PHENOMENAL WOMEN

Three phenomenal women: two of them fighting valiantly in opposition parties under nominally democratic dispensations and a third nearly unknown but a bundle of energy and optimism, are sources of hope for men and women everywhere.

A boon of being one’s own boss is the ability to find time for absorbing some of the nutritious chatter in the well-funded, usually vibrant, universities in Hong Kong. Thus it was that I was in the City University of Hong Kong a few weeks ago, attending two meetings featuring some phenomenal women.

First came the Women’s Political Participation Summit organised by the National Democratic Institute, with an array of speakers led by Anna Wu, the former head of Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission, a post from which she was eased out as she tried to ensure the Commission did what it was supposed to do, namely promote respect for and observance of laws (passed by a legislature hobbled by Beijing-imposed restrictions, but that is another story). She spoke of the experience of battling the gender barrier while growing up, becoming a lawyer and entering politics, such as it is in Hong Kong under the ever present gaze of Beijing’s minders.

I knew nothing of the next speaker, Mu Sochua, a member of Cambodia’s Sam Rainsy Party and daresay few in the audience had heard of her just as few people reading these lines would have too. But she made the audience sit up and take notice, figuratively and literally!

She got up from her seat, went amidst the audience of mostly women from Hong Kong’s civil society and listed a series of situations, the kind of difficulties and harassments people in developing and mismanaged, badly governed countries are too familiar with, firing off the question, “whose politics is it”, after each of them. To say that she electrified the audience would be an understatement. She detailed her efforts at organising Cambodian women and her publicity work, including publicity for herself, with admirable frankness.

Mu Sochua (Photo courtesy her blog)

The US-educated Mu Sochua is obviously well-connected and well-qualified enough to know how to maximise exposure both at home and abroad as her website (http://musochua.org/) and blog (http://sochua.wordpress.com/) testify. Her PR sense is impeccable and was in evidence during her coffee break buttonholing of attendees. Given the straitjackets imposed by the autocratic Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime on opposition activity, it is understandable that she should choose to align with perhaps the least undesirable of the political forces in her country, one named after the maverick Sam Rainsy. For someone who has withstood enormous suffering during the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime and who today finds herself a target of the Hun Sen regime’s arbitrary decisions, she exudes amazing optimism and zeal.

Elizabeth Wong from People’s Justice Party (Parti Keadilan Rakyat – PKR) is another politician who is operating under multiple handicaps – as a woman, an ethnic Chinese in a Malay-dominated system and a human rights activist battling a culture of corruption, entitlement and, of course, arbitrary decisions by successive Malaysian prime ministers and their cronies. She has been the victim of much negative publicity following blatant invasions of her privacy, with pictures taken of her while she was asleep, and worse, being splashed across newspapers, the electronic media and the Internet. She almost threw up her hands and quit in 2009 but is bravely battling on in the PKR led by Anwar Ibrahim (himself up in arms against the current prime minister, a protégé of Anwar’s original nemesis, Mahathir Mohamed).

Elizabeth Wong (Photo from her website)

Elizabeth Wong (http://www.elizabethwong.org/site/) is still the subject of intense media scrutiny in her homeland, and she told her Hong Kong audience that what she enjoyed doing in this city was to go for a walk and have a smoke in peace. One couldn’t help sympathizing with that wish, whatever one’s stand regarding the effects of tobacco!

A couple of days later, at a discussion of death penalty in Asia, organised by Amnesty International Hong Kong, I heard someone who could have merged among students milling about City U corridors but who, it turned out worked for several years in Taiwan’s Judicial reform Foundation before being moved by the plight of innocent people on death row and took up cudgels on their behalf. Some of the cases she came across are still ongoing. What is more, the Taiwanese government has had the temerity to issue a summary apology for having executed an innocent man even as it has recently gone about speeding up executions merely because an influential singer whose daughter was tragically kidnapped and murdered has been fanatically campaigning on a hang ’em high platform.

Lin Hsinyi, Executive Director of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (http://www.taedp.org.tw/rewrite.php/tags-EN+Version.html) explains her activism saying, “the more you know about the death penalty, more you see the truth behind the inmates. I don’t have choice. I have to fight for the abolition of the death penalty.”

Lin Hsinyi (Photo courtesy AIHK)

The Taiwanese government is committed to move towards the elimination of the death penalty, even as it has revived the medieval practice. Strangely, Taipei undertook, on its own accord, to adopt the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm), although it is not allowed to be a state party to such instruments thanks to Beijing’s claim on the entire island that is home to more than 23 million people. Machinations within the ruling Kuomintang party have put paid to abolitionist efforts. It is in this context that the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of someone like Lin Hsinyi shine through.

Lin Hsinyi, Elizabeth Wong and Mu Sochua – what is remarkable about all three is their incredible optimism in the face of all the odds, their ability to face down immense obstacles on account of their gender or the prevailing unpopularity of the just causes they espouse and their dogged determination to fight on.

May their tribe increase all across Asia!

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About walkerjay

The author, N. Jayaram, a journalist now based in Bangalore after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi, was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions.
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One Response to PHENOMENAL WOMEN

  1. m says:

    inspiring, jay, and well-written…. when i get back to hong kong at end of may, i wanna be involved with anti-death penalty + human rights things… so stay in touch… keep inspiring me and others, thanks…

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