Asia's News for the Week of October 21, 2002


AFGHANISTAN -- The European Union announced Thursday it would grant three million dollars in aid to various projects in eastern Afghanistan for education, sanitation, health and road construction.

The announcement was made by Fransec Vendrell, head of a 17-member E.U. delegation to Afghanistan, during a visit to the eastern Paktia province where he met tribal chiefs and elders as well as women's rights activists, the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) agency said. Paktia's Governor Qazi Raz Mohammed Dalili told AIP the initial aid would be spent on specific projects directed by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the area as various services inform

"The Afghan government will keep a check on the working of these NGOs," he said. Earlier in the day, Afghan president Hamid Karzai appealed to the international community to speed up its cooperation in the campaign against the worsening drugs crisis in Afghanistan.

"If we have to persuade the farmers not to plant (opium) poppy, then we have to show them that alternatives exist. They need to see the physical evidence out there in the fields and farmlands that we are able to provide other means for them to improve their lives," he said Thursday at a drug coordination meeting. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur October 17, 2002)

INDIA -- Despite a government campaign, girls are still considered a bad investment in India, where many families turn to abortion and even infanticide to avoid the cost or dishonor of a daughter. "Kill a Girl Child, Kill a Nation," was the chant at a recent demonstration in New Delhi by women's activists, alarmed by new statistics that show India to be one of the few countries where men outnumber women.

According to the government figures, India's population of 1.027 billion has 933 women for every 1,000 men. "This figure has been getting worse since the beginning of the 20th century," said activist Nafisa Ali, who deplored the "social evil." In 1901, there were 972 women in India for every 1,000 men. Among Indian children under six, there were 927 girls for every 1,000 boys in 2001. There are large variations within India. The rate of women is particularly low in the northern heartland and the violence-wracked northeast. In the capital New Delhi, there are 865 girls for every 1,000 boys under six. In the nearby states of Haryana and Punjab, the figure has gone down from 955 in 1991 to fewer than 900 a decade later.

Ali said the statistics showed how modern technology has abetted ancient prejudices. In particular, families are increasingly turning to late-term abortions after discovering they will have daughters. "Girls continue to be seen as bad investments by many families, especially in the poorest sections of society," said T.K. Matthew, who heads a non-governmental women's rights group. But The Times of India recently pointed out that some of the capital's wealthiest areas have the fewest women. In the upscale southern neighborhood of Haus Khaz, there are 841 girls for every 1,000 boys, showing the widespread reliance on abortion among India's rich.

Daughters can present overbearing financial burdens for families, who generally pay dowries to the grooms' parents, even though the custom was officially abolished in 1961. Young brides are then sent to live with their in-laws. Sons, on the other hand, traditionally stay with their parents after marriage. "A lot of parents still consider that sending a girl child to school, feeding her or giving her medical care is a waste of money," said Valery Smith, a teacher in New Delhi. Infanticide and the lack of care for girls explain the divergent mortality rates between the sexes: 90 for every 1,000 boys and 99 for every 1,000 girls, according to 2001 figures of the World Health Organization.

Faced with the crisis figures, the government in June banned Ultrasound for pregnant women under 35. India has allowed abortion at public institutions since 1971. But it is in private clinics that many women abort female fetuses or at their homes by doctors whose credentials are often in doubt. Infanticide is most common in rural areas, according to non-governmental organizations.

"Feticide and infanticide have not been stopped, which is a direct consequence of the fact women are still considered inferior and maintained illiterate and economically dependent," said gynaecologist K.L. Gupta. According to sociological studies, women who abort their potential daughters are usually doing so under pressure from their husbands or in-laws and generally suffer from serious depression afterward. (Agence France Presse October 17, 2002)

MYANMAR -- United Nations special rapporteur on human rights, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, arrives in Myanmar (Burma) on Thursday to investigate allegations of mass rape by the junta's soldiers. Pinheiro will visit the Shan state between October 22 and October 24 to probe accusations the Myanmar military used rape against ethnic minorities fighting for autonomy in the region.

The allegations were made in a June report by the Shan Women's Action Network and the Shan Human Rights Foundation, two Thailand-based rights groups. The groups detailed mass rapes involving at least 625 girls and women by Myanmar's soldiers in the Shan state. The report accused the junta of condoning the use of rape as a "weapon of war" against civilians.

Myanmar's military junta welcomed the U.N. investigation, saying in a statement, "the government of Myanmar stands in solidarity with the civilized world community against rape of any kind, most especially as an instrument of government policy of war". We will cooperate fully with him (Pinheiro), so that he may report on these outrageous allegations of human rights abuses," spokesman Hla Min said. "We believe an unbiased report from Mr. Pinheiro and the United Nations will affirm what we have been saying all along: these accusations are false."

