Monthly Archives: March 2014

How do youth do direct democracy and consensus in large groups?

How do assemblies work with large groups of participants? Alejandra Machin Álvarez, a young economist, was involved with Spain’s 15-M from the beginning.[i] She describes her neighborhood assembly in Madrid as taking a lot of time and sometimes frustrating when a proposal you’ve worked hard to create is rejected. They remind themselves of the Zapatista slogan, “We go slowly, but we go far.” The assemblies emphasize mutual support networks and environmentalism, as when she shared Internet with her neighbors and gave them possessions she wasn’t using. They plan fun activities like concerts, group painting, and poetry recitals, as well as lobby for issues like anti-privatization of the water system in Madrid. About 350 people in her neighborhood first met on May 28, 2011. They decided on unanimous consensus, made workable by an organizing committee. It’s responsible for finding facilitators for meetings and “keeping things respectful.” A Communication Commission provides coordination and information between working groups whose topics include public services, housing, political and economic groups. The groups meet weekly, then take their proposals to the general assembly for approval. Her assembly insists on including direct action in proposals, such as protests, street performances or plans to stop evictions. Sometimes all the city assemblies join together, as on June 19 when all the Madrid assemblies marched through the streets to meet at the building for the Congress of Deputies to protest the Euro Pact. Other cities do the same kind of actions. The Madrid assemblies coordinate through a webpage—look at the list of commissions and working groups to see their interests.[ii]


[i] Alejandra Machin Álvarez, Neighborhood and Town Assemblies,” in Schiffrin and Kircher-Allen, pp. 126-132.

What Motivates Youth Activists in Rio, Mexico City, and Chicago?

In a study of 71 youth activists in Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City and Chicago most of them had an adult who encouraged them to think independently, helping them feel valued and respected. This support generated a strong sense of self and a sense of being different, feeling they could make a difference even though many adults assumed they weren’t capable. They described themselves as curious, restless, and feeling responsibility for their families and communities. Many were indignant about social injustices they observed, including racism and sexism. Some of them were able to involve their mothers in their political causes. Most of them were involved in leadership groups at school, but many were critical of schools as not listening to students or preparing them for their future. Some were viewed by school administration as troublemakers. They usually felt safer and more empowered in small community organizations, but not religious groups except in Rio.

Maria De Los Angeles Torres, Irene Rizzini, and Norma Del Rio. Citizens in the Present: Youth Civic Engagement in the Americas. University of Illinois Press, 2013.

A Poem by a South African Girl, Grade 11, “Dear Sister”

Dear Sister

Zinzi

Grade 11

Nkomazi, South Africa

 

Dear sister

Can you hear me?

As I break down and cry because

You no longer are with me.

I remember when we used to

Talk until the lights went out

Laying on our backs on my old bed

Where we would brag and talk about

Every neighbourhood issue that had

To do with love, boys and fashion

You had my eyes and I had your hair.

 

You were always there when I needed a shoulder to cry on

I was never there when you needed

Me the most…that I know

I can’t even hold back my tears for long

Because my heart is now tired of feeling guilty

And my inner voice just argues that you were

Wrong and I was wrong too.

I still look at those little ballerina shoes that

You used to dance around and twirl with

Before your classes each day.

The closet next to mine still has your beautiful

Scent roaming around and I sometimes stare at it

For a while…

Hoping for one thing…one thing that I can’t

Possibly have…that thing is you.

 

Dear sister as I write

My heart is no longer with me anymore

And I decided to use pen and paper

To reveal to you how much my heart is broken

And I tried using words to say this

But I guess you’ll understand better

When I write it down…

 

When you left me

You took away the most important gifts of all

And without you my smile no longer

Resided on my entire being.

When you said goodbye without telling me

I felt my shoes became so heavy the gap

Still remains.

Next to me, as I lie on my bed

I can feel you lying still with your eyes closed

I remember how beautiful you were

When you closed your eyes for a night rest…

The only thing that you managed to leave

Behind was a yellow note

With the words “I am sorry sister”

And you left

As if the words were going to tell me

Where you’ve gone

As if they were going to replace your place in my heart.

