Including Asian women in diverse spaces
This March, I got the opportunity to attend the 62nd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
I was immediately struck by the realization that the commission was not as colorful as I had imagined it would be, given the diversity of the United Nations: Almost all the participants were black and white. In fact, the other Asian student with whom I traveled to the commission and I spotted only a couple other Asian participants.
When I mentioned my surprise at the event’s lack of diversity to a UN Women staff member, she told me that the proportion of white attendees has been even higher in the past; the current, increased number of black attendees was the commission’s main achievement in increasing their diversity.
This lack of Asian representation coincides with a lot of recent pushback from Asian women on the stereotypes that persist about us — especially that we are passive. In fact, Asian women have been the key drivers of gender equality change in their countries across the world. For example, 33 percent of Nepal’s constituent assembly is female, and, according to the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, China has fully closed the gender gaps in professional and technical roles in the country as well as in women’s school enrollment rates. Over the last five years in Japan, female labor participation has increased by more than 1 percent each year, and in 2016, the percentage of Japanese women in the workforce even surpassed that of U.S. women.
Now, the question is: How can we translate Asian women’s leadership in their respective countries to the international stage? Most of the top-level progress Asian women have made is thanks to engagement at the grassroots level in their own communities. As powerful as these groups have been domestically, their focus is often on just that: their own countries. These groups frequently lack not only awareness of international events but also access to useful information, like that about conferences at which they could network and spread the word of their work, and international services and policies that could help support their goals on a bigger scale. Linking this kind of top-down information to bottom-up groups is indispensable.
Crucial to that linking of information is funding. The governments in which these grassroots groups of Asian women work would do well to fund these groups’ international travel. Doing so would allow the groups to gain more “soft power” and international influence, and promote global communication and cooperation.
Some governments are already doing this. For example, in September 2016, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced that the annual total donation of the Chinese government to U.N. agencies on development in 2020 would be $100 million more than the total amount given in 2015. Additionally, as the second largest donor to the U.N., the Japanese government is trying to attract more Japanese people working as senior consultants in the private sectors to the U.N. by providing extra subsidies.
Engaging more Asian women on the international stage and launching more Asian voices is a crucial part of achieving an international feminist movement. Although the full involvement of all women in the international battle for gender equality sounds like a long-term goal, some optimistic signs suggest that this goal is realistic, and one the feminist movement must pursue.
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