During his visit, Pinheiro will meet with State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) first secretary General Khin Nyunt, Foreign Minister U Win Aung and Home Minister U Khin Maung Win. After his return to Yangon on October 25, he will discuss his findings with a number of government officials concerned with human rights before embarking on a visit of Thayarwaddy prison, 100 kilometres north of Yangon, where human rights organisations allege political prisoners are being detained. Before departing Myanmar on October 28, Pinheiro is scheduled to meet opposition leader and Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur October 17, 2002)

NORTH AND SOUTH KOREA -- A rally of women from the North and the South for the implementation of the 15 June North-South joint declaration and peace was opened at Mt. Kumgang resort on Wednesday 16 October . It was the first of its kind since the division of the nation.

Present at the rally were delegates of the Korean Democratic Women's Union and the Korean Women's Association and delegates of women of other organizations and various domains and women from all walks of life in the North. The rally was attended by delegates of the South Korean Council of Women's Organizations, the South Korean Federation of Women's Organizations, the Women's Society for Peace and the Anti-US Women's Society, women's organizations of the Reunification Solidarity for the Implementation of the 15 June North-South Joint Declaration and Peace on the Korean Peninsula, the People's Council for National Reconciliation and Cooperation and Seven orders all names as received .

Among the attendants were Korean women delegates from Japan, China, Australia and other countries and regions. Many members of visiting groups of the South side were present there as observers. Introduced at the opening ceremony were messages of greetings and silk banners sent to the rally by different organizations in the North and the South and overseas.

Delegates from the North and the South and abroad in their congratulatory speeches called on all the Koreans to join in the grand march for reconciliation, unity and reunification of the nation, bearing in mind the great proposition of the 15 June joint declaration "by our nation itself". A seminar of women for the implementation of the 15 June joint declaration and peace took place at the end of the opening ceremony.

Speakers at the seminar called upon all the women at home and abroad to unite as one and advance together under the banner of the joint declaration, transcending the difference in the political views, religious beliefs and isms. The joint declaration is a peace declaration reflecting the desire of the nation who want to live in peace free from war, they noted, calling on all the Korean women at home and abroad to turn out as one in the grand march for defending peace from war, prompted by their awareness that mothers devote themselves to the future of their sons and daughters and by the patriotic spirit.

An embroidery and art exhibition was held as part of the rally. Women delegates from the North and the South and abroad had amusement games. A reception was given in honour of the participants in the rally in the evening. The rally goes on. (Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring October 17, 2002)

PAKISTAN -- The First Lady of Pakistan Begum Sehba Musharraf has said that her capacity of Chairperson Regional Steering Committee For Advancement of Rural and Island Women for Asia and Pacific (RSC-AP ) she will encourage policies and work that will benefit rural women of the Asia Pacific Region as well as Pakistani women for achieving greater economic empowerment.

The formal document was signed by the current Chairperson RSC-AP the First Lady of Pakistan Begum Sehba Musharraf and First Lady of Malaysia Datin Seri Dr. Siti Hasmah binte Haji Mohammad, the former chairperson of the RSC -AP and currently Chairperson of International Steering Committee for the Economic Advancement of Rural Women and Patron of the Regional Steering Committee. Begum Sehba Musharraf further said that the Asia - Pacific region has the largest number of developing countries with 70% of their population living in rural and Island areas where poverty is starkly visible. She appreciated the vision and concern of Dr.Siti Hasmah for humanity as she has expanded the scope of RSC-AP to include Many Island Women of this region also who suffer equally from poverty.

Begum Sehba Musharraf informed that she has set up a National Steering Committee in Pakistan to spread awareness on issue of poverty. A seminar was held in Karachi in 2000 to highlight skills of rural women and another on Micro -Credit was held in Islamabad in October this year. The First Lady of Malaysia Datin Seri Dr. Siti Hasmah in her address said that through Micro

Credit schemes Malaysia has seen a positive transformation of its rural women and has achieved substantial economic development of women as the poverty rate among the women which use to be 47% has declined to 5% and the aim is to bring it down to zero and that Malaysia was keen to share its experiences with Pakistan . Emphasizing the necessity of economic well being of women Dr. Siti Hasmah said that greater income generating opportunities were essential for the health and happiness of women. When women are healthy and happy the country is in better position she added. RSC - AP comprising of 17 countries is the Sub Committee of International Steering Committee of wives of heads of states on which was constituted after the Geneva Summit on the Economic Advancement of Rural Women held in February 1992. The Regional Sub Committee was constituted in 1995. Dr.Siti Hasmah was elected chairperson of the RSC-AP for two terms from 1995 -2001. From 2001 Begum Sehba Musharraf has been elected as the chairperson for three years. The formal transfer of secretariat was scheduled to take place last year but due to incident of 11th September it had to be delayed. (The Pakistan Newswire October 18, 2002)

