Exploited yet Loyal: The (Affective) Political Labour of Women Party Cadre in India

Tanya Jakimow

Indian political parties rely on a large number of party cadre to build and maintain a loyal base of supporters. In the Bharatiya Jananta Party (BJP)—the world’s largest political party in terms of party membership—a quarter to a third of all members are women. Women party cadre in Dehradun undertake everyday and exceptional forms of political labour, from assisting ‘voters’ gain access to state entitlements, to generating ‘social energy’ (Bedi 2016), to campaigning in elections. Much of this labour is affective, involving the engendering of sentiments: obligation, gratitude, outrage, belonging. This paper aims to provide a conceptual framework to understand these different types of labour, and the forms of political capital they generate. In doing so, I aim to reveal the ways that the male party elites appropriate the benefits of women’s affective labour, and the consequences of this appropriation for ongoing male dominance of party politics. The mechanisms that facilitate women’s exploitation are, I argue, overlooked factors in the under-representation of women in politics in India, and beyond.


Biography:

Tanya Jakimow is Associate Professor and ARC Future Fellow at the College of Asia Pacific, The Australian National University. Her current monograph is Susceptibility in Development: Micropolitics of local development in India and Indonesia (OUP, in-press). Her current project examines the pathways and barriers to women’s political representation in India and Indonesia

‘It’s not easy for women to be a politician’: Women’s political participation in post-conflict Nepal

Sarah Hewitt

The adoption of Nepal’s Final Constitution in 2015 led to the institutionalisation of a new federal state structure. Subsequent electoral laws established different gender-sensitive mechanisms for women to access political opportunities through electoral and institutional pathways. Thus, women’s representation has dramatically increased in government bodies and leadership positions across Nepal. However, while these policies and laws support women’s political participation in governance bodies, they may not capture the full picture of women’s participation, and the barriers women face in trying to access that participation. In this paper, I examine the different formal and informal enabling and constraining factors that affect women’s post-conflict political opportunities in Nepal with a focus on women in local levels of government. I focus on four key features affecting women’s participation in post-conflict Nepal: gender quotas and electoral systems, political parties, campaign financing, and patriarchal social structures. I argue that to understand how women interact with the different post-conflict pathways for representation, there must be an analysis of the broader dynamics of power. This includes addressing the material gendered inequalities and asymmetric power relations between men and women, which are fundamental in shaping opportunities for representation.


Biography:

To come

Mediated Misogyny in Japanese Politics

Dr Sally McLaren

Systemic gender inequality continues to be a major issue that is impeding social and economic progress in contemporary Japan. In particular, the scarcity of women in politics at the national level highlights the extent to which gendered hierarchies and patriarchal norms are entrenched in Japanese society. An extreme outcome of this culture of gender inequality, discrimination and sexism is misogyny – the hatred of women. This paper will argue that the role of media and the gendered nature of the media industry itself are connected to the continued exclusion of women from power in Japanese politics, as well as the extremely problematic and unfair ways women politicians are represented in Japanese media. The paper will show how the structure and patterns of this `mediated misogyny’ work to marginalise, trivialise, and stereotype political women. Examples of mainstream Japanese media practices that normalise gender binaries and perpetuate the fear of women with political power will be analysed. The paper will conclude by considering the ramifications of mediated misogyny and the important cultural role the Japanese media plays in sustaining the exclusion of women from political power.


Biography: 

Dr Sally McLaren currently tutors in Asian Studies at UNSW Sydney. Her research takes an interdisciplinary approach, focusing on gender, media and power in Japan. She is co-editor of Keeping the Peace? Feminist Challenges to Militarism, Militarization and Colonialism in Micronesia, Okinawa and Japan (Rowman & Littlefield International , forthcoming).

Patronized and Mansplained: The relationship between progressive female city assembly members and their male supporters in Tokyo

Dr Tomoko Seto

‘Sometimes I feel like complaining, “I’m not your spiritual comfort woman.’” This line is from a 2018 blog post by Sato Azusa (b. 1984), a city assembly member of Hachioji (Tokyo), referring to some of her male supporters. A member of the Social Democratic Party, Sato had garnered unusual media attention for being a ‘beautiful assembly member (bijin shigi)’ at the time of her electoral victory in 2014. The media rarely followed Sato’s activities afterwards, even though she vigorously raised policy inquiries related to gender and welfare. In her 2018 online posts that included the line above, she detailed her sufferings from ongoing harassments and announced her retirement planned in early 2019. The harassments included persistent ‘guidance,’ or mansplaining, repeated private phone calls, and online blackmailing, all from her senior male supporters on the Left. For Sato it was difficult to voice against them due to the pressure to respect her local constituents sharing her political views. Her case is indicative of intersectional obstacles involving gender, age, and power relations affecting many progressive female politicians in Japan today. Through media sources and interviews, my paper explores problematic yet less-studied experiences of female progressive local politicians in relation to their supporters.


