31 October 2010

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday October 27, 2010
Stereotypes still abound

Although women have made great strides in Asia, there are still many areas in which they lag far behind, most notably in political participation.

AS PART of my work, both as a columnist and as an activist, I have to read a lot.

I read to learn and to inform what I say and do.

It takes time, but it needs to be done because when you’re involved in the business of persuading people, you need a lot of information in order to stand your ground.

It so happens that this year has really been a year of gender reports.

There was the UNDP Asia Pacific Human Development Report with the theme Power, Voice and Rights: A Turning Point for Gender Equality in Asia and the Pacific, then the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report 2010 and also the Global Media Monitoring Project 2010 report that focuses on the issue of gender in the media.

These reports provide a lot of information.

For instance, the UNDP report says that although women have made great strides in Asia, there are still many areas in which they lag far behind.

There are still many “missing” girls in the birth rates of East Asian countries leading to issues of sex discrimination; 106 boys are born for every 100 girls.

In many Asian countries, between 40% and 65% of female employment is in agriculture, yet women head only 7% of farms in Asia, compared with a global average of 20%.

On the whole, the majority of Asian women are mostly in “vulnerable” employment such as in the informal economy or in low-end self-employment, subject to economic vagaries.

Furthermore, women generally earn less than men in Asia-Pacific countries, between 54% and 90% of men’s income.

When it comes to political participation, despite having had several female heads of state, women are poorly represented.

The Asia-Pacific region contains the second-lowest percentages of women parliamentarians in the world – the Arab region has the lowest.

Only about one-third of Asia-Pacific countries have a gender quota in place for Parliament.

The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap report says pretty much the same thing.

In its report on Malaysia, which ranks 98 out of 134 countries, the only areas in which women exceed men is in tertiary education enrolment and in life expectancy.

In all other areas, women still lag behind men, most notably in political participation where only 10 of our parliamentarians are female and only two women are in the Cabinet, ranking us only 110 in the world.

Also interesting is the Global Media Monitoring Project Report that looks at gender bias in news coverage all around the world and publishes its report every five years.

Generally speaking, although there have been small increases in women’s visibility in the global media over the last five years, overall, “the quantitative and qualitative evidence gathered has revealed that women are grossly underrepresented in news coverage in contrast to men … the studies have shown a paucity of women’s voices in news media content in contrast to men’s perspectives, resulting in news that presents a male-centric view of the world”.

Only 24% of the people heard or read about in the news are women.

Thus, although many countries including Malaysia, have a lot of women presenters and reporters, the reins of power in the media are often held by men who decide what news would be covered.

Women reporters are often relegated to soft stories and rarely assigned to the hard political and economic stories.

Furthermore, when experts and professionals are quoted, they are rarely women.

Instead women are often covered as victims or “ordinary” people, rarely people with special knowledge on any issue.

Given this very extreme gender imbalance in the news, it is hardly surprising that stereotypes of women abound and that gender issues are rarely covered.

As the media have a large influence on the way a society is informed and educated, the lack of coverage of women’s issues thus leads to a situation where there is a lack of awareness of those issues or, at best, only marginal interest.

Reading these reports gives you an idea of what momentous challenges still lie ahead for women everywhere, even with the achievements we have made.

While our leaders may insist that Malaysian women are in fact doing very well, when benchmarked against other countries, we realise that we really have nothing to shout about.

In the Global Gender Gap report, there are only 36 countries out of 134 who are worse off than us.

We are the lowest-ranked Asean country; the Philippines is the highest-ranked at number 9!

Gender gaps clearly have nothing to do with economic status.

Our work has to start from the evidence before us.

That is what informs and inspires us. Therefore I am puzzled as to why Puteri Umno should choose to tout the issue of sanitary pad commercials as the root of social ills.

Have they not read anything?

20 October 2010

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday October 13, 2010
An idea least likely to work

There is no point in trying to counter prejudice and hate. We need to unpack some of those beliefs about Muslims and show how untrue they are.

AS IDEAS go, this one ranks among those I would categorise as “least likely to work”. In a fit of helpfulness, our leader decided to offer the Leader of the Free World a slew of lecturers to counter Islamophobia in the United States.

In a follow-up fit of help-the-boss-itis, other leaders piped up about how great our lecturers are and how perfect they would be in countering manic hate against Islam in the US because, after all, they used to lecture there.

I do wish people would wake up from whatever drugged sleep they are under. There are just so many things wrong with this suggestion that I hardly know where to begin. But let me try.

First of all, the last people to counter prejudice of any sort are lecturers, for the simple reason that nobody likes being lectured to, least of all by foreigners espousing a religion they regard as uncivilised.

Are people like that pastor who wanted to burn Qurans seriously going to flock to listen to a lecture on Islam and then come out preaching peace and love towards Muslims? In all likelihood, our lecturers are going to preach literally to the converted.

Secondly, the assumption seems to be that if they should get an audience at all, our lecturers will be greeted with a passive one, just like our students.

But what are they going to do if they meet up with a hostile and vocal audience? What happens if all their lectures are met with demonstrators holding up the vilest placards on Islam? Call our embassy?

The truth is our people here have no idea what Islamophobia is and how it manifests itself. Islamophobes – just like Christianophobes, Hindu­phobes and Buddhistphobes – are not amenable to reason and facts but would rather delve into scurrilous beliefs.

I met someone once who asked me why Muslims liked to cut off people’s heads. That’s the sort of stuff Islamophobes like to say. No point in quoting the Quran there.

In fact, I’m not sure there is any point in trying to counter such prejudice and hate. But if we really want to, we need to unpack some of those beliefs about us and show them how untrue they are.

