Gender and Human Rights

Photo by :   Gayatri Malhotra (Unsplash)


Understanding the factors associated with married women’s attitudes towards wife-beating in sub-Saharan Africa



Intimate partner violence remains a major public health problem, especially in countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We examined the factors associated with married women’s attitudes towards wife-beating in sub-Saharan Africa.


We used Demographic and Health Survey data of 28 sub-Saharan African countries that had surveys conducted between 2010 and 2019. A sample of 253,782 married women was considered for the analysis. Bivariate and multivariate logistic regression analyses were carried out, and the results were presented using crude odds ratio (cOR) and adjusted odds ratio (aOR) at 95% confidence interval.


The pooled result showed about 71.4% of married women in the 28 countries in this study did not justify wife-beating. However, the prevalence of non-justification of wife-beating varied from 83.4% in Malawi to 17.7% in Mali. Women’s age (40–44 years-aOR = 1.61, 95% CI 1.16–2.24), women’s educational level (secondary school-aOR = 1.47, 95% CI 1.13–1.91), husband’s educational level (higher-aOR = 0.55, 95% CI 0.31–0.95), women’s occupation type (professional, technical or managerial-aOR = 1.66, 95% CI 1.06–2.62), wealth index (richest-aOR = 5.52, 95% CI 3.46–8.80) and women’s decision-making power (yes-aOR = 1.39, 95% CI 1.19–1.62) were significantly associated with attitude towards wife-beating.


Overall, less than three-fourth of married women in the 28 sub-Saharan African countries disagreed with wife-beating but marked differences were observed across socio-economic, decision making and women empowerment factors. Enhancing women’s socioeconomic status, decision making power, and creating employment opportunities for women should be considered to increase women’s intolerance of wife-beating  practices, especially among countries with low prevalence rates such as Mali.


Zegeye, B., Olorunsaiye, C.Z., Ahinkorah, B.O. et al. Understanding the factors associated with married women’s attitudes towards wife-beating in sub-Saharan Africa. BMC Women's Health 22, 242 (2022).

Source: BMC Women's Health


Gabriel Boric’s gender-balanced cabinet and the road to equality in Chile

The road to gender equality in Chile is both long and narrow. The fact that Gabriel Boric’s rise to power is accompanied by appointing a gender-balanced cabinet is an obvious step, but gender equality is not only restricted to a numerical distribution of positions, says Andrea Gartenlaub (Universidad de Las Américas).

Gabriel Boric Font is the youngest Chilean politician to take office as president at just 36. One of his first initiatives was to introduce a gender-balanced cabinet. He designated 14 women ministers out of 24. His administration broke another glass ceiling by choosing surgeon Izkia Siches as Interior Minister. This is the first time a female will hold this position in the government.

These are two significant milestones, but this is not the first time a Chilean government has introduced a cabinet with equal representation of men and women. Michelle Bachelet, the first woman to become Chile’s president, did so in 2006. She appointed ten female and ten male ministers each and her decision was a symbolic step in a country with the lowest rates of female participation in decision-making positions in Latin America. Currently, Chile ranks 62nd globally in the UNDP Gender Development Index.

Today, the country runs through ideas of renewal. So applying a gender parity perspective in Gabriel Boric’s government has been read as an obvious step, a necessary one to distinguish itself from previous administrations. But this decision is also expected, particularly given the strength achieved by the local feminist movement. The activists have played a key role in the social movements of the last few years and their accomplishments are enormous. These include the approval of a debated law to decriminalise abortion and the establishment of gender parity in the current Constitutional Convention, which is currently drafting the country’s new constitution. The endorsement given to Boric by Chilean feminists in the contested presidential run-off was key to his election.

The fact that parity is the exception rather than the norm is just one example of what is happening in Latin America in terms of implementing institutional mechanisms to ensure the meaningful participation of women in politics. Argentina was a pioneer and in 1991 pushed a quota law including a minimum of 30% women candidates on its parliamentary lists. A similar rule enforced women’s participation as candidates for deputies and senators from 13% to almost 40% in Chile in 2017. There is a new leap in 2021, with 43.3 per cent of women heading the lists in Senate elections. However, women collected less financial support (34.6% for female candidates for deputies and 37.8% for female candidates for senators) even though they accounted for almost half of the candidacies.

There has been growth in representation in elective positions, but the proportion of women inside ministerial cabinets is more disappointing. According to the latest report by ECLAC’s Gender Equality Observatory, Latin America has had “a discrete increase” with an average of 28% female presence heading ministries. However, in 2018, Costa Rica introduced a cabinet consisting of 55.17% women, including the first black vice president, Epsy Campbell. That same year Colombia presented its first-ever balanced cabinet (although it no longer exists). Similarly, Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico began his term with an equal number of men and women in ministries, although a series of subsequent resignations shifted the balance. Chile joins in 2022 with almost 60% women in Gabriel Boric’s first government.