 

Dear sister

It’s hard accepting that you are gone

Because my heart just declines the thought

Of not seeing your glowing eyes as they

Shine like that was their only function.

 

So sister tell me

When are you coming back?

Coming back for me…

Just tell me how many rivers and oceans

Do I have to cross in order to reach you?

How many more times are you going to keep silent?

How many miles do I have to walk

For me to reach your destination

At least sister

Meet me halfway

Maybe try writing back…

Dear sister

Write back

And come back…home.

8 years of emails with a Chinese young man, starting as a college freshman

 I am a junior, and still have one year to compete my translation course. I do sometimes go to the classes of School of Art in my university. And I chose some selective courses of art and design. I surprisingly found that I am no less creative than the art students.  Also I have some selective courses of psychology and I have been reading about psychology all the time. We have a lot of good books of psychology in the library. Most of what I know comes from my self-study. I am actually really interested in the profession of therapist, more or less due to the enlightenment in my childhood.

 

Psychology in China is developing fast now compared with its past, yet not remarkable compared globally. When I talk about Psychology with others, I found few really know what psychology is. They regard it as mysterious and formidable, and a psychologist is like a psychic in their eyes.

 

My depression made me realize there was something not right. I couldn’t move on because of the disorder. I felt my life was in a complete chaos.

It was in fact the excellence rather than any failure that triggered the problem. I am hardworking. I am different. I am a top student. Every teacher of mine regards me as distinguished and predicts a good translator-to-be. I seem to have everything to be a good translator. But I am not happy. I used to believe that temporary hardship is rewarding, as in the future you will be successful. I am close to that and I see the future is not the way I like it to be. I questioned it is success or happiness that makes life meaningful. I know I can do well in a lot of fields because I can devote myself into them. But I asked myself, can I really see myself doing this for a whole life, would I really be happy to dedicate myself to this rather than to something that makes me happy, what do I really want to do deep inside? It was like I never truly had a life. Disobeying my heart and enjoying being miserable seem to be the pattern of my world. I found I was no less than someone who practices Buddhism, waiting for that day of nirvana.

Luckily my social psychology teacher gave a lecture on happiness instead one day in her class. She introduced professor Tal Ben-Shahar’s positive psychology theory, which much enlightened me, who had been unhappy. I suddenly saw myself more clearly and I wanted a change. I hope to live everyday of my life with happiness, hope and meaning.

Writing to you is very special for me. I am more than glad that I can help. I really appreciate you correct my mistakes so patiently. I write to you not for the correction. It’s simply because I want to. That’s what I always want to do, writing to someone at another side of the world. And it’s such an honor to write to such a brilliant professor. This is such an extraordinary experience in my life.

An Unordinary Student

I guess different is a word that can define me. Nothing can confine my thought. I am a thoughtful person. I have been different since I was a child. Everyone knows me or heard of me know I am different. Chinese people regards good results as successful, I certainly have that. But I’m special. I never yield because I have my own soul and thought. Growing up in a single family may have something to do with my character. It made me mature earlier than others. My great mother is every reason of my world. Without her and her unconditional love, everything won’t be the same.  My mother encourages me to be myself. She encourages my uniqueness and Individuality.

I used to question why I have such unordinary life. All I wanted is a normal life. I so desired I was just an ordinary person. But it’s my life that makes me so special, so different. I never yield, and I’m still struggling. Life cannot treat everyone equally. We cannot choose our life, but we always have a choice how it will be.

My thirst for the unknown may be another thing makes me different. Sometimes my classmates even get annoyed by my asking questions. I have nicknames like Mr. Why, Mr. What If, and Mr. One hundred million questions… I am not like other peers taking in whatever they are taught. I question. I want to find the truth myself.  My American English teacher found most Chinese students are trained to memorize rather than think. That is definitely true. The education is the biggest pity in China. They are not teaching you to think, to find the truth by yourself, to have your own idea, but teaching you to believe. The education system and the media are controlled by the government. They tell you 1+1=2, and they tell you Chinese Communist Party = a perfect leadership, from primary school! It’s more like brainwash. They make the political theories as textbooks and force you to memorize it, and exam you. That’s what most disgusts me of the government. But all has something to do with the Chinese culture. Thousands years profound feudal culture root may explain many things.  “Even if he/she tells me, I won’t believe the answer totally as I always do.”  I mean as I always question, I certainly will doubt whether the answer fits my life.  I like questioning. I doubt authority.

