About CSCS
Events
       Lectures
       Conferences and Workshops
Projects
       Completed
       Ongoing
       Planned
Faculty
       Visiting Fellows
Media Archive
Courses
Contact Us
Home

 

CSCS - Centre for Study of Culture & Society


FEMINISMS IN ASIA
CSCS Coordinator for the Workshop: Tejaswini Niranjana

Dates: October 17-20, 2001
Venue: United Theological College, 63 Millers Road, Benson Town, Bangalore 560046

Workshop Schedule

October 17, 2001
Modernity, Development, Globalization

9.30 am:
Registration

10.00 am-10.30 am:
Welcome: Vivek Dhareshwar
Opening Remarks: Tejaswini Niranjana, Women and the Question of Asia

10.30 am-11.30 am:
Firdous Azim, Sex Workers and the Women's Movement in Bangladesh
[Discussant: Vasudha]

11.30 am-11.45 am:
Tea Break

11.45 am-1.00 pm: Panel on Institutionalisation of Feminism

Malathi de Alwis, Sri Lanka: Feminist Activism Institutionalised?
Anagha Tambe, The Experience of Women's Studies in Pune
Kim Eunshil, Women's Studies in South Korea
Janaki Nair, Feminism as Critique: Women's Studies in India

1.00-2.00 pm:
Lunch

2.00-3.00 pm:
Mary John, Feminism and Globalization

3.00-3.15 pm:
Tea Break

3.15-5 pm: Panel on The Impact of Feminism
Bageshree S., India: Women in Journalism
Shirin Najafgholi Ardalan, Women Journalists in Iran
Manasa collective, The Feminist Newsletter
Surabhi Sharma, Feminism and Film-making

October 18, 2001
Religion, Women's Rights and the State

10.00 am-11.00 am: Panel on Religious Identity/Secularism
Ruzana Udin, Religious Identity and Women in Malaysia
Meghana Guha-Thakurta, Religious Identity, Secularism and Feminist Discourse in Bangladesh
Praveena Kodoth, Codification of Christian Property Law
Mrinalini Sebastian, Women of Faith and Secular Feminism

11.00 am-11.15 am:
Tea Break

11.15 am-12.45 pm: Panel: Feminism and the State
Nirmala Purushotam, 'Woman' as Boundary in Singapore: Raising Fear Against Critical Imaginings

12.45 pm-2 pm:
Lunch

2.00 pm-3.00 pm:
Dai Jinhua, Gender and Class in Contemporary China [Discussant: S.V.Srinivas]

3.00 pm-3.15 pm:
Tea Break

3.15 pm-5 pm: Panel on Women's Rights and Democracy
Flavia Agnes, Minority Identity and Gender Concerns in India
Firouzeh Mohajer, Women's Rights and the Political System in Iran

October 19, 2001
Sexuality and Sexual Identities

10.00 am-11.00 am: Panel on Sexuality, Violence
V.Geetha, Sexuality and Violence: Some Thoughts on a Worrisome Subject
Harueko Kato, 'Comfort Women' and Japanese Feminists
Anandhi S., Understanding Masculinities and Domestic Violence

11.00 am-11.15 am:
Tea Break

11.15 am-12.45 pm: Panel on Sex workers/Sex tourism
Kalpana Vishwanath, Migration and Trafficking: Exploring the Conceptual Links
Equations, Bangalore Sex Tourism

12.45-2 pm:
Lunch

2.00-3.00:
Antonia Chao, Sexual Citizenship and Taiwan's "Uncle Lesbians" [Discussant: Ranjita Biswas]

3.00-3.15:
Tea Break

3.15-5 pm: Panel Discussion on Politics of Sexual Identities
He Xiaopei, Emergence of Gay and Lesbian Identities in China
Asha Achuthan, Search for an In-between
S.Anandhi, On Masculinities
Famila (Sangama, Bangalore), Hijra - Identitiy, Culture and Community
E.Manohar (Sangama, Bangalore) Sexuality Minorities in India - Different Gender Identities, Different Sexual Identities/orientations and Diverse Realities