Equality beyond ministerial positions

This same ECLAC report offers another worrying fact: most of the positions held by women are “concentrated in social areas”, excluding them from political and economic roles. In other words, and despite the reinstatement of gender gaps in public opinion, cultural norms such as women being more apt for caregiving tasks reappear, including when they reach positions of power. Isn’t it frustrating?

Let’s think about it. Until today, women’s presence in the media remains stereotypical: a 2010 study showed how the press highlighted attributes of Chilean women ministers by emphasising their “fragility and sensitivity”. A decade later, gender stereotypes remain a global concern. Recent reports indicate how there are still significant differences in the number of news stories reserved for women candidates. In contrast, the treatment of the news associated with them has a strong focus on their private lives and families.

In recent years, there has been another factor: the growing violence against women on social media, particularly against those women in power, running in elections, or who are visible figures of empowerment. Spreading misinformation, evident misogyny, and threats to their physical integrity are part of everyday life for those working in politics.

Thirty years after that first legislation towards parity in Latin American politics, the road remains narrow worldwide. In 2019, only 22 cabinets had parity globally, and this year, only 17 women will be leading a government. That is 9%, out of 196 countries. Michelle Bachelet, the current UN High commissioner for Human Rights, predicted how slow this will be: “Gender parity in national legislatures would not be reached before 2063, nor would the number of women and men heading Government be equal before 2150.”

This continuing underrepresentation of women pushes us to think beyond affirmative action. Despite being an excellent policy, we must ask ourselves whether gender-balanced cabinets are not just a one-off decision amid societies with persistent inequalities between women and men. What, then, is to be done to ensure that parity is projected beyond government positions?

Achieving gender equality must not only be restricted to numerical equality of positions. Involving women in political life must be linked to a deep cultural change and a new vision of society. We do not just need women’s political participation in top management positions, but this must also be mirrored at different levels, especially in sectors where women’s participation is extremely low, for example in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Gabriel Boric’s administration and others in the world should adopt a gender approach in big politics and in the small programmes that represent local expressions and are closer to the people.

These measures are now urgently needed, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused major female unemployment. But also in view of the new emerging threats which threaten liberal democracy as not seen for almost a century. In such an uncertain world order, women must raise their voices and exercise their power.


Andrea Gartenlaub is an academic and researcher at the Universidad de Las Américas. She holds a PhD in Social Sciences and a MA in Political Science. She has been an advisor to the Chilean National Health Fund. She is a member of the female political scientists network #NoSinMujeres.


By         :       Andrea Gartenlaub 

Date      :     March 11, 2022 

Source  :     LSE Blogs Latin America and Caribbean


What Thailand’s Legalization of Marijuana Means for Southeast Asia's War on Drugs 

Southeast Asia, a region of 11 countries and some 680 million people, has long been infamous for having the strictest anti-drug laws in the world. But in a sign that regional leaders are mulling a new approach, Thailand became the first country in Asia last week to decriminalize marijuana for medical and other purposes. Smoking weed for fun is still illegal, Thai’s health minister clarified to CNN, but he expects legal cannabis production to boost the economy. Over 3,000 inmates incarcerated in Thai prisons for marijuana-related offenses were also freed.

This, coupled with changes to Thailand’s Narcotics Code last December to include alternatives to imprisonment for drug offenders, are signs that the country is slowly abandoning its strict drug policies, says Gloria Lai, regional director of the International Drug Policy Consortium. Lai tells TIME that Thailand’s government has recognized the problem of locking up so many people, most of them poor, for low-level offenses.

Thailand has the largest prison population among ASEAN countries—some 285,000 people—and more than 80% of inmates are there on drug-related charges. There are major issues of overcrowding at Thai prisons.

The business of legalizing marijuana

Economic benefits are also propelling Thailand’s reforms. The country has a climate conducive to growing cannabis and an established medical tourism industry. Martin Jelsma, director of the Drugs & Democracy project at the Transnational Institute (TNI) in Amsterdam, says the legalization will likely end the illegal trafficking of marijuana into Thailand, particularly from Laos.

“The hope is that Thai farmers and local companies will be able to benefit from the rapidly booming international medical cannabis market, but it will be a huge challenge to compete with established Canadian, U.S., and European companies who have already captured a large part of that global market,” he says.

Global sales for medical cannabis were estimated at $37.4 billion in 2021, according to market intelligence firm Prohibition Partners’ Global Cannabis Report. The report says the market could be worth over $120 billion by 2026.

Whether or not other ASEAN countries will follow suit with Thailand remains to be seen, but Lai points out the emerging debates to decriminalize marijuana and other narcotics in Myanmar and Malaysia as a positive development.

A history of Asia’s war on drugs

ASEAN governments have tried to rein in the consumption and sale of drugs since the 1970s, but mainly through extreme punitive measures—despite studies providing evidence against its effectiveness. For instance, drug offenders have been sentenced to death in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, including for the trafficking of cannabis.

