Not a Wave, a Tsunami!—Part 6

Sati stone, commemorating widows who were burned on their husbands’ funeral pyres

Today we move on to looking at the situation for women in three non-Communist, non-Muslim Asian nations. I’ll consider Muslim countries separately, in another post.

Philippines

Although the Philippines is a majority Catholic country (78.8%), contraception is legal here. However, women almost never receive effective information about modern methods. For example, according to Nagai et al., most Philippine women (55.9%) reported health concerns about modern contraception, but only 2.9% received counseling addressing their concerns. Even worse, “providers frequently have inaccurate knowledge about contraceptive methods, including out-of-date information.”

Abortion is prohibited in all cases, even to save the life of the mother. Naturally, desperate women go outside the law. The World Health Organization estimates 800,000 illegal abortions in the Philippines annually.

Again, per Nagai et al, “As of 2011, one hundred thousand people ended up in the hospital every year due to unsafe abortions, according to the Philippine Department of Health, and 12% of all maternal deaths in 1994 were due to unsafe abortion. Some hospitals have refused to treat complications of unsafe abortion, or operate without anesthesia, as punishment for the patients (emphasis mine).”

As for sexual violence, according to government reports, “one in 20 Filipino girls and women (15 to 49 years old) having experienced such violence in their lifetime…17.1 percent of Filipinos aged 13 to 17 years old have experienced sexual violence, and 3.2 percent have been victims of forced…sex during their childhood.”

I think the above government statistics are a vast undercount. Compare with a 2022 Lancet article, which reports that “one in four Filipino women has experienced gender-based violence, and 41% of victims do not seek help…Through public debasing of women, condoning rape jokes and sexual remarks, openly harassing female supporters, associating femininity with weakness, and encouraging the military to ‘shoot [female communist rebels] in the vagina,’ the current administration under President Duterte personifies sexism, shaping society’s perception of women.”

The Lancet article goes on to state that “This misogyny is tolerated by many citizens, including some women of power.” No surprise here. In the United States we have had female anti-suffrage activists in the 19th century, anti-ERA and anti-abortion female activists in the 20th and 21st centuries, and at least one prominent anti-abortion activist (Abby Johnson) who also wants to take away our right to vote.

Thailand

Contraception is widely available in Thailand. Buddhism, however, like Christianity, insists that life begins at conception and forbids abortion. Although a 2022 law allows the procedure up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy, many doctors refuse to provide this service. According to a 2023 article published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, “At least 111 hospitals, both public and privately owned, are known to have refused requests to perform abortion and declined to refer the women to medical facilities that provide the operation in the past year…[in at least eight documented cases] doctors refused to perform abortion even when the women’s lives were at risk.”

Regarding domestic violence, a 2021 survey of Thai women over age 20 revealed that 75% experienced such violence, and about half those occasions were related to alcohol consumption. Should the fact that “52.5% of the women reported responding in kind” be considered a positive response? Or just a deplorably high incidence of drunken brawls?

The overwhelming majority (87.4%) of these abused women have never sought help from the authorities, either because they wanted to keep the matter private (from shame, I imagine), because they don’t know where to find help, or because they don’t believe anyone can help them.

A Thai daily, The Nation, says their country ranks among the top ten for violence against women and girls.

In a 2019 article, the Bangkok Post quoted a police chief who stated that many rape victims are underage or even small children. The same paper, in 2016, said that many lesbians in Thailand suffer “corrective rape,” often by their own relatives. Murders of queers in Thailand are discounted as “crimes of passion,” as there is no such thing as a hate crime in the legal system there.

Crimes of passion? This reminds me of the “gay panic” defense that allowed so many presumably heterosexual men in this country to get away with murdering gays.

India

India is 78.8% Hindu, and Hinduism opposes abortion except when necessary to save the mother’s life. Despite this, Indian law is progressive with regard to abortion, allowing it up to 20 weeks into the pregnancy with a doctor’s agreement. Beyond that it is permitted with two doctors signing off, under certain circumstances including rape (especially of a minor), a disabled woman, or a change in the woman’s marital status.

Sounds good, right? —except for the matter of sex-selective abortion. A 1994 law prohibited this practice, but it continues unchecked. In a 2013 paper, Dr. Sugandha Nagpal writes that child sex ratios in India have changed significantly, “from 927 females per 1,000 male children in 2001 to 914 females for a 1,000 male children in 2011.” Moreover, “since 1996 there has been emerging evidence of sex-selection among Asian immigrants in Canada, UK and USA.”

Dr. Nagpal says that in addition to abortion, two other factors contribute to these child sex ratios: female infanticide and “the denial of health care to female children in the 0-6 age group…While sex-selective abortions are increasing among higher classes, in poorer families girls experience premature death due to gendered allocation of food and inadequate access to health care.”

In a 2011 article in The Lancet, Drs. Subramanian and Corsi point out that sex imbalance at birth seems “particularly concentrated in households with high education and wealth…The financial incentive for physicians to undertake this illegal activity seems to be far greater than the penalties associated with breaking the law. The market for sex determination and selective abortion [in India] has been estimated to be worth at least US$100 million per year…”

In other words, misogyny in India is so pervasive that wealthy, educated women and poor ones are equally willing to murder their daughters. They just use different means.

As to violence against women, in a 2023 story published by the Pulitzer Center, journalists Mahima Jain and Shreya Raman cite a government survey showing that “almost one in three (31%) women in India have faced physical or sexual violence…a more common cause of ill health among women than traffic accidents and malaria combined. However, this epidemic of violence goes largely unaddressed.”

The National Library of Medicine quotes the same government survey, noting that for married women 84% of the perpetrators were their husbands.

Per the Washington Post (and many other sources), rape, and gang rape, particularly of lower-caste women by higher-caste men, are rife. The authorities pay attention only when the victim is a foreign tourist and the incident makes the foreign press.

Bride burning and widow burning, though forbidden by law, are also prevalent in India.

Bride burning occurs usually within the first three years of marriage, when a husband or members of his family murder a young bride because her family didn’t provide a sufficient dowry. A 1961 law prohibits dowries, but the custom is still widespread in India. Per a 2020 article, “In 2015, 7634 women died due to dowry harassment, representing approximately 21 cases per day in India… Common types of dowry death homicides involve fire, drowning, poisoning and hanging/strangulation.”

Hindu traditions venerate sati (or suttee), a custom whereby a widow is so devoted to her dead husband that she throws herself on his funeral pyre. In this way, she brings honor to her husband’s family. Sayantinee Bardhan, in her 2023 article, observes that this glorification became an obligation, so that between the 15th and 18th centuries, up to 1,000 women—willing or not, awake or drugged into submission—were burned alive each year. The practice was outlawed in 1987, but like bride burning and sex selective abortion, continues to this day. As Bardhan reports, “between 2000 and 2015, at least four such cases were documented… There are countless Sati incidents happening all over India that go unreported…”

I’m beyond horrified. Being burned alive is the cruelest, most painful possible way to die. Why is it that Hindu men weren’t expected to throw themselves onto the funeral pyre in their grief, if their wives predeceased them? On the contrary, they remarried. Are widows considered worthless, like garbage that should be incinerated?

Some concluding thoughts

These reports and statistics can be depressing. Nonetheless, we have to acknowledge some progress. News media, research institutions, government departments, and various organizations continue to gather information and put it out for the world to see, a first step in the path to justice. Activists keep fighting. And practices that were once widely accepted, like suttee, are at least now prohibited by law.

In the next post, we’ll move on to the Muslim world.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Privacy Policy

We do not retain any credit card information
and will not sell, lend, or otherwise transfer your
contact information to anyone, ever.