JASS Blog Archives for May 2014

by Valerie Miller on May 29, 2014 on 2:38 pm

Rodeadas de la naturaleza y calor tropical Nica, nos animan las brisas del lago Managua y los jardines de Cantera.  Este centro histórico de educación popular creado por mujeres es nuestro hogar lindo durante esta semana de reflexión y aprendizaje. Entre risas y lágrimas, canciones y bailes, 31 mujeres de toda la región se reúnen para ampliar y profundizar su liderazgo y accionar colectivo. Son mujeres indígenas y rurales junto con compañeras de JASS que exploran y comparten ideas e intercambian sus historias, luchas y retos de liderazgo frente a sus contextos difíciles y cambiantes. Entre la alegría y energía creada, el dolor de la violencia que han vivido emerge y el grupo toma tiempo para apoyarse y renovarse. 

Al entrar en la sala, se siente la alquimia y solidaridad que se va creando entre todas. Es un espacio seguro, amplio y fresco de confianza y creatividad, sus paredes llenos de papeles y dibujos de diferentes colores con las reflexiones de los grupos. Alrededor se sientan mujeres de diferentes culturas y generaciones y en el centro del círculo hay hojas de palmera y flores bellas junto con velas de varios colores. Y en el mero centro, nuestra tinaja de alquimia donde combinamos nuestros saberes para producir nuevos conocimientos. La tinaja sirve como símbolo de la misma visión metodológica—la construcción colectiva de los conocimientos.

Comenzamos cada día con un ritual de celebración y meditación—donde una compañera comparte una reflexión cultural y otras encienden las velas en el centro para honrar la luz que existen en todas. Seguimos con una multiplicidad de actividades como la biodanza que refleja la energía y alegría de la vida por medio del movimiento y que nos une en una forma mágica con sus ritmos y música. ¡Perfecto para el auto cuido! Igual nos une y nos inspira el compartir las trayectorias de nuestras ancestras y mentoras.  Honramos sus vidas de lucha y esperanza colocando sus imágenes e historias en un mural que nos rodea. Seguimos tejiendo los elementos del corazón-mente-cuerpo todos los días para realizar una integración de temas y actividades y de nuestras fuentes múltiples de inteligencia—lo cerebral, lo emocional y lo corporal.

Compartimos  momentos de reflexión sobre la historia de lucha de las mujeres tras los siglos y sobre el poder en los diferentes ámbitos de nuestras vidas desde el íntimo y privado hasta lo público. Analizamos  tanto las formas que nos han oprimido como las que nos alientan y nos dan vida, fuerza y valor. Siempre buscamos superar la victimización que nos puede paralizar y afirmar nuestras identidades múltiples que nos dan poder.

Reflexionamos sobre las ideas iniciales de cada una sobre el liderazgo que visualizaron en el taller anterior por medio de dibujos individuales. Ampliamos y profundizamos nuestra apreciación conceptual de ser lideresa por medio del debate y power point. Luego se dibuja en grupo las nuevas visiones colectivas del liderazgo y las comparamos con las anteriores. Al contrastarlas, encontramos diferencias grandes que nos hacen reír al reconocer que los dibujos originales eran muy individualistas, muchas veces con las figuras de lideresas gigantescas y todo poderosas. Ya los nuevos dibujos reflejan una imagen más integral y dinámica de un liderazgo compartido, colectivo, respetuoso, integral, y reciproco.    

Para reflejar y abonar nuestra propia sinergia y alquimia, hay momentos cuando depositamos nuestras ideas en la tinaja y las mezclamos. Así fortalecemos los círculos de confianza y creatividad que más y más están iluminados por nuestra luz colectiva.

Como ha dicho una compañera del taller, “Lo más bonito de todo es que nosotras mismas estamos definiendo la conceptualización de las palabras e ideas desde las diferentes visiones y perspectivas de todas.”

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by Niken Lestari on May 23, 2014 on 1:04 am

When I was 14 years old, I had a male friend – his name is Dede. People said he acted feminine. The boys in school used to make fun of him. A few boys – around three or four of them – were constantly bullying him. I didn't know the word or the meaning of bully back then.

I did think that he was weird. Why would he act feminine? Was he deliberately doing it? Can't he “control” himself?