In 2003, the Thai government under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declared a war on drugs that was anchored on demonizing offenders. His campaign was popular, but saw more than 2,200 dead in the first three months, according to Human Rights Watch. It also became prone to abuse, as police conducted arbitrary arrests and intimidated human rights defenders.

The Philippines’ authoritarian leader Rodrigo Duterte has waged a similar bloody campaign in his country since 2016. Official data shows that some 6,200 were killed since then, though rights groups have pegged the figure at 13,000. Children were among the victims. Duterte’s approach has become so controversial that the International Criminal Court launched an investigation last year into alleged state crimes during the anti-narcotics drive.

Like in Thailand, the police engaged in the Philippines’ war on drugs have received U.S. equipment and training. And during the height of the Philippines’ war on drugs, then-U.S. President Donald Trump told Duterte to “keep up the good work—you’re doing an amazing job.”

Yet experts say that these approaches have not been able to stop or slow the region’s drug supply, with some markets even flourishing. “There’s been so much money, so much resources, and time that have been sunk into these responses that are so heavily brutally punitive, and they have caused so much harm to people and to communities, when they could have been investing all that into something that is proven by evidence to work instead,” Lai says.

What happens next?

Taking a more laissez-faire approach to drugs would not be unprecedented in Southeast Asia. Much of the region’s harsh drug policies were drawn from the colonial era, only to be tightened further from the 1970s onwards as part of an American-style war on drugs.

Given this history, Thailand’s decision to decriminalize marijuana will intensify debates on the region’s drug policy, and resistance from some narcotics hardliners in ASEAN. Singapore has long defended the “drug-free ASEAN” dream—first announced in 1998 as a goal to be reached by 2015—and has actively lobbied the U.N. against legalizing cannabis in various parts of the globe.

Yet marijuana is only one part of Southeast Asia’s drug policy. Most of Thailand’s inmates on drug-related charges are methamphetamine-related offenses, and there are few signs of a softened approach against harder drugs.

A recent U.N. report said a record-breaking 171.5 tons of methamphetamine—including over a billion in pill form—were seized in East and Southeast Asia last year. This is seven times more than seizures made 10 years ago, with around three-quarters of the seizures in the five Southeast Asian countries traversed by the Mekong River: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

With this, Jelsma of the TNI believes a common Southeast Asian approach to regulating marijuana and other narcotics is unlikely to happen. But he believes that in a region “so plagued by excessively repressive drug policies, the positive influence of Thailand’s recent policy changes on the regional debate is most welcome.”


By         :     Chad De Guzman 

Date      :     June 14, 2022 

Source  :     Time


Abortion in Asia: The limits of choice

The overturning of Roe v. Wade could be a watershed for U.S. women's rights. Is the same true in Asia?

"Keeping it was never an option," says Rara, a woman in her 20s from Jakarta, Indonesia.

It was 2017 and Rara (not her real name) was studying communication at a private university in the capital. After falling pregnant by her unmarried partner, who had another girlfriend at the time, she felt she could not disappoint her devout Muslim parents.

Rara's circumstances led her to a small and unassuming clinic in Raden Saleh, a district in Jakarta well-known for providing illegal abortions. Outside the clinic, peddlers were scouting for customers, asking female passersby, "Are you late?" -- a coded offer of pregnancy termination services.

Speaking to Nikkei Asia over the phone, Rara's voice shook as she recounted her experience. She recalled feeling nervous, and the lack of any apparent compassion in the doctor and nurse who tended to her. She was conscious throughout the procedure. "It was traumatic," she said, in tears.

Following her abortion, Rara suffered throbbing pain every month when she had her period -- pain she put up with for a year before plucking up the courage to visit a doctor. Abortion is illegal in Indonesia except in cases of rape or when the mother's life is in danger. Women found guilty of undergoing illegal abortions can be subject to up to 10 years in prison.

Rara confessed that her view on abortion remains complicated, despite having experienced one herself. Before the procedure, she said, "I could never imagine killing a living being, including a fetus. But when I remember that it happened to me, regardless of whether my fetus was alive or not, I think that women in situations like mine must be well accommodated" with safe and legal abortions.

Rara is one of around 36 million women who have abortions in Asia each year, according to data released in 2017 by the Guttmacher Institute, a U.S.-based sexual and reproductive health and rights research organization. The same data shows that 6% of maternal deaths in the region in 2014 were caused by unsafe abortions.

Across the continent, the right to an abortion remains a contentious issue, located at a complicated intersection of religion, culture, law and politics.

A barometer for women's rights?

An impending decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade case of 1973, which would likely end the right to safe and legal abortions in many states, marks a potential turning point for women's reproductive rights in the West.

