The role of women across the Asia-Pacific is constantly changing. From Australia seeing its first female Australian Prime Minster this year to the plight of high-profile political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, women continue to make their mark (and headlines) around the region. We take a look at a selection of countries—from Afghanistan to Vietnam—and the position of some of the women in them.
Women of the Asia-Pacific
While in ancient times, women and men in India were given equal status, the Middle Ages saw gender become a divisive factor in the country, with women becoming largely subordinate to men. But in modern India, women are working towards equality once more. Many are taking on leadership positions—the current President of India, Pratibah Patil (pictured), is female. But there’s still much to do.
Image Credit: rajkumar1220 / Flickr
Historically, Confucian traditions surrounding patriarchal family structure have been invoked in China to demonstrate the ‘natural place’ of the woman. Though the People’s Republic has actively promoted the social, economic and political role of women, the advancement of women’s rights has met with some resistance, particularly in traditional rural areas. The suicide rate for women in China remains reportedly 25 percent higher than for men, for example, with the rural rate three times the urban rate.
Image Credit: Steve Evans
North Korean ideology places equal value on men and women. Both genders are documented to be expected to fully participate in economic and social life, for the glorification of the nation. Women perform in mass games, a highly regimented performing arts display designed to emphasis the group rather than the individual.
Image Credit: Gilad Rom
The sky blue burqa commonly seen in Afghanistan is a controversial garment. Many Afghan women wear it through choice, as an expression of the Islamic faith. But in some provinces, such as in Mazar-I-Sharif, women are fearful of a Taliban revival and so many have taken to wearing the burqa once more for protection.
Image Credit: US Army
The family has traditionally been seen as the main unit of Filipino society, with women at the centre of each family. In many rural regions, men are seen as the breadwinners whilst women are decision-makers on vital family issues, often taking charge of finances, education and religion. The housewife is often referred to as Reyna ng Tahanan—Queen of the Home.
Image Credit: John Martinez Pavliga
In Japan, the idea of being an educated, working woman is becoming increasingly popular. There are very few legal barriers to workforce entry for Japanese women, and the expansion of the service sector created more new jobs than existing male graduates could fill. But today, a growing number of women also report a tension between career development and family life, and there’s speculation that this is one of the causes behind the country’s extremely low birth rate.
Image Credit: ThisParticularGreg / Flickr
Vietnamese culture emphasises collectivism and community, with clanship and family valued over individualism. Family structures are frequently rigid, with women required to obey their fathers, husbands and eldest sons. However, many express independence through economic participation.
Image Credit: Emilio Labrador
Australia was one of the very first countries to give women the vote, in the early 20th century. Today, the country’s liberal culture allows women significant freedom of choice, though critics have argued that female oppression is still very much present through the hypersexualisation of the female form. The Australian government has also recently introduced initiatives to improve body image amongst its youth.
Image Credit: Jessica Rabbit / Flickr
Islam is the official religion of Malaysia and, as such, Muslim women are subject to Sharia law. In February 2010, three women were caned by authorities after being charged with the crime of extra-marital sex. They were the first women in the country to receive such a punishment.
Image Credit: anuarsalleh / Flickr
Mongolian women have traditionally enjoyed higher social status than women in many other Asian countries, and today are making significant advances in educational and economic participation. Many women place a high value on education, seeing it as a route out of poverty and into independence.
Image Credit: Nick Farnhill