October 20, 2001
Language, Translation and Critical Vocabularies

9.30 am-10.30 am:
Ding Naifei, Feminist Knots: Bondmaid-Concubines, Sex Workers, Migrant Maids [Discussant: Seemanthini Niranjana]
10.30 am-11.30 am: Panel on Politics of Representation
Kim Soyoung, Vanishing South Korean Women in the Globalization Era
K.Srilata, Translation, Women's Writing, Feminism
Samina Choonara, Women in Punjabi Popular Cinema in Pakistan

11.30 am-11.45 am:
Tea Break

11.45 am-12.45 pm:
Closing address: Susie Tharu

12.45 pm-1.45 pm:
Lunch

2 pm-4 pm:
Roundtable Discussion

Background Note

Today it would be indisputable that feminism has been one of the most significant social movements of the twentieth century. The impact of feminist initiatives has been as extensive as it is profound. In thinking about questions of everyday life and relationships; institutions such as education, the judiciary, the workplace; structures of power such as the state or the trans-national corporation; discourses like colonialism and nationalism; and the disciplines (history, economics, political science, literary studies, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, psychoanalysis and the biological sciences), feminists have produced remarkable new insights into the very fabric of our lives. Feminism has wrought irreversible transformations in our attempts to produce knowledge, in our modes of representation and our ways of looking.

In hindsight, it may not appear surprising that from about the mid-19th century on, in hundreds of locations across the world women began to organise for social and political change, around issues such as suffrage, education, or access to the public sphere. Women's magazines and newsletters were produced, and writing by women--essays, pamphlets, fiction, poetry and criticism in a myriad languages--became increasingly available. New modes of public protest came to be fashioned. Women's activism in diverse areas provided the ground for the analytical understanding of the situations we were struggling against. While there were very few societies where this was not happening, assertions such as "sisterhood is global", often made by western feminists in the 1970s or 80s, were not welcomed by feminists in other spaces. The universalising premise of such assertions, it was felt, served to obscure the serious differences in women's lives in different parts of the world, often--when one took into consideration issues of class, caste or race--within the same geo-political boundaries. Recent attempts at redressing this imbalance invoke the concept of "local feminism" but from a "global perspective" (eg., Amrita Basu ed., The Challenge of Local Feminisms: Women’s Movements in Global Perspective, 1995), where the term global could easily be a stand-in for the older term western, which functions as the hidden norm. What we propose as the underlying premise for our workshop is a radical departure from this idea.

Objective

We begin with the concept "Asia", and proceed to problematize both the sign and its referents. An earlier conference organised by CSCS in February 2000 took some initial steps in this direction. We have also been inspired by the efforts of the InterAsia Cultural Studies project which is trying to create new lines of affiliation and new tools for criticism across what has come to be called Asia. Our desire is not to counterpose a unified region (Asia) with an equally monolithic "West". What we want to do is suggest the possibilities which might open up when we create a framework for comparison which does not assume that the implicit reference point for all discussions, political and conceptual, is automatically the West.  Our workshop will take initial steps to understand how to undertake a comparative analysis of women's movements across Asia, in the belief that the methodologies devised for such analysis will be of value for academicians and theorists of social movements, and for community groups and non-governmental organizations.

The emerging dialogue should focus not so much on fact sheets but on the kinds of conceptual struggles undertaken by feminists who are trying to theorize their specific dilemmas. On the surface, the movements may seem to have much in common, in terms of originating impulses, trajectories, even ambitions. But what we would like to elicit in the course of our workshop are discussions of the texture of women's problems as well as their attempted resolutions, outlines of the conceptual moves by which specific political issues were debated, analyses of what was at stake at critical moments in the histories of our movements. For the sake of convenience, we will focus on the last 20-25 years, and emphasize workshop participation by those activists and scholars who have been engaged in thinking through key feminist issues in their respective locations. We would like to aim not for a quick or simple consensus but for laying a firm foundation for sustained dialogue.