In Asia, however, abortion is seldom as black and white as the "pro-life" versus "pro-choice" arguments that dominate Western discourse. Many countries have recently liberalized abortion laws -- from Thailand to South Korea -- while some formerly "liberal" countries, such as China, have begun to examine restricting abortions in response to demographic pressure.

Abortion in Asia presents a contradiction: Thousands of women die every year due to illegal and unsafe abortions, a compelling case for more liberal abortion laws. However, every year in countries where abortion is legalized, such as India and Vietnam, thousands of female fetuses are aborted in the pursuit of a male child.

To grapple with the many gray areas presented by abortion rights, 11 Nikkei Asia journalists in the region interviewed dozens of women, activists, health professionals, politicians and religious leaders. 

Their findings reveal that, even in countries where abortion is broadly legal, such as Japan, the issue is too far entrenched in demographics and social norms to be considered a measure of female autonomy.

"[Abortion policies] are not about the advancement of women's rights here," Masako Tanaka, a professor of gender studies at Sophia University in Tokyo, told Nikkei in a recent interview.

Will the Roe v. Wade decision have any impact on abortion rights in Japan, the U.S.'s closest Asian ally? "Probably not," Tanaka said. "Abortion rights are seen as an issue for international politics, far removed from Japan. Here, [abortion] is more about population control."

The same rings true for countries across Asia. From China to Bangladesh, abortion plays a role in limiting, expanding and altering populations.

The population bomb

The first country in Asia to legalize abortion, Japan introduced the procedure as part of the Eugenic Protection Act (now revised as the Maternal Health Act) in 1948. The country's population was booming following soldiers' return from World War II, but a postwar economic downturn threatened food security.

To curb population growth, the Act was updated in 1949 to permit abortion for economic as well as medical reasons, and in cases of rape. It also allowed the voluntary and involuntary sterilization of women with hereditary diseases, mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities. The law required married women seeking an abortion to get written consent from their spouse.

By the early 1960s, annual births in Japan had fallen from an all-time high of 2.7 million in 1949 to around 1.6 million. "It's impossible to say whether the legalization of abortion directly brought about a decline in the birthrate, but state intervention in family planning after the war can certainly be seen as a success," Isabel Fassbender, assistant professor and researcher of gender studies at Doshisha Women's College in Kyoto, told Nikkei.

As long as Japan's population was growing, attitudes toward abortion remained relatively lax. In an interview with Nikkei, Yukako Ohashi of the reproductive rights group Soshiren recalled how, in the 1960s, doctors would often knowingly accept fake spouse's signatures from women wanting an abortion. "It's only in the last couple of decades that doctors have got strict about the spousal consent law," Ohashi said.

Activists in Japan maintain that government concerns about an aging population have been fueling the stigmatization of abortion in recent years. Japan's birthrate began declining in the late 1970s, and in 1982, there was an attempt by the government to erase the "economic reasons" condition from the Maternal Health Act to make abortion harder to access. The proposal prompted the founding of Soshiren, which organized mass protests and prevented changes to the law.

While abortion remains legal, high prices -- the procedure can cost as much as $1,500 -- and increasingly strict implementation of dataizai, punishment for illegal abortions, make accessing abortion difficult for many women. Doctors found guilty of aborting a child without written consent from the mother and, if she is married, her husband, can be subject to up to five years in jail -- up to seven years if the woman dies as a result.

The Maternal Health Act states the father's consent is only necessary if the parents are married, and even then it says that the mother's consent alone is sufficient if the father's cannot be obtained. But lack of knowledge of the law leads many doctors to ask for male consent, just in case.

It is not unusual for unmarried women to be turned away by doctors for failing to present the signature of a male partner -- there are even cases of rape victims being asked to provide the signature of their abuser.

Campaigners have been calling for the requirement of spousal consent to be erased. But policymakers are making no moves toward reform. When asked about the necessity of the spousal consent rule, Taizan Kamide, deputy director of the Maternal and Child Health Division in Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, told Nikkei that "all we can do is ensure that the Maternal Health Act is correctly applied and followed by everyone."

Fassbender from Doshisha Women's College doubts Japan's abortion laws will be updated so long as the population is declining. Data released by the government on June 3 reveals there were 811,604 births in Japan last year, a drop of 3.5% from the previous year and a record low for the sixth consecutive year.

"On the surface, politicians won't say that policies on abortion and contraception come from a population control perspective," Fassbender told Nikkei. "But in reality, of course, they do."

In China, too, access to abortion is shaped by demographics. The procedure was a legal and widely available measure to curb population growth under the one-child policy, which was introduced in 1980. Parents with unauthorized pregnancies could face serious fines, compulsory sterilization and forced abortion.

The Chinese government estimated that, by 2016, some 400 million births had been prevented by the policy, although some analysts dispute this finding.

But as China's population growth slows, restrictions on abortion could be on the horizon. Abortion remains legal, but the State Council in 2021 laid out guidelines calling for a reduction in "non-medically necessary abortions."