RUSSIA -- The Vatican voiced outrage after a church property in Moscow was turned into a brothel, saying it was part of what it sees as a long-running smear campaign against Roman Catholicism in Russia.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said Franciscan friars in the Russian capital had rented out one of their apartments to a private individual who'd assured them it would be used for "charitable purposes." Instead, Navarro-Valls charged, it became a house of ill repute with prostitutes dressed as nuns. He branded the incident "a despicable operation designed to discredit the ... brothers ... and through them the Catholic Church." Navarro-Valls said the episode and Russian television broadcasts of people in religious attire acting immorally was part of a campaign "bent on damaging the reputation of the Catholic community." (Toronto Star October 20, 2002)

Previous Week's News

CHINA -- For eight years, Xinran Xue hosted a radio program broadcast throughout China. She would interview women about their lives. The following words from one of her interviewees offer readers a clue to understanding Xinran's book, The Good Women of China:

"Everybody says women are like water. I think it's because water is the source of life, and it adapts itself to its environment." From 1990 to 1997, as China was opening to the world, Xinran's Nanjing radio call-in show, Words on the Night Breeze , offered Chinese women an opportunity to "allow their spirits to cry out and breathe after the gunpowder-laden atmosphere of the previous 40 years."

Born in 1958 and raised first by her grandmother and then in a dormitory for the "polluted" children of imprisoned parents, Xinran was by no means a neutral interviewer. Now, from the security of a teaching position in England, she has assembled a collection of stories that leaves readers haunted by the horrors of China's Cultural Revolution.

For example:

* Hongxue became seriously ill and sought hospitalization to escape being sexually abused by her father.

* Jin Shuai described the practice of university students living in style without receiving a penny from their parents simply by becoming a businessman's "personal secretary."

* After the Tangshan earthquake that killed 300,000, Mrs. Yang spent 14 days consoling her dying daughter who was pinned in wreckage that the city had no equipment to move.

* Jingyi searched 45 years for the classmate she loved at university and expected to marry before being separated by government assignments during the Cultural Revolution.

* Eleven-year-old Hua'er was gang-raped at a Red Guard "study session," and her mother hanged herself in sorrow over her daughter's fate.

Each story is more heartbreaking than the last. Readers may find themselves wondering if there isn't at least one mother, student or worker who achieved happiness despite the political system. Or perhaps such women -- if they do exist -- would have been unlikely to call Words on the Night Breeze . Nothing compares with Xinran's description of the two weeks she spent on a government fact-finding mission in 1996 to assess poverty in the village of Shouting Hill in northwestern China.

Nearly 20 families lived in single-room caves on a barren hillside whipped by such constant sandy winds off the desert that the residents had to shout to make themselves heard. The standard diet was a thin wheat gruel, with each woman treated to a bowl of egg mixed with water only on the day she gave birth to a son. One family of eight daughters owned a single pair of trousers so they worked inside, covered by a sheet, laughing and chatting about what each had seen on the day it was her turn to "wear clothes" and go outside.

Yet, the women of Shouting Hill were the only ones in Xinran's entire experience to describe themselves as happy. While exploring the relationships between immigrant Chinese mothers and their American daughters, Amy Tan's novels have given Western readers hints of the cultural divide between East and West.

But readers anticipating that Xinran's "voices" will offer a broader understanding of the role of women in China today will be disappointed. One hears only from the women who suffered depredations during the most oppressive years of the Communist regime. Xinran's good women survived the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. Their stories shock one's sensibilities while arousing admiration for their courage. (The Columbus Dispatch October 13, 2002)

KOREAS -- The North Korean cheering squad for the Asian Games in Busan is made up exclusively of young women. A news story alleges that many of the 280 members belong to famous art troupes in North Korea. If it is true or not, all these women whose ages range from the late teens to early 20s are definitely beauties, even seen in newspaper photos or on television.

Reading the news stories about them, I could easily guess North Korea's intention in dispatching an all-female cheering squad to the South. And what is happening here now seems to fully serve the North Korean purpose. In fact, these North Korean cheerleaders are making more media stories than the athletes they were sent to support. Newspapers print their pictures almost everyday, reporting their every movement. They are also the No. 1 topic in almost every private meeting that I have attended recently. I even heard over the radio that the Asiad's ticket sales had risen thanks to the South Koreans who wanted to see the women in person.

One of the phrases most frequently found in recent news stories as a result, is "namnam buknyeo," which literally means "men from the south and women from the north." A dictionary says the phrase means that "there tend to be more excellent people among the men from the south and among the women from the north than vice versa." But in South Korea, the phrase, whose origin is dubious, has long become a cliche praising the beauty of North Korean women (buknyeo), especially when it is used by men (namnam).