However, he was not alone. Like Dede, some people thought that I was different too. My parents and my neighbors thought that I was a bit boyish by nature. But in our community, being a “tomboy” was not forbidden. A lot of people saw it as part of a phase that some teenagers experience or even as an act of teenage “rebellion”. “It will soon pass,” so they said. My friends didn't make fun of me. Their concern was how my parents would react.

Living with Labels

One time, Dede and some of my girlfriends walked together after school. Some “rascals” were walking behind us. They started to push Dede; they pulled his uniform and teased him for being too “womanly”. I looked at them with disgust but said nothing. Dede was also silent. We kept on walking.

Then they kicked and pushed him harder against the road. He tried to avoid them. He walked faster, half running and left us far behind. The rascals laughed out loud, happy to scare him off.

While waiting for the minibus, I knew that I will never forget that day. It served as a warning for me that one will not be respected, and in fact, will even be humiliated, for being “different”.

I didn't realize that people around me tried to shape me as the woman they thought I was supposed to be. Some neighbors criticized the way I dress; my parents always commented on the way I sit. My mother tried to “fix” the way I walk; she even took me to a male doctor when my breast started to develop – “was it normal for her age?” she asked. I got the message.

This series of events kept on living in my memory. For me, it had become a source of knowledge and curiosity. It came to the point when I was afraid to “become” a woman. At that time, there was no internet, no instant messenger, no search engine, or social media to comfort me. I felt silly, alone, and weird.

Cultural Expectations in Indonesia

Menstruation was a point of no return for me. No one told me about it before or after. I remembered vividly how menstruation “blood” is a cause of shame for us. Girls and women treated their menstrual cycle as if it was a flood disaster. We refer to it as “dirty blood”, therefore we felt dirty during our menstruation. If it “stained” your skirt, you need to carefully cover it, hide it, disguise it, at least pretend that you don't know it's your period. Play dumb!

People say that when a woman has menstruation, she should not enter the mosque. But if all of my friends went to the mosque for the Isra Miraj celebration, I should go there too. Besides, no one will know. Who’s to check on me?

My mother said I am a woman and should “act” like one but I don't feel like a woman. How should we define “being a woman”?

When my brother was circumcised, another old question I had when I was a little girl came to my mind. I don't remember who said it but an adult who I considered knew a lot about Islam told me about an obligation in Islam for boys and girls to be circumcised. So I went to my mother and asked whether I was circumcised. She said, “Well, yes. Just a little bit. It's not hurtful. It is only for religious ritual’s sake.”

I was a bit relieved because I was a “circumcised” woman though I don't even know what it means. When I got older, I learned about feminism and how feminists view female circumcision. When I got married, I never felt that I was “circumcised” at all. The pleasure was there! Looking back, I think my mother just tried to “comfort” me by saying I was circumcised. I should have thanked her.

The journey was not over. Few years back, I met a transsexual from one of the workshops held by Forum Aktivis Perempuan Muda’s (FAMM-Indonesia’s) – in partnership with JASS. Her name is Ajeng and she’s from Jember, East Java. Recently, my friend and I accompanied her to a Ajeng Herliyanti of FAMM-Indonesiasurgeon who may be able to perform genital surgery on her. One doctor refused to give her hormone therapy for fear of cancer as a long-term side effect. Another doctor agreed to perform genital surgery but it meant that Ajeng will no longer be able to have sexual sensation. No more orgasm! Those will be cut out of her. What a nightmare!

Ajeng wished to be a woman with a vagina that many women take for granted and sometimes hate so much.  It was during that time that I learned to appreciate my vagina – a delicate, moist, sacred, intimate, funny, sensitive part of a woman’s body.

At night, we sat down and talked how wonderful the day was. Despite the disappointment, Ajeng managed to be cheerful and said that she's not giving up. When we talked about the difficult situation for LGBTs on coming out as a lesbian, gay, transgender, she said, “I think I have passed that phase. I am now coming out as a woman!”

Like the day I had with Dede almost 18 years ago, I know that it's the phrase that I will never forget. It's a powerful way of saying that I know who I am and I have the power within. So, yes, I am proud to come out as a woman too. Thank you, Ajeng.