Despite China's population growth reaching its slowest pace since 1960 last year, dropping to 0.034%, abortions have been increasing every year since 2017, according to China's National Health Commission. A report published in the Chinese Journal of Practical Gynecology and Obstetrics in 2021 showed the total number of abortions in China averaged roughly 9.5 million per year for the past five years.

The National Population and Family Planning Commission in February said it plans to reduce teenage and premarital pregnancies to decrease the number of abortions, over concerns of an aging population.

Although these statements are seen as signals of more restrictions on abortions, activists think legal abortions are here to stay.

"The policy has not changed and will not likely change ... because China believes in eugenics," Lu Pin, a journalist and leading Chinese feminist, told Nikkei. "The Chinese government and individuals both worry about the births of unhealthy infants. Even though the government needs more births, they will not prioritize that over eugenics."

Sex selection

In India, home to more than 17% of the world's population, abortion has also historically played a role in shaping the population. As a perverse result of the legalization of the procedure in 1971, many fetuses identified as female get aborted as couples try for male children. According to India's latest National Family Health Survey (2019-2021), an average of 929 girls were born for every 1,000 boys over the last five years.

Especially in rural areas, traditional gender roles and the belief that a male heir is required for family businesses lead many couples to seek abortions of female fetuses. A girl is often seen as a financial burden who will be married off and sent to another house with a dowry.

For this reason, women's rights campaigners are reluctant to press too hard for more liberal abortion rights. "As social activists, we cannot raise much hue and cry [about abortion rights, because] these rights can be [easily] misused," said Manasi Mishra, head of research and knowledge management at the New Delhi-based Center for Social Research, a nongovernmental organization that works to empower Indian women.

India legalized abortion in 1971 in cases of medical emergencies and sexual assault. The country updated its Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act last year to allow abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy -- the limit was previously 20 weeks -- in cases of rape, incest and for minors and differently abled mothers. But abortions for the purpose of sex selection are strictly illegal.

India even forbids doctors from telling patients the sex of an unborn child, but many go abroad to find out the sex and then visit illegal clinics for an abortion, if they can afford it. Around eight women a day die in India due to unsafe abortions, according to the Guttmacher Insitute.

"No doctor indulging in the illegal practice of sex determination will give you in writing the gender of the unborn baby, but may tell you verbally," says Shashi, a teacher in New Delhi who works with NGOs to educate girls in the capital's slums.

"Then there are several grounds -- fetal abnormality, failed contraception, etc. -- which can be given as reasons to abort an unwanted baby," leaving little scope for the authorities to find out, adds Shashi, who only shared her first name.

Another country where sex selection is rife is Vietnam, which has the world's third-highest abortion rate. The country averaged 64 abortions per 1,000 women annually from 2015-19, lower only than Georgia and Azerbaijan, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

At a sleek clinic in central Ho Chi Minh City, for example, the walls are bare but for a small sign made by the office printer and directed at the ultrasound technicians: "Do not reveal the gender of the baby."

Similarly to India, in old Viet customs, men inherited land and brought wives home to take care of their parents. Hence male children were traditionally favored in order to continue the line of succession, whereas girls would leave the family to move in with in-laws after marriage.

But male preference is not the only reason for the high abortion rate. The U.S. military's use of the dioxin-laced defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, and the deformities it continues to cause, also play a role, as do the relatively large population of 99 million and the fact that women's rights are core to the communist ideal of equality.

Among women who terminate pregnancies, some are wary of birth defects if they have been exposed to dioxin, while others fear passing on HIV and other diseases, according to research by anthropologist Tine Gammeltoft.

Abortion has been legal since the 1960s, and was key to the government's two-child policy, which was introduced in 1988 and halved the birth rate from 4.2 to 2.1 children per woman within two decades of being implemented.

The two-child policy was reversed five years ago. Son preference is also waning, and Vietnam now treats reproductive rights as human rights, said Nguyen Thi Thuy Hanh, vice head of the population department at Hanoi Medical University.

"The health and the life of women improve because they can decide for themselves what they want to do in terms of number of children," she told Nikkei.

Moral minority

Restrictions on abortion are especially strong in countries with entrenched religious beliefs, such as in Muslim Bangladesh, the Catholic Philippines, and Buddhist Thailand.

In Bangladesh, abortion remains strictly illegal. But back street abortions are common -- the Association for Prevention of Septic Abortion, Bangladesh (BAPSA) provides post-abortion care to around 90,000 women suffering from complications caused by unsafe abortions every year, according to its director, Dr. Altaf Hossain.

Religion also underpins attitudes toward abortion in the Philippines, which forbids the procedure with some of the strictest laws in the world. The country's penal code punishes a woman who undergoes and anyone who assists an abortion with up to six years of imprisonment.

But anecdotal evidence shows more Filipinos have started to adopt an open mind on decriminalizing abortion, said lawyer Clara Rita Padilla, speaking for Pinsan, the Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network. Around 30,000 people have signed a petition launched by Pinsan calling for the decriminalization of abortion.

