Southeast Asia - Context & Strategy

JASS SEA Phenom 2012Life has become even harder for most women in Southeast Asia. As women face increasing poverty and conflict, urban NGOs are often cut off from these realities while governments are less able and willing to protect women’s rights. But some grassroots groups are organizing in large numbers. They offer the greatest promise of change, and so JASS Southeast Asia focuses on strengthening these activists and forging alliances between them. From a deep analysis of the context, JASS Southeast Asia sets out to build women’s political influence, ensure their access to resources, and protect their safety as activists.

Growing vulnerability

Natural and financial crises hit poor women hardest. To support their families, many Southeast Asian women work for low pay. Some travel to work in other areas or countries where, as migrants, they are even more easily exploited. In the face of growing poverty, increasing consumerism and debt, and collapsing communities, conflict increases across differences of class, ethnicity, gender, and religion.

The interlocking crises of recent years – in the economy, the environment, politics, and security – have worsened poverty and increased women’s vulnerability throughout Southeast Asia.

Weakened protections

Women get even less protection than before from national governments in the region. States have less power in a globalized world, as international corporations, influential governments (e.g. China and the U.S.), and bodies like the World Bank call the shots. Women’s rights and protections are undercut further as fundamentalists gain influence on government policies and systems. These conservative cultural forces prefer women to be ‘controlled’ by their families and faiths, rather than independent empowered citizens with rights.

Disconnected NGOs

A huge range and number of NGOs operate across the region, but women’s collective power and influence are limited because:

  • many urban-based NGOs are cut off from the lives and organizing of poor women,
  • international and local policies and programs tend to tackle one issue in isolation, and
  • little effort has been made to prepare a new generation of women leaders.

Mass-based organizing

Despite these challenges, grassroots women are able to mobilize street action and respond to natural disasters, particularly in Indonesia and the Philippines.

  • Young women activists, often under-resourced, use social media to debate feminist ideas and take action.
  • In rural and peri-urban communities, women build savings and trade networks that can leverage local and even national influence.
  • Indonesian women’s grassroots networks are building campaigns to mobilize people to reject products mass-produced by corporations and instead produce and buy locally.

Strategy

Since 2007, JASS SEA has been working to strengthen and mobilize primarily young women activists involved in mass-based networks in Indonesia, Timor L’este, Malaysia, Burma, the Philippines and Cambodia. These women are making a visible impact on LBTI organizing, reproductive health, economic empowerment, and land and indigenous people’s rights, through a series of initiatives at country and regional level.