There are many important themes in Jung Chang’s text, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. This text highlights family – and the love within a family – as well as loyalty, self-sacrifice and the connection of the three (family loyalty and self-sacrifice as women). As we’ve learned through reading Simon Chan’s, Grassroots Asian Philosophy, Jackie Pullinger’s Chasing the Dragons and Steve Tsang’s text, A Modern History of Hong Kong the aforementioned predominant values of Chinese culture undermine attempts for cultural change. Livermore would agree – he teaches that understanding cultural context is essential to understanding individual, family, and community behaviors. One significant historical (and to some degree present day) value of concern – not only in China but around the world – is the “role” of women (i.e. oppression of women). Chang writes a telling story of the atrocities committed against the “three daughters” in China. Several reader reviews noted that they were unable to finish the book because of the disturbing stories. However, it’s important to know the history of, and acknowledge, this oppressive/abusive behavior to help advocate for future change. It triggered my interest in the comparison of women’s rights and oppression in China/Hong Kong vs. women’s rights and oppression in Somalia (my research population). In both contexts, it’s imperative to understand the level of trauma connected to gender experiences. As I further my research on Somali refugee resettlement and resilience in Columbus, Ohio, I believe an understanding of native culture and gender trauma is imperative to understanding capacity for resilience once resettled.
How is Hong Kong fairing today with women’s rights? In many ways similar to the United States, with the exception of social attitudes – attitudes that expect women to be homemaker, mother, and caregiver to aging family members even if they are the sole breadwinner (and yes these attitudes still prevail in the U.S. but women can culturally overcome them easier than women in HK)…
The long period of British rule, combined with highly developed international financial and trading sectors, has made Hong Kong one of the most Westernized societies in Asia. Women are not necessarily expected to marry; girls generally have access to education, and the preference for boys that is prevalent in many other Asian societies is barely perceptible. Yet social attitudes remain traditional, casting women squarely in the role of homemaker and mother — even when they are also breadwinners. Women are also expected to look after elderly relatives, a phenomenon that will intensify as Hong Kong’s population ages, thanks to a low birthrate.
Just like we experienced (or are experiencing) in the U. S. all of these complex roles aren’t sustainable for one person and create dissention in marriages, career barriers, anxiety and depression. In China, neighbor and governance to Hong Kong, women are granted “rights” on paper and in law, however the value of women and women’s roles are directly connected to what benefits China…
Although the government invests resources into improving the status of women, Chinese economic and security interests far outweigh gender concerns, which are only afforded minimal interest by the state. The government advances rights for women that are deemed to be in the national interest of promoting China’s political and economic development. Thus the state has taken some steps to advance equality in education and employment. But it has not taken sufficient steps to prevent violence against women, including sexual violence, trafficking, sex-selective abortion and intimate-partner violence, which affects at least 25 percent of the population, according to the All-China Women’s Federation, a state-sanctioned quasi-nongovernmental organization.
Obviously there is a mission field and advocacy role in assessing and understanding how women feel about their roles in HK and China. Somalian’s women’s roles/rights are even more oppressive. Somali women were given the right to vote when Somalia gained independence in 1960. Women began to take interests in politics and government. There were opportunities for secondary and higher education for women, as the government increased efforts in areas of literacy and education. “The status of women improved until the collapse of the central government in 1991 when the new government eliminated legal protection of human rights of women. Women no longer stand with rights or with say in what goes on in their homes, communities, and the government.”
Somali women are expected to submit to men and to fulfill their duties as daughters, wives, and mothers. Parents usually sell their young daughters into marriage in exchange for money, especially because the country’s poor economic status. They also force their daughters to undergo a dangerous procedure known as female genital mutilation, which has high risks of physical, mental and psycho-social damages to the child. When they are taken away in marriage, their husbands become the leader of the two who is in charge of all the decision-making that goes on in the family. Many women are afraid to speak up against their husbands in cases of disagreement or abuse because they are scared of losing their possessions and children or having their husbands throw them out. By speaking out, they risk their lives and the safety of their family members.
Clearly, the Somalian experience of abuse/oppression/sexual exploitation for women is abhorrent. But Somalia is not alone in their oppression. There are varying degrees of oppression throughout the world. If you are not familiar with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/) I encourage you to take some time to read and understand its history – written and approved by all regions of the world by the United Nations in 1948. It defines fundamental human rights for all humans. As Christians, this document mirrors biblical principles and we should care that dictators/governments around the world are ignoring this document mandate. The next step to advocacy is to further educate yourself on human rights violations – and I recommend becoming a regular reader of Human Rights Watch (https://www.hrw.org/) – a non-profit organization advocating for human rights around the world. “Human Rights Watch is a nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization made up of roughly 400 staff members around the globe. Its staff consists of human rights professionals including country experts, lawyers, journalists, and academics of diverse backgrounds and nationalities.” There are opportunities to volunteer, advocate, and give to further impact the rights of all humans – after all isn’t that what Jesus called us to do? I think it is…