President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appeared to echo these changing attitudes during his recent election campaign, claiming he supports abortion in limited cases.

"Maybe [there are] cases where we can see that abortion is justified," Marcos said in January when asked about the issue, citing circumstances of rape, incest, and underage mothers.

His stance risks a clash with the Philippines' influential Catholic Church, to which more than 80% of the population belongs.

Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the committee on public affairs of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, told Nikkei that while some people's approach toward abortion may be evolving, the church remains steadfast.

"The church's teaching on abortion does not change and isn't changing," he said. "The church considers [abortion] plain murder no matter the circumstances."

Marcos, who is set to take office on June 30, has admitted that "I cannot argue with theology, all I argue is the statistics," referring to the thousands of women who have been hospitalized or who have died due to botched illegal abortions.

Those who seek to terminate pregnancies in the Philippines often resort to underground clinics where dangerous methods are performed, including heavy abdominal "massage" to expel a fetus, according to the Guttmacher Institute and other reports. Eleven women are hospitalized every hour and three die every day in the Philippines due to unsafe abortions, according to 2012 data cited by Pinsan.

For advocates like lawyer Padilla, these grim statistics are a reason to keep pushing for the decriminalization of abortion. She is also counting on the incoming president. "[H]e made a pronouncement," she said, "and it's up to him to make his pronouncement a reality."

In Thailand, abortion was narrowly legalized in 2021 in a last-minute effort by lawmakers to maintain some penalties on women and abortion providers. Before the amendment, the country’s penal code had subjected women found guilty of abortion with up to three years in prison and abortion providers with up to five years.

Abortions are now legal under any circumstances if performed no more than 12 weeks into a pregnancy. Passing this law was a stopgap measure that came after Thailand’s constitutional court ruled the previous penalties unconstitutional. The amendment was passed by a landslide in the Senate. A proposal by the opposition Move Forward Party to allow abortion up to 24 weeks was rejected by the lower house.

Politicians fear the subject remains taboo for conservative voters in the predominantly Buddhist country. According to religious beliefs, a person would be unable to atone for the bad karma that abortion generates. 

In South Korea, conservative Christians, who make up 30% of the population, and demographic pressures kept abortion illegal until last year. Dubbed "a win for women's rights" by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, South Korea decriminalized abortion in 2019, ruling punishment for women and doctors who have or perform abortions was unconstitutional.

The ruling took effect in January 2021, but the National Assembly has yet to decide on regulations, such as up to how many weeks into pregnancy abortion will be allowed.

The decriminalization of abortion underscores shifting social sentiment in South Korea, where the procedure had been illegal since 1953. Abortion was forbidden in the government's attempt to maintain a large population after the Korean War. 

But the country's Christian community remains largely opposed to abortion and is lobbying legislators to reflect their beliefs in the pending revisions of the criminal law. Choi Jung-yoon, secretary-general at the Korea Pro-Life Association, told Nikkei that the new bills are too lenient.

"We cannot accept [the ruling] because we believe there's life from the moment of fertilization," Choi said. "We are offering prevention education services as well as consulting services for pregnant women in emergencies and those who suffer from side effects after abortion."

Choice comes at a price

Access to abortion is considered essential by feminist campaigners in the U.S., with the tightening of abortion laws considered a step backward for women's rights. In response to the looming Roe v. Wade decision, renowned American feminist Gloria Steinem told media in May that "the very definition of patriarchy is trying to control women and birth-giving."

But in several Asian countries, access to abortion can in fact threaten women's bodily autonomy.

In Indonesia, a case of forced abortion went viral in late 2021, graphically demonstrating how access to abortion can be misused. A woman named Novia Widyasari from Central Java was forced to take an illegally obtained abortion pill by her policeman boyfriend, Randy Bagus, after twice falling pregnant by him.

Social pressure not to have children out of wedlock, largely fueled by Islamic beliefs, led Bagus to fear he would lose his job if Widyasari went through with the pregnancy. Already depressed after being forced to abort her first child, Widyasari committed suicide four months after Bagus coerced her to abort her second, by poisoning herself with potassium in December 2021.

Bagus was fired from the police force and sentenced to two years in prison for his involvement in an illegal abortion. The prosecutor had demanded three and a half years. There was an attempt to include forced abortion as a criminal act in Indonesia's new Bill on Eradication of Sexual Violence, passed in April, but to no avail. Coercing a woman into an abortion is still not a criminal offense.

Pressure on unmarried mothers to have abortions is also rife in China, feminist Lu told Nikkei. She explained that the right to an abortion in China should not be mistaken as a sign of women's empowerment -- premarital pregnancies still carry a social stigma, and unmarried mothers are not guaranteed social benefits.

"People think premarital abortions are normal and it is something you should do if [you fall pregnant and are] not married," Lu said.