I love reading. When other children were playing with toys, I was reading books. Extensive Knowledge makes me different. The enthusiasm of western culture influences me much. I am influenced by different cultures, which makes a nontraditional Chinese. I think I am cosmopolitan.

Also I love art. I received a notional award for my painting when I was in 4th grade. I am a very imaginative person. The artistic creativity and imagination benefit me for life.

I only saw the ocean in TV. ( *_ * ) What a pity! I long to feel the ocean myself one day. Shame I never been to the seaside while I feel have an affinity for water. My Chinese name Yuan in Chinese means wellspring (of water), fountainhead, fountain, water. Wang is an adjective describing that ocean is vast. So mostly I am called Water Brother. I joked that I will found a company Water Brother to beat down Warner Brother.

 

School

The education and medical systems are rather defective in China. All the teaching virtually is all for exams. We are all defined by the exams. And whether you can go to the university you like is utterly depend on one final national exam.

Well, I saw the cheating. They either hided notes, compared answers to others’, or like you know, used their friends’ help.

I have been one of the top students ever since my primary school. I receive my education in public schools. Because of my good results and the success in the entrance exams, I don’t have to pay extra money but the basic tuition fees (If one doesn’t pass the entrance exams they have to pay a lot of money to go to certain school as the government can only allocate limited allowance for partial students.)   I have been trying to win every single scholarship as much as I can to abate the burden of my tuition. However the scholarships in China are not like those in the USA or other developed countries. It is just small part of the tuition. My mom has been financing me. I don’t know what it would be like without my mom’s support, which absolutely is not just financial. I definitely will pay her back with all I have.

The students who pass the entrance exams just have to pay the basic tuition fee. As for those who not, they have to pay certain money to the high school they want to go to. For example, if a high school sets its standard that students whose total scores of the entrance exams is no less than 500 can get the admission, then the students whose total scores is 496~499 should pay RMB 6000 to get the admission, 491~495 pay 7000, 486~490 pay 8000, 481~485 pay 9000, 471~480 pay 10000, 461~470 pay 20000, 451~460 pay 30000, …   Different schools have different standards.  But for universities, there is only one standard. If the bottom line is 500, who got 499 or less cannot get the admission anyway. (But I also heard some who have connections or money managed to go to university they want to at last.)

The nine-year compulsory education now is basically free for children. The amended Compulsory Education Law came into force in 2006. The rural areas first benefit and children have gotten free education. It’s said that all the rural areas have gotten free compulsory education. Till this year the law will ensure all the children in urban areas get free education. Still situations in different regions are different. Back at my time, the school didn’t charge very poor children for tuition. But only a few benefited. Now they don’t have to pay anything thanks to the policy.

The size of class actually varies with the local population and the difference can be wild. At my time, elementary class in my school was around 80, middle school about 70, and there were 67 students in my high school class. The class is generally oversize. It’s really hard to say the average size. An elementary school class could range from 66 to 100. The maximum size I know is 127, in Haikou City, Hainan. A middle school class could have 60 to 80 people. In 2004, 27.65% middle school classes have 56~65 students, 23.38% have more than 66 students. Most common figure for a high school class is around 80.

As for the teachers who played poker in their office, they were undoubtedly irresponsible. They just managed to have their own class done dutifully. I can’t say I could generalize this phenomenon to the whole country. But what does that say? I don’t think many teachers really love to be teachers. Some or perhaps many of them don’t pursue persistently what they really want. Maybe they couldn’t find a job so they apply to be a teacher or maybe they even don’t really know where their true potential lies. Almost half of the girls in my class took an exam to get a certificate for teaching. Only two really plan to be a teacher. I asked the others and some of them said if they couldn’t find a good job then being a teacher would be their last card, some said because their parents told them to as teacher is a secure job at least. That reflects the increasing pressure of getting a job. And somehow I can sense their anxiety under the seemingly equality. Much work still need for equality of women and men.

