Friday 22 May 2015

Rise of Women Power (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat

Friday, May 22, 2015 - Kerala, a relatively small state in the south of India, has a “quality of life” index as high as that in many parts of Europe, despite being significantly poorer. Life expectancy is past the mid-70s,while infant mortality rates are low and overall nutrition standards adequate, unlike for other parts of a country where nearly three hundred million citizens are desperately poor. At the core of such success is the education of women. During the period when much of the state was ruled by princely families, stress was given to educating women and enabling them to participate in the workforce, besides play a decisive role within civil society.

The consequence of such gender neutrality was a better family, with children better fed and educated, besides gaining the skills needed to get by in a competitive world. Because of the dominating role of the state in the economy - owing to the adoption of the Soviet model by Jawaharlal Nehru and followed by his predecessors till 1992 - jobs were scare within India, hence several million Malayalis (or Keralites, as the people of the state are termed) migrated to other shores, mostly to the GCC countries. Because of the eighteen hundred years of contact between the Arab countries and the Malabar coast, Keralites find working in the GCC countries to be less severe a transition than those from other states. As for the local populations within the sheikhdoms, they differentiate between people from Kerala (who are termed “Malabaris”) and expatriates from other parts of India, who they call “Hindis”. 

Almost a year ago, even the feared ISIS released 39 female nurses from Kerala who were in their captivity, while refusing to do likewise with an equal number of prisoners from other parts of India, the fate of whom is uncertain. While the central government claimed credit for the rescue, the reality was that it was the “Kerala net” within the region that got to work, mediating with ISIS commanders and finally securing the release of the nurses. The role of the central government was merely to provide logistical support. Had it been government which secured the release of the 39 nurses, the other Indian citizens in ISIS captivity would have been freed as well, rather than just the Malayalis. The suppression of the female in Asia has been a contributory cause of the decline of the continent. In China, females had to bind their feet and ensure they were tiny, so that they could not even walk properly but had to move in slow, painful steps on baby feet even when they became very old. In most parts of Asia, women were treated as property,to be abused and discarded rather than protected. This noxious legacy survives in several parts of the continent, where girls are given less education than boys, when they are given any education at all. However,in those countries where women have been liberated - if not entirely, then to a considerable extent - from notions of inferiority, social indicators have looked up. In present-day China, women play an important role, although as yet they have not been adequately represented in the higher reaches of the CCP, which since the 1990s has been transformed into a collection of middle-aged men in dark suits. Of course, since the new leader, Xi Jinping, took charge, he has sought to give a more informal image, even joining other diners at unpretentious restaurants in an effort to show that the gap between leaders and led in China is not large This columnist has spent the past few days in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, although by the time this column appears, he is scheduled to be in Beijing, the capital of the world’s other superpower, China. In the first weeks of next year, the Presidential elections will take place, as they do every four years. 

The last time,the only factor which resulted in a victory for incumbent Head of State Ma Ying-jeou was the fact that his opponent, Tsai Ing-wen, was female. Several tens of thousands of male voters in Taiwan, although they were not happy with President Ma or with his party (the KMT, or Kuomintang), voted for him in 2012 nevertheless because they did not want to see a female as Head of State. This despite the fact that Tsai Ing-wen has an outstanding ecord of both public administration and public service (in a context where the first is seldom congruent with the second) and has a spotless record in public life, as indeed does Ma Ying-jeou, who if anything is a bit too much of a stickler for rules. However, more than three years later, the mood in Taiwan has changed, and those who are hardened “male supremacists” are shrinking in number. 

A majority of male Taiwanese do not differentiate on the grounds of gender between candidates, and this is likely to ensure that Tsai Ing-wen becomes the first President of Taiwan from the fair sex,beating her rival, who is likely to be from what this columnist’s high school teacher often referred to as the “Unfair Sex”, despite being from this group himself Taiwan has come a very long way since the island was a dictatorship ruled by KMT supremo Chiang Kai-shek and a group of generals who had come by sea after their defeat at the hands of the Peoples Liberation Army. 

Corruption and nepotism, crony capitalism and promotion of favourites throughout the system of governance,corroded the regime led by Chiang Kai-shek. Just as it was the German armies who ensured the coming to power of the Bolshevik Party in Russia in 1917, it was the damage inflicted by Japanese forces which so weakened the KMT that it was defeated by Mao Zedong’s forces within four years of the surrender of Japanese forces to Allied armies led by the United States. Fortunately for the Taiwanese,Chiang’s son Chiang Ching-kuo,took over from him and supervised a transition to democracy,ensuring free elections in which a native Taiwanese (rather than a settler from China) got elected, changing the chemistry of Taiwan in the process. There are some who say that democracy has “cost Taiwan growth”. What has cost Taiwan increased GDP is not democracy but a fixation with China and its markets that has led Taiwanese businesses to focus too much on that country to the exclusion of others such as India. Another is the neglect of English, which was discarded by Chiang Kai-shek because of his weak knowledge of the language. 

However, President Ma has sought to spread knowledge of the international link language within the younger generation, and it is clear that Taiwan will be on track to join (along with Singapore and Hong Kong) a 21st century Anglosphere - cultural, of course, not political - before much time. The rise of DPP Presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen in what has been a paternalistic society is testimony to the distance the people of Taiwan have travelled in becoming gender neutral, and in appreciating the fact that there cannot be significant societal and even economic progress unless there be gender equality.

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