In India, forced sex-selective abortions are a problem. Mishra, the research head from New Delhi, estimates that only around 10% of India's 15 million abortions every year are performed out of the mother's choice. In most cases, family pressure plays the ultimate role, largely due to preference for a male child, especially in northern India.

Even in countries where forced abortions are rare, legal access to abortion does not necessarily equate to more female autonomy. In Singapore, for example, although women can terminate pregnancies up to the second trimester, they are legally required to undergo counseling and must wait 48 hours before consenting to the procedure.

Women's rights activists argue that the counseling rule prevents women from freely making decisions on abortion. "Counseling and waiting periods may give the impression that seeking an abortion is reprobate or morally unsound -- something to feel guilty or regretful over," Shailey Hingorani, head of research and advocacy at the Association of Women for Action and Research in Singapore, told Nikkei. 

In Japan, similar concerns about the government's proposed conditions for legalizing the abortion pill, which is set to happen within the year, have divided reproductive rights activists. Currently, only surgical abortions are legal in Japan, with the most popular method being dilation and curettage, which rakes out the fetus with a metal tool and was declared unsafe by the World Health Organization earlier this year.

Recent government discussions suggest that, if the abortion pill is legalized, spousal consent and costly hospitalizations -- not covered by national health insurance -- will be necessary for a prescription. "Maintaining the need for male consent for the abortion pill demonstrates an underlying notion that women are weak beings who cannot decide on their own," Soshiren's Ohashi told Nikkei.

Michiyo Ono, a member of JOICFP, a Japan-based nongovernmental organization advocating for women's reproductive rights, is more optimistic. The proposed conditions of legalization "have many downsides," she told Nikkei. "But legalizing the abortion pill would be a step in the right direction."

Ono's message rings loud and clear among women's rights activists throughout Asia: Having some access to safe abortion, however complicated, is better than having no access at all.


Additional reporting by Lien Hoang in Ho Chi Minh City, Cliff Venzon in Manila, Marrian Zhou in New York, Francesca Regalado in Bangkok, Dylan Loh in Singapore, Jaewon Kim in Seoul, Faisal Mahmud in Dhaka and Alice French in Tokyo.


By        :      Ismi Damayanti, Kiran Sharma and Arisa Kamei

Date    :       June 15, 2022

Source:        Nikkei Asia


Pride in the Classroom

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of college students nationwide. Some LGBTQ students have faced mental and physical health challenges due to quarantine and isolation, after students returned to campus.

LGBTQ+ Studies courses have existed for decades, but minors or certificates in such studies have been offered at many institutions for fewer than 20 years. Research, scholarly discourse, and interest continue to grow, with the pandemic bringing new areas to investigate.

“Since the pandemic struck, I have seen an upswing in LGBTQ+ Studies student interest in mutual aid,” says Dr. Cary Gabriel Costello, associate professor of sociology and director of LGBTQ+ Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which offers an undergraduate certificate. “While before the pandemic, student attention might have focused more on queer crafting, grassroots political organizing, or reforming family structures, the topic of communities finding ways to provide for themselves the social services they need has really piqued students’ interest.”

Measuring impact

Mutual aid is when people bond together to meet each other’s needs understanding that existing systems do not meet their needs. They also work to see established systems improve their responses. Costello says the last two years have been stressful, and he has noticed students in general dealing with mental health issues that have been more pronounced for LGBTQ+ students.

Each semester, Costello surveys students in his classes to get information about their lives, interests, and challenges. In fall 2020, 40 % of students in his online introductory level sociology class reported mental health issues. In his LGBTQ+ Studies-affiliated course, 65 % of students reported somewhat or very poor mental health since the start of quarantine. Graduate student instructors, working together with Costello, provided “informal social work services” for the undergraduates.

“Things have yet to return to the pre-COVID normal, such as it was,” says Costello. “It has been exhausting for lots of folks, but it has been a privilege to see my graduate student instructors go above and beyond the call of duty to help struggling undergrads and to witness students in LGBTQ+ Studies courses supporting one another.”

While Costello says there was a drop in the retention of trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students, student evaluations show that the staff of the LGBTQ+ Studies program made a real difference in retaining at-risk students and helping them succeed. “That’s something to feel good about,” he says.

“Our work has shifted somewhat from our academic mission to getting students what they need in order to even be able to focus on their academics,” says Soares, who also sees students focused on mutual aid.

Gleaning insights from student reporting

Given current circumstances, there has been an increased interest in examining how LGBTQ students, who may already feel marginalized, navigate an unexpected crisis such as the pandemic. “Students are doing really great work in thinking about frameworks like disability studies and the way that disability studies intersect with queer and trans studies to talk about how the pandemic is illuminating forms of systemic inequity,” says Soares.