As a language learner, I am trained to master at least two foreign languages besides Chinese. I am learning French and Japanese.

I often dream in English but just a few times in French. My roommates often tell me I talk in English when I’m dreaming. My major is translation and interpreting, so my mission is to build all-around abilities for a competent translator. I am required of sufficient knowledge of Intercultural Communication, Economics and International Business, also acquainted knowledge of many other subjects such as tourism, advertising etc.  Having a keen interest in culture, especially western culture, I may be concentrating on culture study in my postgraduate study.

[GK: Do students travel as tourists in China during summer break or is it

too expensive?] Not many as I know. Most of us are busy with our part-time jobs, and, of course, it’s expensive for a student to travel.

It was a joke we all talked about among our classmates when we were kids that if one day we had been the chairman of China, the first thing we would do is fire the head of the Ministry of Education. We generally complained the pathetic education system of China. Absolutely the first thing I would do is to reconstruct the education department. Totally erase the disgusting CP theories lessons from the list. It wouldn’t be compulsory any more. I would encourage small class. There are 70 or more students in a class in China now. The teachers actually cannot pay attention to every student equally.  Some students are ignored.  How the educational effect is can be simply imagined.   There are enough teachers but they are not well managed, some are too busy whereas others are just setting in the offices all day or even pay poker there.   Entrance exams would not be allowed, the admission standard should be different to different students, and count on their average performance.

. In Chinese high school, I don’t think there is clear conception of clique or territory, but the famous word ” birds of a feather flock together” seems to be very true. There is no reserved territory in cafeteria. You can sit wherever you like. But some people may reserve one or two seats for their buddies if they go to lunch together. The same as we do in college now, and going to the classroom. I remember in my high school, “birds of a feather flock together.” There were “the cool,” and “the bookworms,” which I belonged to. You can see they flock after class or hang out together. Top students like me are considered as ”teacher’s pets.” I felt when those “goof-off” talked to me; they seemed to think there was a line between us, and that we were different. It was like people intangibly divided themselves to a group. Nevertheless, I always treat everyone the same. We are born equal anyway.  ( ^ _ ^ ) Ethnic minorities are almost assimilated. In most part of China, you can hardly see a distinguishing clothing style. Only in some autonomous region I suppose.  I had two classmates in high school, whose ethnic minority identity only be found by us not long before graduation.

Secondary school is all about study. We should get up very early to make it to school at 6:20, especially those who live far from school.  I suppose only Chinese students have to get up so early to school in this planet. Morning class begins at 6:30. Until 7:15, we are supposed to read loudly to memorize.  Because the exams will ask you what exactly the books say. And most of the time you have to write down exactly the answers in the books. I hate this. But to keep my scholarship I have to read sometimes. Mostly I just read quietly, I think and memorize by my comprehension. 7:15 to 8:00 is time for breakfast. 8:10 to 12:00 is class. After morning class we go home for lunch. 14:30 to 17:00 is also class. One hour for supper, then 18:00 to 22:40 is the time we self-study, do the homework; some teachers use this time to continue their class. Finally we are free, go to our warm home. Yet we need to hit the sack early to get up early. This cycle is a boring routine. It’s only during the weekend that we can manage our life ourselves. In middle school we have a two-day weekend, in high school only one—Sunday, whereas in the third year of high school which is well known as Bottom of Hell we merely get Sunday afternoon to replenish our insufficient sleep. You can see how dull the life in secondary school is. We are confined. It’s just one aspect how pitiful the Chinese education is.

Fortunately, college life is great. We usually have two or three lectures every day on weekdays; some people may have one at weekend. There is plenty of time to do what we want. Many join in different student societies.  I am a member of the IT Association, and selected to the Advanced Ballroom Dancing Class in my university.  Different people have different extracurricular activities. Some of classmates switch between their lesion and the activities, which just makes their day.  My typical day recently begins with morning class. Then usually a whole afternoon is spent in the library to absorb knowledge extensively, if the teachers don’t have much I need to be assistant with. (I’m taking a part-time job as a TA.) The library is my oyster.