Every South Korean man who has visited North Korea sings praises of the beauty of North Korean women. When Mt. Geumgang was first opened to South Koreans, a group of southern journalists and literary men were invited. When they returned home, most of these people, as expected, produced countless stories admiring the beauty of female North Korean guides there and made some of the young women into "celebrities."

I went to Pyongyang more than 10 years ago along with other southern journalists to cover the South-North prime ministers' talks. At the Baekhwawon Guest House where we stayed, several women attended to us in the dining room and other places. The woman at the dining room was an ordinary maiden in her 20s with her own beauty. But I could not but help laughing when my fellow journalists, all of whom were male, depicted her as an unusual belle in their stories.

Many South Korean men, like my colleagues more than 10 years ago, are saying that they are attracted by the "natural beauty" of North Korean women. Unlike women here who wear thick makeup and show traces of plastic surgery, these women are fresh, they say. If they were saying only that they are tired of artificial beauty in South Korean women, I would welcome it. And I understand to an extent the curiosity of South Korean men for North Korean women. But I doubt whether this craze for North Korean beauty is more related to South Korean men's nostalgia for the good, old days, when their authority at home and in society was much more powerful than today. South Korean men say the beauty of North Korean women they see is closer to the "original beauty of Korean women" than that of South Korean women today. "The freshness that I feel from the girls reminded me of Korean women of my mother's generation," one said. Despite all its defects, I personally believe that socialism did one thing right for human beings in that it brought more equality to women in many societies. This unfortunately doesn't apply to North Korea.

In most societies, the active participation of women in economic activities has brought about easing of gender discrimination - but not in North Korea. The mechanism of totalitarian control and the nationalistic character of the society have rather strengthened the old patriarchal system. At one time in the mid-1990s, women in Pyongyang were required to wear skirts outside the home. The good news is that no woman in North Korea smokes, while almost every North Korean man does. A South Korean journalist who visited North Korea two years ago once told me her embarrassing experience during her visit. A top North Korean official invited her and her group to a party, where several high-ranking female officials participated. During the party that included a lot of liquor, the North Korean men told a woman who was an assistant minister to sing. The woman without hesitation stood up and sang. A government official who has extensively visited northern villages said that the North Korean economy is much dependent upon women's labor. He said that 80 percent of laborers in light industry are allegedly women. A hundred percent of barbers are women. Watching the North Korean countryside from a car during the trip, he saw that women made about 90 percent of people working in the fields. Most men in the fields were seen smoking cigarettes or wandering around with some notebooks in their hands. Still, women are also 100 percent responsible for housekeeping.

"Men slowly walk ahead with their hands empty, while their wives follow them with large packs on their heads and children on their backs. The scenes were not much different from the images I had of South Korean mothers in old days," he wrote in a story printed in a local paper.

Then the official added, "To me, the phrase 'namnam buknyeo' seems to refer more to the strong spirit of North Korean women enduring under hardship than to their beauty." I agree. ([email protected]) (THE KOREA HERALD October 10, 2002)

MYANMAR -- The Myanmarese military is systematically raping ethnic Shan women as part of a military strategy, according to a new study. At least 625 women and girls have alleged they were raped by members of the military between 1996 and 2001, according to the report, titled Licence to Rape.

It was compiled by the Shan women's group and the Shan Human Rights Foundation, non-profit organizations formed in opposition to the Myanmarese government. (The country was formerly known as Burma.) "The use of systematic rape may not be written in the military's policies in paper but, in practice, they're using rape as a weapon of war against the ethnic people and terrorizing the community," said women's group founder Hseng Noung, who was in Ottawa yesterday speaking at a conference sponsored by the Canadian Friends of Burma at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

"We want to make sure that the international community really knows what the actual situation is," said Ms. Noung, now living in Thailand. Of the 173 cases studied in detail in the report, the majority were perpetrated by officers, often in groups and in front of their troops. Many involved beatings, mutilation or suffocation, and at least 40 of the women were killed after the attacks.

Eleven assaults took place inside military bases, while 24 women were seized and kept for up to four months by troops as "comfort women." The offender was punished by his commanding officer in only one of the incidents, the report stated. Following the release of the report, the Women's League of Burma has called for a UN fact-finding mission to the Thailand-Myanmar border to investigate incidences of sexual violence committed by the military.

Many more women may not have reported abuse out of fear, or an inability to speak enough of the language to report the incident to military authorities, the report said.

In July, the U.S. State Department decried the alleged abuses and urged the Myanmarese government to investigate. The Burmese State Peace and Development Council initially dismissed the report as "unverified testimonies of so-called victims." It conducted its own investigation and concluded the reports were "false and fabricated." (Ottawa Citizen October 10, 2002)