Gender & Women's Issues in Asia

This is an archived article

January 28, 2008

Earnest promotion of women’s issues over the last few years has contributed to the improved living conditions of women and has changed hierarchical gender relations. This has also been taking effect in the various regions of Asia.

Through their social and political empowerment women have actively determined their own lives – notwithstanding traditionally inclined societies that define the general living conditions of women in Asia, often at the cost of equal and self-determined opportunities.

A conscious engagement of traditional agents, religious dignitaries, as well as men changes the relations between men and women and facilitates successive improvements to structural discriminations against women.

Fostering Active Participation

The Heinrich Böll Foundation supports initiatives that promote the active participation of women. Through educational overtures and awareness-raising programmes, such as on the legal position of Muslim women, they are involved in economic, political and social decision-making processes.

Position of Women in Afghanistan

The Afghani Foundation “Women and Children Legal Research Foundation” facilitates female judges and lawyers in the issuing and publication of scholarly documents on Afghanistan’s traditional legal practices. These legal practices are often subject to clan law.

The foundation’s work is of particular significance to the upcoming reforms of Afghanistan’s civil and criminal law, providing furthermore important incentives for broader debates on issues such as enforced marriage of girls and conflict settlements.

For the Heinrich Böll Foundation, women’s rights and democracy are inseparably linked to the support of economic, political, and social development in southeast Afghanistan. We work since many years with traditional tribal leaders, who, despite their patriarchal ascendancy, enjoy overall legitimacy. This, slowly yet steadily, brings forth positive change in broader gender justice.

Opportunities for Change Through Education

The Heinrich Böll Foundation supports the increased political participation of women from different socio-economic backgrounds for better and more gender just politics. In Cambodia the organisation SODECO prepares rural women for more active participation in elections and, to begin with, for their political engagement at the village level. In India, the cross-linking of existent political initiatives by women for the Right to Work increases their visibility at the national political level.

Afghani women parliamentarians are in regular contact with our office in Kabul so as to strengthen networks that advance contacts and organise seminars and international exchange gatherings.

Our programmes in India and China focus on the effects of globalisation on gender relations and the therewith linked prospects and risks for women. In collaboration with universities, women’s organisations and international NGOs, work is carried out for the enforcement of gender justice in the ongoing economic and social restructuring.

Women & Gender in Afghanistan

Political conflicts and social instabilities shape the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Violent acts of terrorism are augmenting, as are disparities in economic development.

Bilateral relations between these two countries are deteriorating; transboundary networks of Neo-Taliban and Al Qaida are in active operation. The international community deals with these phenomena almost exclusively by military means.

More concentrated military, political and economic efforts are necessary to stabilise Afghanistan after years of neglect, considering that formal democratic developments have not succeeded in improving the material instrumentation of the political system, nor the condition of the population.

Internal weaknesses in the political system, since early summer of 2006, have led to a drastic loss of trust by the population which could, in turn, expand into a dramatic crisis of legitimacy of the international donor community.

In the region of Afghanistan/Pakistan the Heinrich Böll Foundation supports

  • the development of democratic structures on the basis of equitable participation of all sectors of the population, with particular focus on gender justice
  • the intensification of regional communication and peaceful cooperation.

The Foundation promotes pluralistic dialogue in Afghanistan, as well as democratisation and the development of Afghani society in cooperation with traditional tribal structures. In this context, the equitable integration of women into political decision-making processes is supported, as is the political education of political activists and other members of civil society.

To reach its goal the Heinrich Böll Foundation organises events in the Kabul Green House and works in close cooperation with local project partners both in Kabul and in Southeast Afghanistan.

Thematic Focuses

Within the focus on traditional societies and democracy, the Afghani Tribal Liaison Office (TLO) organises, for example, civil society oriented educational courses for the clergy, and intercultural trainings for members of the local Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT).

So as to improve the rights of women and their political participation, the Afghani initiative Women and Children Legal Research Foundation (WCLRF) published, with support from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a survey on traditional enforced marriages of girls (“Bad”); it produced a television film and radio dramas on this topic.

Women & Gender in Cambodia

The Heinrich Böll Foundation focuses its work in Southeast Asia on Thailand, Cambodia and Burma/Myanmar. In the first two countries the Foundation has offices in Chiang Mai and Phnom Penh respectively. Work in Myanmar is overseen by the regional office in Chiang Mai.

The Southeast Asia regional programme contributes strategically to the development of participatory democracy and a responsible citizenry in Thailand, Cambodia and Burma/Myanmar. The Foundation fosters information concerned with democracy, promotes the political participation of women, and strengthens civil society initiatives.

The regional programme also contributes strategically to ecological and social sustainability by promoting

  • governance structures for sustainable energy policies in Thailand
  • management of ecological and social equity in the Mekong area
  • minority and land rights in Cambodia.

The two key aspects of the work carried out by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Cambodia are

  • Democratisation, development and the strengthening of civil society
  • Sustainable development in Cambodia.

Thematic Focuses

The emphasis in the focal area of Democratisation, development and the strengthening of civil society lies in gender politics and in strengthening the political participation of women.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation and its local partners carry out further educational measures, trainings and the development of human resources. These measures serve the purpose of systematically linking gender perspectives with project work. The political participation of women is strengthened and their access to political education, especially in local politics, is hereby increased.

Within this field, the Heinrich Böll Foundation co-operates with the NGO Association pour Solidarité, Development et Commune (SODECO), which carries out advanced training for Cambodian rural women.

The programme Sustainable Development in Cambodia comprises environmental governance, conflicts over land rights and land use.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation in Cambodia follows the “indirect democracy promotion” approach, which implies that all work is carried out in collaboration with actors from Cambodian civil society and NGOs outside of the capital city.

Women & Gender in India

The Heinrich Böll Foundation’s India office supports

  • Social and ecological aspects of globalisation
  • Democracy, human rights and social empowerment
  • Inter-religious dialogue and conflict prevention

With this, democratic structures are secured on the basis of equal participation of all sectors of society. In addition, the foundation promotes a distinctive, ecologically sustainable and socially equitable economic development.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation’s gender programme is concerned with women’s livelihood rights, gender justice and gender resources in the ongoing restructuring of the Indian economy, in the wake of globalisation.