her status as a divorcee with kids. How would she maintain her livelihood in the future while she probably has not worked for a long time and is not likely to be skilled in anything specific?

Perhaps I’m making a lot of assumptions here, and I may seem like I’m too focused on the victimhood. Yes, I’m so upset about this whole situation, and anyone with common sense should be. But what I’m more upset about this is to see the fact that the current Korean legal/justice system is still not ready to protect victims/survivors of rape, still not looking at it as a serious crime that should be punished more seriously than anything else. It is highly stigmatized, therefore many women still refrain from reporting to the police, and the un-supportive, largely patriarchal system do not take sexual violence as a grave crime which is extremely destructive to a society. It is a depressing cycle. Gender equality –despite the fact that the gender ratio in medical and law schools is roughly about 50:50– is something yet to come in Korea, and according to the US State Department’s Report in 2010, violence against women (mostly rape and domestic violence) is the most pressing issue regarding women’s human rights and Korea’s human rights matters in general (and this happens to be the most comprehensive English sources at the moment for me). According to the report, fewer than half of the 8,746 cases of sexual violence cases were submitted, and fewer than 4,000 were prosecuted. About 40% of married women suffer from domestic violence.

Now, can you imagine how many cases are not reported and/or ignored? What about spousal abuse against migrant women?

Of course, I do not want to undermine the various aspects in violence against women, but in this particular case, it is rather clear that Korean policies and justice system failed to provide proper protection for the women who suffered sexual violence and who are in an extremely vulnerable position as non-native Korean citizens. So what would happen in 7 and half years when the husband comes back out? Will the system really let this man get back to his wife and children while it seems rather obvious that the man is mentally unstable with violent tendency and would not be able to serve his responsibility as a father and a husband? And meanwhile, who is going to watch how the woman and the children will survive from this traumatic experience and excruciating memory? How does Korea prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again?

I’m not suggesting that I can come up with better laws and policies at this moment, especially when matters are so complex. And sexual violence has so many different aspects, that I won’t ever be able to understand the diversity of it fully. But I think there is a value in that we know these awful things happen everywhere in the world and that we should be concerned as, well, human beings.