International Women's Day 2017 March 8, 2017 15:23

Will you #BeBoldForChange on International Women's Day 2017? This year’s campaign calls for action to drive change and progress for women and create a “more gender inclusive” working world. This comes in light of recent projections by the World Economic Forum that—with the current state of affairs—the gender gap in workplaces will not close entirely until 2186.

In line with this year's theme, we have foregrounded women who have moved beyond the stifling limitations of gender norms and become leaders in their own right to enact groundbreaking change for their communities.

First on our list is Ann Wee (author of A Tiger Remembers: The Way We Were in Singapore), the founding mother of social work in Singapore. In 1955, she became a training office at the Social Welfare Department, responsible for counseling low-income families in their homes.

(Image courtesy of Ann Wee)

Later, Wee helped shape social work education in Singapore for undergraduates, establishing an Honours degree course for social workers. Responding to a question of what inclusivity means to her, Wee said, “(The) gender gap will close more easily if society emphasises 'parenthood' rather than just 'motherhod'. Inclusivity must include an ethos that not only gives men legal family rights, but makes it okay for them to exercise these rights.”

In the academic discipline of art history, we chatted with Sarah Tiffin, author of Southeast Asia in Ruins: Art and Empire in the Early 19th Century, who talked about female art historians she admired and their contributions to this field: “I remember that as an undergraduate in my first year of an art history degree, the work of Marcia Pointon, Linda Nochlin and Griselda Pollock was a revelation to me. Their writings taught me how to think critically, how to probe for the subtle undercurrents of meaning that lie hidden within an image. Instead of just looking at what was depicted, they taught me to ask how and why.”

(Image courtesy of Sarah Tiffin) 

Shifting our perspective to a historical one, nationalist movements within Southeast Asia tend to adopt a male centric perspective. We read about the struggles of national heroes (usually male) against imperialism and their journeys to becoming the founders of Southeast Asian nation-states. Yet, little attention is given to the role of women who toiled alongside their male counterparts.

Susan Blackburn and Helen Ting’s edited volume, Women in Southeast Asian Nationalist Movements provides a more in-depth appreciation of such hidden figures. We have put the spotlight on two key figures:

Daw San (Burma)
“Daw San”, the pen name of Ma San Youn, was a pioneering nationalist in colonial Burma. Single handedly running the popular weekly newspaper Independent Weekly as an editor and author, Daw San was known for her prolific writings, which often underscored her nationalist and feminist aspirations. Partaking in local and trans-local women’s movements, she sought to make the Burmese government and political elites more accountable to the masses.

Suyatin Kartowiyono (Indonesia)
Remembered as the leader of the women’s movement in Indonesia, Suyatin Kartowiyono organized the first Indonesian women’s congress and became the founder of the secular women’s organization Perwari. Devoting herself to the burgeoning women’s movement and nationalist movement, she became a leader in raising women’s awareness of belonging within the Indonesian nation, demanding for radical changes in Indonesian society and public policy.

For more books on/about women and their social, political and cultural impact, check out our selection of titles. Happy International Women’s Day!