Biography:

Tomoko Seto is Assistant Professor of Japanese history at Yonsei University, Korea. Her publications include “‘Organizing” Meiji Women: The Role of the Japanese Chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union for Individual Activists, 1900–1905,’ Women’s History Review (2017) and “‘Anarchist Beauties” in Late Meiji Japan,’ Radical History Review (2016).

Women in Politics in Asia: Rethinking participation, (under)representation and exclusion (Panel 2)

Dr Tomoko Seto, Dr Sally McLaren, Ms Sarah Hewitt, A/Prof. Tanya Jakimow

1Yonsei University, Korea, 2UNSW Sydney, Australia, 3Monash University, Australia, 4Australian National University, Australia

Chair: Tanya Jakimow

Overview:

Despite policies and initiatives to address women’s political under-representation, the problem remains entrenched in Asia, as in other parts of the world. Inequalities exist in the number of women elected or appointed at all levels from local governance to national legislatures, as well as the power they wield in auxiliary bodies such as political parties, parastatal agencies or government bureaucracies. Women who attain some degree of political power are often ‘stuck’: stuck at the grassroots, unable to advance political careers, or else stuck in high-level politics unable to generate mass support at the grassroots. When women are elected, descriptive representation does not necessarily translate into substantive representation, in which policy and legislation is responsive to women’s diverse needs and interests.

Significant scholarly work has been devoted to addressing women’s political under-representation globally. Yet theories, concepts and analytical frames to understand this enduring problem continue to be overwhelmingly drawn from the experiences and conditions of Euro-America; these are applied to Asia, but rarely derived from Asia. Together the papers in this panel seek to think the problem anew by bringing together diverse research studies examining women in politics in countries and regions of Asia.

 

Women’s political representation in Timor Leste

Sara Niner

Strong activism and leadership by women in Timor-Leste led to the introduction of electoral quotas. This was a great victory in the struggle for gender justice in the new nation but must be understood as a quantitative victory rather than qualitative or substantive participation by women in political institutions and processes. International experience has shown that quotas may have little impact on traditional inequitable gender regimes that exist within political parties, parliaments and wider society. This presentation will discuss the cultural, social and historical factors affecting women’s political representation in Timor-Leste including perceptions of women’s legitimacy to lead at both national and local council or suku level.


Biography: To come

 

Beauty and the Barrier: constraining women’s political participation in China

Louise Edwards

UNSW Sydney

The barriers inhibiting women’s participation in formal politics in China continues despite decades of CCP-led training programs, quotas and special Party structures like the All China Women’s Federation. The persistent low numbers of women in national-level political bodies suggests that the problem is as much ‘cultural’ as it is ‘structural’. The well-documented discomfort the presence of ‘women in power’ produces in western democracies is often manifest in hostile or belittling media reports. In China media discourse about political leaders is more ‘restrained’, so the marginalisation occurs primarily through trivialising women’s political authority by presenting them as the ‘aesthetic sex’—in a cultural frame where power is antithetical to beauty. I draw on recent media commentary to show that women politicians are often explained as being useful for ‘softening’ China’s international image or ‘decorating and enlivening’ the otherwise austere domestic political landscape through their beauty, style and grace. Media presentation of these idealised aesthetic attributes as intrinsic to femininity and specific to women undermines programs aimed at expanding numbers of women in formal politics. Widespread social unease about women’s public exercise of power is mollified by the replaying of reassuring notions that ‘she’s just there for decoration’.


Biography:

Louise Edwards is Scientia Professor of Chinese history at UNSW, Sydney. Her recent publications include Citizens of Beauty: Drawing Democratic Dreams in Republican China (Washington University Press, 2020) and ‘Victims, Apologies, and the Chinese in Australia,’ Journal of Chinese Overseas vol. 15 (2019).