The University of Colorado Boulder offers a certificate in LGBTQ Studies. The interest in coursework is there, says Soares, but in some cases, the economic realities preclude participation. “Every LGBTQ Studies program has to be thinking about the ways that programs like ours in some ways have always been on tenuous ground,” Soares says. “We [at Colorado] have not had serious threats to our funding. We have university support. Actually, we’ve had increasing amounts of donor support during the pandemic.”

After more than a decade of students expressing interest in a minor in LGBTQ Studies, Queens College (part of City University of New York) approved the minor in 2019. Additional courses were developed, including queer theories. Dr. JV Fuqua, associate professor in the department of Media Studies and director of the women and gender studies program, was teaching the queer theories course in the spring 2020 semester when there was the sudden pivot to remote learning.

“The cohort of students in that class was a particularly strong collection of souls,” says Fuqua, who has continued to teach remotely but expects to return to the classroom for the fall 2022 semester. “They were vibrant, curious, dedicated, excited, grateful, and energized to be in that classroom.

“The courses are full, and we continue to add students to the LGBTQ minor and also to the women and gender studies program,” they add. “The challenges that have been faced by the students interested in the minor at Queens College have been the challenges faced by students in general at Queens College since the start of COVID.”

Dr. Sean G. Massey is an associate professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Binghamton University, a State University of New York institution that co-facilitates the Binghamton Human Sexualities Research Lab. Massey, a social psychologist, runs the lab with three colleagues. Each semester, the lab includes approximately 20 undergraduates interested in research about human sexuality broadly defined. Among their research topics is sexual identity and gender identity. There are four or five on-going projects in groups called analytic communities.

“We’ve been looking at archival materials related to Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC, a community-based AIDS service organization),” says Massey, who volunteered at GMHC from 1988 through the late 1990s and conducted evaluation research. In addition to a special collection at the New York Public Library, Massey has a personal collection of GMHC materials. The undergraduates knew little about GMHC, or the AIDS epidemic, and they decided to conduct some oral history interviews.

Dr. Kristie Soares is assistant professor of Women & Gender Studies and co-chair of LGBTQ Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Soares says she is seeing an increased need, including housing and food insecurity, among queer and trans students -- particularly individuals of color -- since the onset of the pandemic.

“They’re incredibly moved by these stories,” Massey says. “It’s important we’re having these cross-generational conversations.”

Massey also teaches a course on LGBTQ history. The students read various histories and watch several documentaries, including “United in Anger: A History of ACT UP,” which was the propellor of AIDS activism. Students say this is the first time they’ve learned about how the community came together and responded to the AIDS crisis, and they see the parallels to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“The fact that we have [COVID] vaccines being developed so quickly now is a direct result of ACT UP, where they got drug trials to be expedited,” says Massey. “There is a connection between the work ACT UP did to get drugs released faster during the AIDS epidemic and the fact that we were able to get the vaccines released quickly.”

Advancing research

“Students are interested in a version of LGBTQ Studies that is in conversation with intellectual approaches like abolition, disability studies, Black Studies, Latinx Studies,” says Soares. “They are taking a very intersectional approach to LGBTQ Studies that understands that gender and sexuality were already intersecting with other categories of marginalization.”

Something Massey has seen, which he thinks may evolve into research in the years ahead, is the impact the pandemic has had on LGBTQ+ students. For traditional college students, ages 18–22, college is a time to explore their sexuality, develop their identities and find community, all of which have been impeded by quarantine and then social distancing.

“They’re not able to access the same kinds of social connections that they may have expected and that cohorts before them were able to,” says Massey. “Basic psychological needs, like intimacy, affiliation, and sex don’t simply disappear during a global pandemic. Public health campaigns need to give them a bit more attention.

“The students are very interested in how COVID affected sexual behavior and intimate relationships among college students,” he continues. “They want to look at how college students are handling COVID and reacting to it in terms of their intimate lives and sexual lives.”

Fuqua mentions recent Queens College graduate Sara Clayton’s senior thesis, “The Queering of Compulsory Monogamy as Community Care.” One topic Clayton explored was the impact of COVID-19 on polyamorous family structures and how care is reconfigured in a non-normative family context.

While Fuqua’s research has been on hold during the pandemic, they did write an article about “Pose,” a television series about the LGBTQ ballroom scene and subculture in the 1980s. The series dramatizes the culture celebrating LGBTQ individuals with a cast of LGBTQ actors.

“I felt compelled to write it because of my experience in that class in spring 2020,” says Fuqua. “We had been talking about ‘Pose’ and thinking about the series. Then, the Black Trans Lives Matter and the BLM protests of that summer re-energized me to finish that piece.”

Watching this LGBTQ minor thrive and be in a space where students of various backgrounds and interests create community is meaningful to Fuqua, who sees growing interest. “I want to grow the program,” they say. “I would love to see it be a major. I would love to get scholarships going for students who are minoring in LGBTQ Studies.” 


By      :     Lois Elfman

Date   :     Jun 8, 2022

Source:     Diverse Issues In Higher Education