Thematic Concerns of the Workshop

In the contemporary period, "Asia" is seen as a significant region by Euro-America from perspectives somewhat different than those which governed the discourses of power called "Orientalism" by the Palestinian critic Edward Said. While "Asian" self-assertion may be variously greeted by grudging respect (for the "economic miracle" of the "Asian Tigers" in East and South-East Asia), aggressive hostility (towards West Asian countries like Iran or Iraq), a mixture of political censure combined with the desire for expanding markets (eg., China or India), apparent Fund-Bank concern over poverty and economic backwardness (South Asia in general), there are obvious continuities between these attitudes and the historical relationship between these countries and the "West". How might feminist initiatives in "Asia" refigure these conventional understandings of the region? What could be the value of thinking cross-regionally in relation to women, especially in the face of continuing forms of Orientalism?

To further complicate the picture, the relation between colonizer and colonized within Asia is not always one between the west and its others but sometimes between Asian countries (eg., Japan and Korea, China and Korea), just as cultural imperialism could refer not only to western hegemony but also to the visibility of a country like India vis--vis its smaller South Asian neighbours, or China in relation to Taiwan or Hong Kong. Today we also have the emergence of supra-national regional blocs--West Asia, South-East Asia, South Asia etc.,--which feature prominently in political and economic decisions both within Asia and internationally.  In the formerly colonised societies (the third world, the "south") and across "Asia" (we include in this term the areas referred to as South Asia, East Asia, West Asia and South-East Asia), a close historical connection between nationalist struggles and feminism is commonly to be found. This feature of women's movements appears to be specific to societies which have experienced colonialism of various kinds, at the hands of the British, the Dutch, the French, the Chinese, the Japanese or the Americans. It is a feature that could well be said to mark one of the major differences of these movements (as for example in South and South-East Asia) from feminism in the west. However, in a later phase many of the women's movements have also engaged in a critique of their nation-state, for not fulfilling the promises made by nationalism to women and other disadvantaged groups. What might be the relationship--contentious or otherwise--between feminists and the state? How do we map the changing contours of the state in the last few decades? What can we learn from different feminist attempts across Asian nations to negotiate with, confront, and refigure the state?

While older hierarchies have been recast by nation-state formations in the last hundred years or so, a major challenge for feminisms in Asia has been that of understanding the intersection of gender discrimination with other forms of inequality, and of forging productive political alliances which could further our analysis and activism. The foregrounding of women's issues has sometimes been seen as though in opposition to, rather than aligned with, those of race, caste, class, community, or nation. The task for feminists would be to investigate, and incorporate into their analytical frameworks, the simultaneous shaping of women's identities by all these discourses. Of related interest: how do we investigate "women" as the site of contemporary productions of caste, class and religious identity (as for example in India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia or China)? And how do we understand the newly visible struggles around sexuality and sexual preference and their contentious and complicated relationship with women's movements (which may appear to posit a homogeneous, and heterosexist, identity for woman)?

A crucial issue for feminists in Asia is likely to be that of critical vocabularies. Frequently faced with the charge that feminism is an alien import, women have responded by producing indigeneous geneaologies for their activism, and by employing critical terms derived from local languages and situations. At the same time, there remain tensions around the widespread use of concepts such as patriarchy or gender coming out of certain traditions of western feminism. One of the agendas of our workshop will be to rethink from a feminism perspective the history and politics of translation and examine the stakes in the production and dissemination of critical concepts in various Asian contexts and across the region.