In the evening I spend at least half an hour practicing ballroom dancing. I love ballroom dancing and being a member in the advanced class let me know that practice makes perfect. After getting tired I get on line, update myself with the world. It’s a fun to immerse myself in the infinite library of Internet.  Before sleep I will review English and French. I choose to live abundantly with the time I have.

 

Meaning of Life

I believe that everyone has their own life, God gives each one their unique life, and we should get the answer ourselves. We are all searching the answers of life, questions make life mysterious. How could someone know the answer of your own life? Even he/she tells me, I won’t believe totally as I always do. It’s my own duty to find the truth. Sometimes you really desperately need someone to guide you from the darkness. The one who guides you is your teacher. A good teacher is one who shed a light; he/she helps you find the answer yourself.

I am very very interested in such noetic techniques and theories. I am always seeking similar books. Already read lots of such books, I definitely find these theories tremendously helpful. I believe my spirit controls my physical condition. I am actually giving myself a medicine-free treatment for my gastric ulcer. I use meditation and hypnosis to cure myself. Hitherto I haven’t taken medicine for almost one year. I don’t have any ongoing symptoms like before. I don’t feel chronic pain any more. (Only a few times when I danced Latin too intensely. And when I got a cold the pain was kind of like a complication last time) Yogurt also helps a lot, I suppose.

Also in the most stressful high school [senior year], which is well famed as The Bottom of Hell, those techniques and theories helped me reducing a lot of stress. Funny I suddenly realize at that time my help for classmates was also sort of “life coaching.” They thought I was good at that emotion stuff and consult me with that stress, apprehension and even tension in relationship with others. I felt like a psychologist then.

What I think different is that it’s not for emotion freedom, but kind of emotion enhancing techniques. I get emotionally tougher. It is tremendous emotion power within that I feel can overcome the external world.

 

Spirituality

I am listening to the meditation CD everyday now. Amazed, I am still thinking… Before I got your instruction of meditation from the CD, I never really had any compete lesson of meditation. I must have gotten fragmentary tips but I can’t recall where. I never thought of when I began meditating and how I learned it, as if meditating is a natural ability.

There are two cartoon books by Japanese cartoonists influenced me before I can read and write–Athena’s Saints, and Sailor Moon. Athena’s Saints is a fantasia story based on the Roman and Greek mythology. Athena’s each saint warrior guards one constellation and they have special power. From the book I learned the conception that there is a “small universe” in everyone’s within (a lot like “bio-field” or “energy field” you mentioned in the CD.) This small universe is where we get our energy. And we can let the small universe within grow. The degree of the power of Athena’s saint warriors depends on their small universe. If they ‘”burn” the small universe and let it explode as much as possible, they can conquer any evil power. That resembles the “Cosmic Energy” in your CD. And instead of getting Earth Energy, the book suggests seek the infinite energy and power within.

I do know western astrology.  I got to known it before school, as a kid I was obsessed with a Japanese comic book Athena’s Saints. In the story every saint guard a constellation. I’m also Gemini, I love Gemini’s guardian star, Mercury. In Chinese Zodiac, I am tiger.  Actually the Chinese Zodiac is not astrology; it is the way that people count the years in the ancient times. They use twelve animals to mark the years, twelve years is an around.

In the other book Sailor Moon, every warrior guards one planet in the universe, and their power comes from their planets. Interestingly, I learned to feel the power and energy from the Sun, the Moon, and the Galaxy, but I never tried to feel the Earth Energy. And the prayer–I seemed to add everything together to the daily prayer. I think I was about seven or eight years old when I started doing this. I prayed every night before sleep. I beg God to grant me power and heal any of my discomfort, I imagined the power came from the universe, joining to my bio-field and enhancing it. For example–how I take care of my stomach problem–I try to feel the cosmic power enhance my energy field. I put my hand on my belly and concentrate the energy to my stomach and let it heal the ulcer and wound in my stomach.

I had perfect health when I was a child. Looking back, that’s definitely due to the meditation I did everyday. But after middle school I gave all my time to study. I did meditation less and less, and the pressure just cracked me. I still can’t go back to the same state when I did meditation at that time. I can’t concentrate like that time.