For instance, one of the many points held against Muslims is that we oppress our women. So the way to counter that is not to send male lecturers who will undoubtedly get defensive about this issue but to send bright young and articulate women who are doing things people don’t normally associate with Islam.

Send female fighter pilots, artists, mountain climbers, activists and the like and get them spots with the most popular talkshow hosts. There is no need to talk about religion at all; just talk about the amazing things they do. The point will be made.

Another charge often made against Muslim countries is that we are undemocratic. Here I don’t think we should even dream of trying to defend every single Muslim country in the world, least of all those which don’t have elections, jail dissidents and ban the Internet.

We should just concentrate on showing off our own record, although that record is very spotty indeed.

If we are going to send lecturers, we should at least make sure they know how to respond credibly to questions about our various laws seen as undemocratic, if that is at all possible. Perhaps training on how to talk to reporters from Fox TV might be useful.

And let us not underestimate the influence of the US media on Americans’ perceptions of Islam. While some media may try to be fair, there are many media commentators who are unashamedly Islamo­phobic, and popular because of it.

It would be ludicrous to try and counter talkhosts like Rush Lim­baugh or Glenn Beck, although it may be fun to watch one set of rabid demagogues go up against another.

The truth is: Who are we to speak for the entire Muslim world? We may say we are peaceful people but then some people from another Muslim country might blow up a few of their country folk, and our credibility along with them.

We may say we have regular elections and then someone would point at those countries ruled by ridiculously wealthy royal families. We may show off our educated women and someone would bring up the torched girls’ schools in Afgha­nistan.

So let’s forget this silly idea and instead deal with our own extremist problems at home. God knows we have enough of them and are doing precious little to counter their many phobias. Lecturers wouldn’t be any good here either.

I am curious however about one thing: When the offer was made, how did Obama respond?

01 October 2010

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday September 29, 2010
The serious side to cartoons

Cartoonist Lat has this gift of being able to sharply skewer people without seeming to do so. And this is where his lampooners can draw inspiration from.

IF THERE were anyone who is genuinely a Malaysian household name, it would be Lat. For several decades now, Lat has been the only cartoonist for most of us, making us laugh at ourselves even while he tells us some truths about ourselves.

Who can forget the way he pokes fun at our attitudes towards driving, queuing, eating and our relationships towards each other? Or the way we interpret government policies?

Lat’s characters are memorable because they are larger-than-life versions of people we are familiar with. There is the big fat teacher in her cheongsam and cat-eye glasses, the Chinese boy with the buck teeth and beansprout posture, the Sikh policeman and the ayu Malay girls with their winsome smiles and curly eyelashes.

Larger than life: Three animated vignettes of the cartoonist, entitled ‘Lat’s Window to the World’, premiered in Kuala Lumpur not too long ago, backed by live music by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.
He also draws cartoon versions of real-life characters, mostly politicians and public figures. I knew Lat from the days when I worked for a publishing house and he used to say that drawing people who are too handsome is difficult.

People need to have a defining facial feature – a prominent nose perhaps – for him to be able to do a recognisable caricature of them. Once we recognised them, we knew what he was trying to say about them. Indeed, having Lat draw you was the ultimate sign that you’d arrived.

Lat has this gift of being able to sharply skewer people without seeming to do so. He makes us see the funny side of people because we know there’s some truth in it, even when he’s saying something critical about them. For that we love him, and even those he caricatured held him in great affection.

Lat’s cartoons are in a mainstream newspaper and he’s published many books of his cartoons. So lots and lots of people read him and laughed (and sometimes cried) at his stories.

We all know what the funniest characteristics of our politicians are, as well as their quirks. We loved the Lat versions of them, even when we may not necessarily like the real-life people.

As far as I know, Lat has never gotten into trouble for his cartoons. It may be because we once had a better sense of humour, or our politicians were once more secure. But it was certainly unheard of to prosecute a cartoonist for anything.

Today we actually arrest cartoonists for sedition! Which is not only ridiculous in itself, but considering that the cartoonist in question publishes in an online subscription-only news portal, and is far from known to a lot of people, such action is a sign of paranoia gone to extremes.

Cartoonists, like columnists, are allowed to have opinions. And they do take sides. Just look at some of the mainstream political cartoonists. The assumption however is that there is only one side to take and it’s not the one contrary to the Government’s. So once a cartoonist takes a different view, then it’s all panic stations.

Yet, if you asked most people if they knew who this cartoonist was, they’d probably say they’d never heard of him. But with this fiasco, they do and are probably on the lookout for his cartoons even though his books have been banned.

What’s more, there are probably lots more aspiring cartoonists busily drawing even more cartoons for dissemination among fans right now. And none of them will be flattering.

There is a real problem with censoring writings or drawings on grounds they might be a “threat to public order”. Even worse, when the publications in question are really quite obscure, their very obscurity is proof that they have not caused any public disorder.

One of the more ridiculous recent cases was when an academic book was banned after two years in the bookstores for the same reason. It’s not a book that anyone would really read unless they were particularly interested in the subject.

If there is anything that needs censure, it’s the negative influences of mass-market publications and TV shows because they reach far bigger and more susceptible audiences.

Anyone so inclined can compile files and files of nasty articles from these publications geared to incite people to do bad things, especially to people different from them. Now if that’s not a threat to public order, I don’t know what is.

But nothing ever happens to them. That could be interpreted as the Government respecting media freedom, except that they aren’t as respectful of those who have contrary views.

And this is the silly thing. Those advocating greater tolerance and understanding, who have a clear-eyed view of the problems and present solutions, are the ones who get censured. Those who accuse and incite, don’t.

Is the world dangerously topsy-turvy or what?