Some of the other questions we would like participants to engage with:

--institutionalisation: women's studies and the university, NGOs, the state, funding issues;
--debates around modernity and "modernization", including both economic and cultural dimensions; women and cultural identity; discussions of globalization;
--the paradigm of "development" prescribed for/taken up by non-western societies and its impact on feminism;
--the women's movement and discussions of citizenship/democracy; the debate about secularism;
--conceptual framing of issues such as domestic violence, sexual harrassment, etc.;
--women and sexual identities;
--politics of women's health; mental health and feminization of labour;
--theorizations of desire and subjectivity; politics of representation;
--controversial regional issues like struggles of sex workers, migrant labour, sex tourism;
--inequalities within and across Asian countries and the dilemmas for feminism.
 
[The questions are not in any particular order, and the list is by no means exhaustive. Participants are urged to add (and address) issues which they think relevant.]

The above topics are listed out in an attempt to provide a statement of the field. We will not necessarily cover all these topics in the brief span of the workshop.

Workshop Format

There will be two kinds of sessions, panel discussions with three speakers per panel (15-20 minutes each), and paper presentations (30 minutes), with a roundtable session on the last day to evaluate the objectives of the workshop and discuss how to further them.

An important feature of the workshop is that it comes out of, and feeds into, our Centre's continuing concerns (a) about social movements in general and feminism in particular; and (b) about enlarging the scope of discussion in Indian civil society to take other related contexts into consideration and learn from their problems and resolutions. As our earlier conference demonstrated, we are keen on shifting the focus of debate so that the main reference point is no longer the West.

The strength of the framework for our workshop lies in its resolutely inter-disciplinary interests, a legacy of the women’s movement. A number of people from our feminist study group and the larger feminist network we are part of have contributed to the conceptual elaboration of the issues to be discussed, making this a truly collaborative venture. Most of us have long years of experience in the women's movement in different parts of India; we have also taught for a number of years in women's studies and allied fields, both at graduate student level and in teacher training. Our expertise ranges from history, philosophy, political science and sociology to literature, art history, film theory and cultural studies. Many of us have been active in the larger public sphere through our writings, videos/films, and interventions in policy discussions (in the areas of law, education and legislative representation, for example).

Women's studies conferences in India often tend to be very general (in their attempt to "add women" to every discipline) and lacking in conceptual rigour and clarity; activist and NGO conferences, on the other hand, often take for granted some basic assumptions about women's oppression which have become part of our commonsense, ending up blocking further investigation rather than opening up new areas for analysis. Where our workshop will break new ground is in inviting participants with strong credentials in the areas of both scholarship and women's activism, who have expended considerable energy in thinking and writing about feminism even as they have taken part in the everyday struggles of the movement. We expect this background will bring a richness of analysis to the questions posed by the workshop, and allow us to enlarge our comparative frames in meaningful and thought-provoking ways.

While a few privileged Indian feminists have been taking part in conferences in other Asian countries, it has not always been possible to bring the comparisons with other places into our activism and scholarship. One of the reasons could be that the discussions with Asian feminists have not really happened in our own context, or included diverse kinds of women from the movement in India (such as journalists, lawyers, film makers, publishers, health professionals and educationists). We hope our workshop will serve as a platform for better exchange between Indian feminists and those from other parts of Asia. The workshop discussions are bound to stimulate new debates in the Indian women's movement about specific questions here (eg., sexuality, women's work, new media and technologies) which have not received the kind of attention they might have, but which have been important topics for discussion in other Asian contexts.

We believe that the cultural questions foregrounded by our workshop (in relation to nationalism and modernity, globalization, the translation of critical vocabularies and their implications for women's issues) will be discussed for the first time in a genuinely comparative Asian frame. We emphasize once again: while there exist profound historical connections and commonalities between the different Asian countries, our normal instinct is to establish comparisons between each location and the "West". Our workshop intends to establish sound precedents for a different kind of practice which will initiate inter-Asian comparisons.


Home | About CSCS | Projects | Faculty | Media Archive | Courses | Contact us