And I get that I sometimes broadened the boundary of meditation. What I did sometimes was pure imagining or self-hypnosis. I really had unusual crazy imagining ability when I was a kid. The imagining is undoubtedly a crucial part of meditation but I don’t know whether I was just imagining sometimes.  And maybe some of the practices I do to get deep relaxation can’t count as meditation. That could be self-hypnosis.

One part I adapt when I do the meditating is the “gold Sun” part. Here in Wuhan, the last thing we like to think of is the Sun now (excerpt in the freezing winter.) The climate is extreme in Wuhan (That’s why the locals here are testy and cantankerous.) So I change the “gold Sun” part to “silver Moon”, which can calm the soul in this extremely sweltering summer of Wuhan. And that let me feel cool. Maybe you could adapt a little bit in the instruction when the audience is different, considering the region and climate. It’s like ‘the localization of the meditation lesson.” what do you think? ( ^ _ ^ )

 

  Language/Slang

I never heard “put down” to refer a gay. There is no equivalence for it. But due to the movie Brokeback Mountain of Ann Lee, the first Chinese who won an Oscar for the Best Director”, the movie’s name is now slang. We say some is 断背山( Brokeback  Mountain ), if he is gay. So does 断背客 ( Brokeback Mountain boy ).  And there are less and less people use 同志 (comrade), as many people refer gay now.

We say “go to Chairman Mao,” or “go to Marx,” which means, “to die,” resembling  “to be with the angels.” We also say, “go to Heaven.”

Pig is also an offensive word in Chinese. It’s very rude to say someone is a pig, which means someone is stupid.

He is a 草包 (literally straw bag) means he is an idiot.  鸡婆 (hen) means someone is a gossip.

白眼狼 (literally a white-eye wolf) refer to an ingrate, treacherous and ruthless person.

We have a name for Michael Jordan –飞人 (flying man). head trip

Contemporary Chinese seems also not have many words to show love, just two verbs which equal to “love” and “like.” Other than that we simply add adverb to show the depth.  But ancient Chinese seems have many words for love. In comparison, I think English is more descriptive. There are many words are untranslatable to Chinese.

I do speak a dialect. Except for Beijing (Mandarin is the dialect of Beijing enacted at the founding of PRC) and few areas in Northeast China, every part of China has their local dialect. Funny that in China one’s dialect may be even a total “foreign language” for people from other places. In my dorm, my other three roommates are also from the same province, but if we speck dialect, no one will understand each other!

I find I don’t have much problem understanding the accents of people from different states in US. Is that because there are few dialects in US?  Everyone seems speak perfectly English in US except the immigrants who have strong accents. I also had some problem understanding my New Zealand teacher’s English. I do love American programs. DVDs of Discovery and are available in China and it’s one of my favorites.

 

Media and Music

I am a typical huge fan of Hollywood movies. Also American TV programs are quite intriguing. No question Friends is my favorite. Lost is too long and I don’t like the roundabout and get lost in the writer’s Byzantine layout. Kyle XY is very touching and Grey’s Anatomy is very heartfelt, and they make me know more and think more about life. No offense to Chinese movies or TV, but they are only garbage to me. I seldom watch Chinese programs since middle school. I either switched to the movie channel or turned off the TV to read.

Piano is my favorite. I prefer light music. I listen to New Age, meditation music or other light music very night before sleep and do a little meditation. I am a big fan of Mozart, collecting every CD of his music I can find. Maybe addicted to Mozart Effect, I just never get tired of Mozart. My roommates get crazy when I play the same CD over and over again( ^ _ ^ ). Of course like other peers I also like Pop, but nearly all Rock and Roll is just noise to me (some is good though.) Westlife is my favorite. Every one of their albums is a classic.

What I heard most about [in Tibet] is the riot, which is absolutely appalling. One who is in China knows a simple fact that we never get the real truth from the press. Anything involved with politics is abominably ugly. The press is the organ of the CPC. They control the TV, radio, even the Internet. Anything you see from the TV, and anything you hear from the radio about the riot, undoubtedly is like from the same voice–CPC. And of course few Chinese online forums about this matter against the CPC can be found. Most are deleted or blocked. So anyone who doesn’t know English might only know “the fact’ from the government. What they say is the Dalai Lama who is a “splittist”, and his clique instigated the riot and he continues to call on separate Tibet from China. After I heard the riot, I wanted to know more and found a video in Hong Kong Phoenix TV and I couldn’t bear to finish it. Sure lots of innocent people were hurt, with shocking death and injury. Most news is about the rebellious locals initiated the riot and inhumanly hurt non-Tibetan there, with arson, robbery.