The Woman President – Asian leaders and their legislative footprints

Ramona Vijeyarasa

UTS Sydney

This paper is a culmination of 3 years of research on the legislative footprint of the woman President: Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from the Philippines, Chandrika Bandaranaike from Sri Lanka and Indonesia’s Megawati Sukarnoputri. The goal is to offer insights on the extent to which women leaders make the lives of fellow women better. The paper begins by providing context on the institutional mechanisms by which the President influences the law-making process and the outcomes achieved by national legislative bodies. The paper then draws from an analysis of the laws enacted during the tenures of these Presidents using the Gender Legislative Index, a tool that ranks and scores legislation in terms of its  gender-responsiveness, as well as interviews conducted with 50 key informants in the three countries, with current and former members of parliament, civil society and the academy. The paper provides a multi-country comparison of the legislative achievements of the executive leaders, navigating across issues such a gender-based violence, reproductive health, labour laws, mining and taxation. The findings traverse the electoral promises made in their rise to power through to the role of these presidents as enablers or obstacles to better outcomes for fellow women.


Biography:

Dr Ramona Vijeyarasa is a Chancellor’s Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, where she has designed a “Gender Legislative Index” to assess the gender-responsiveness of legislation. She is author of Sex, Slavery and the Trafficked Women: Myths and Misconceptions about Trafficking and its Victims (2015) and more than twenty other peer-reviewed publications on law and gender justice.

Political representation and women in Vietnam: A Feminist Institutionalist analysis

Louise Chappell1, Luong Thu Hien1, Fiona McKay1, Caitlin Hamilton1, My Linh Chau1.

1UNSW Sydney

Vietnam has in place an impressive body of laws and policies designed to include women in a more meaningful way in politics. Despite this, women are represented in far fewer numbers than are their male colleagues and quotas remain unfilled. Drawing from primary qualitative data collected in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, and using a Feminist Institutionalist framework, we explore the informal rules and processes that have a detrimental impact on women’s representation in Vietnamese politics, and explain why these informal institutions have rendered the formal policies largely ineffective. We identify the specific informal institutions that hinder the progress of women across all three phases of their careers (recruitment, promotion and retirement) and offer some preliminary views of what the case of Vietnam can add to the Feminist Institutionalist body of scholarship.


Biography: 

Professor Louise Chappell is Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney. A Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and Australian Research Council Future Fellow (2010-14), Louise’s research interests are in the areas of women’s rights; gender, politics and institutions and comparative federalism and public policy.

Dr Caitlin Hamilton is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney. Caitlin’s research interests lie in gender and politics, with a focus on the UN’s Women, Peace and Security Agenda, and the intersections of popular culture and world politics – especially the everyday world politics of textiles.

Women in Politics in Asia: Rethinking participation, (under)representation and exclusion (Panel 1)

A/Prof. Sarah Cook1, Multiple Louise Chappell, Luong Thu Hien, Fiona McKay, Caitlin Hamilton and My Linh Chau Louise Chappell, Luong Thu Hien, Fiona McKay, Caitlin Hamilton and My Linh Chau1, Dr Ramona Vijeyarasa2, Professor Louise  Edwards1, Dr Sara Niner3

1UNSW Sydney,  2UTS Sydney, 3Monash University, 5Yonsei University, Korea

Chair: Tanya Jakimow

Overview:

Despite policies and initiatives to address women’s political under-representation, the problem remains entrenched in Asia, as in other parts of the world. Inequalities exist in the number of women elected or appointed at all levels from local governance to national legislatures, as well as the power they wield in auxiliary bodies such as political parties, parastatal agencies or government bureaucracies. Women who attain some degree of political power are often ‘stuck’: stuck at the grassroots, unable to advance political careers, or else stuck in high-level politics unable to generate mass support at the grassroots. When women are elected, descriptive representation does not necessarily translate into substantive representation, in which policy and legislation is responsive to women’s diverse needs and interests.

Significant scholarly work has been devoted to addressing women’s political under-representation globally. Yet theories, concepts and analytical frames to understand this enduring problem continue to be overwhelmingly drawn from the experiences and conditions of Euro-America; these are applied to Asia, but rarely derived from Asia. Together the papers in this panel seek to think the problem anew by bringing together diverse research studies examining women in politics in countries and regions of Asia.

 

ABOUT THE ASSOCIATION

The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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