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by JASS on May 13, 2014 on 7:24 pm

Written by Julie Lun (Caing Ngaih Lwin)

“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the whole world,” goes a popular saying honoring women. But why is it that there are so many women today who are “in chains”, marginalized and discriminated against?

Sometimes I wonder why the rest of the world is silent for the countless women and girls whose human rights are violated. Does the problem lie in the morality of the people? Thanks to the One Billion Rising campaign, I am now aware that one in three women have been abused, raped and have experienced some form of violence once in their lifetime.

In Myanmar, two women are raped every 25 hours, according to a 2012 report. One of the two is a girl-child. The United Nations (UN) also reported that 70 per cent of women in every rape or abuse case are silent about their experience. Only 30 per cent come out in public.

Myanmar is a country where “patriarchy” (or, plainly speaking, a system where men are treated better than women) is very dominant. As we in JASS define it, patriarchy is a “systemic and institutionalized male domination and the cultural, political, economic and social structures and ideologies that perpetuate gender inequality and women’s subordination”.  As a system, patriarchy works together with other institutions such as religion, cultural beliefs, education, the state and the media. When put together, all of these systems comprise what we call the “Master’s House.”

As an ethnic woman, I experience a lot of discrimination and inequality especially in educational opportunities and decision-making. When women of Myanmar are left behind in every opportunity, we are afraid to speak out even when we experience unfairness.

‘Patriarchy’ in My Family

Women paying respect to, taking care of and obeying their husbands is rooted in our culture. In my family, my mother always listens to the decisions made by my father. She is not allowed to participate in decision-making regarding family matters. When my mother made “mistakes”, my father would beat her up and verbally abuse her several times. In my younger days, I was also afraid of my father, so I never dared to answer back or say a word.

Because of the cultural situation in our province, my mother was not able to complete her studies and only knows basic reading and writing because she spent most of her life as a housewife tending to her family and her kitchen.

Fortunately for me, I was brought up in Yangon City, the capital of Myanmar, so I had the chance to study well. I realized how important education for everyone is and I want to spend my precious time in school – not only in the kitchen. Having the opportunity to attend higher education, I am now working as social development worker.

In working for the Women’s Empowerment Program in Myanmar, I have encountered a lot of cases of domestic violence. I feel challenged whenever I hear news from our community and daily journal. I read one case of a woman who sustained a lot of injuries and went to the police station to complain. She wanted to sue her husband for having abused her but the officer only said, “Yes, madam, I understand. Can I ask you few questions? Do you have children? Think of them. Do you want them to be fatherless?” Then she could not say anything more and just went back to her home with sadness and painfulness. I really do not understand why the officer neglected the woman asking for help. Why can’t the law protect physically and mentally abused women? This is the reality of living in the Master’s House!

Myanmar Women of Today

The role of women in Myanmar is so significant and they play a vital role in our society. Nowadays, women are not only doing housework and spending time at home; there are also many women making a stand and working hard in their chosen professions. A few of them enter the world of politics to make a difference. Others are in the business arena. But there is still no guarantee of safety for women in our society. Harassment and verbal abuse and other forms of violence against women are still happening and women are being neglected.

Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in the Southeast Asia region and the challenges to women in Myanmar remains related to poverty. Problems arising from this abound – such as maternal mortality, illiteracy, violence, human trafficking, sexual harassment and unsafe migration. Violence against women is an “embedded” cultural norm and limited access to education, subjugation of women within the family, work and society in general compound the situation for the women of Myanmar.

Cultural norms and social practices continue to hinder opportunities for women for further process and development. Cultural and social norms should be flexible to women; it should change based on the circumstances in our lives. Our society needs men who respect women rather than men who “protect” or who “take care” of women.

Being a woman and a development worker I will continue dedicate my life for the most vulnerable women and I am eager to advocate and stand for transforming their lives. The good news is, I am not alone. Women of Myanmar who want change are growing in numbers. Beyond rocking the cradle, we’ll confront and smash the Master’s House together.

Julie Lun is a woman activist from Myanmar who has worked in the humanitarian field, especially for the rights of women and children since 2008. She  is one of the regional coordinating group (RCG) representatives of JASS Southeast Asia (JASS SEA). Currently, she is pursuing a master’s degree in Social Services and Development Studies at the Asian Social Institute (ASI) in the Philippines.

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