God! They must have totally blocked the news. Never have we heard such shocking news. That is brutal! This is gonna be uglier. Of course I am always incredulous about anything they say. Like I said, they always want total control.

Except for forwarding to friends the “Mental Feng Shui” and the “interesting test”, with which I think it’s OK to be shared, all my email correspondence is quite private. And this my private email box, which I have used for years, and I haven’t shared it with others. Although the frequent annoying trouble with logging in, I suppose it’s safe. I understand the situation. Here if my thoughts go public, God knows what they will do to me. There is no absolute liberty of speech.

[GK: Are there Internet sites you can’t access?] Many.  The Internet connection is not good. But I think there is some government intervention. For example my school is using the educational server for the universities in Central China, I can’t access the Wikipedia site.

“Reactionary and immoral publication and propaganda material, indecent publication and audiovisual products are forbidden.” (One thing I can guarantee is that if anything contents something like anti-socialism, anti-CPC…  you sure won’t get it.)  But the truth is, whether you can get you package completely depends on your luck, no matter what you send. Many people complain they don’t get their mail. I heard that the people who check the packages and other post staff may “keep” our packages that are attractive to them. I didn’t know weather it is true until I can’t get the first package you sent to me.  They check everything! (One guy says they even opened the chocolates in his package.) One side of the bag was opened and sealed in a slapdash way. They broke the CD case! Thank god the CD is intact. One word—corruption!!

Generation Gap

There are many BBS so people can join the online forum they are interested in.”  There are chat groups about every topic. Everything that you can think of may be a theme of a group. Everyone can create a group about a certain topic. Others who are attracted will ask the host of the group to let them join in. Groups about hobbies, fashion, sports, IT, sciences, art….. There are also many groups about movie stars founded by their fans. The Internet is a free world. Anyone can talk anything they like. I don’t think people mostly talk about other students, teachers, or exams. About global issues, the most frequent used mentioned word would be “Bush and Iraq War,” “North Korea nuclear issue,” “Hilary Clinton” etc. I found mostly it is about politics.

One typical example shows the pop culture is not understood by the elder, is that they don’t like the pop music of Jay Chao that most young people are crazy about. Jay Chao is a pop singer in Taiwan. His pop music can really considered as a phenomenon. Probably, no one among the young people would say he doesn’t know who Jay Chao is. But the elderly may say they cannot understand a word of his songs. Chao doesn’t sing the lyrics clearly. No one would say they can totally understand what he sings without seeing the lyrics. And a lot of rap music is absolutely not the elder’s type. (I am not quite into his music, only like some of his songs.) And I’m sure not many elderly like Rock and Roll that the young like.

My mom doesn’t think her generation is rebellious. I agree. My mom is very conventional. Perhaps that’s the reason of our generation gap. More or less, there is some gap. There are many things we can’t make same agreement. (I’d say there are few people think in the way I do, not even my peers. I think differently. Even my peers think I am strange.)   Our values seem to have some diversity. It’s the thought that makes different. (But the truth is mom knows I’m always an unusual person. We understand each other and she supports me, respects my ideas.) In front of her I compromise so much because I love her so much.

There is also a rebellious generation in China. Generation gap is always a topic, especially as China undergoes a fast development. People born in 1980s seem to be very different from people born before China’s opening up and reform. I don’t understand my grandpa’s favorite Beijing opera, neither does my mom. Nor do my grandparents understand the pop music. Parents and children more or less have generation gap, too. Some of my classmates’ bizarre hairstyle and weird dress are their parents’ headache. Some may dye their hair with unusual loud color. This gap still widens. Personally, I think the most remarkable reason is parents’ high expectation of their children. As I mentioned about China’s education system, the parents concentrate too much on their children’s marks of the exams and may pay little attention to the children’s inner world. Also young people like follow pop culture that the elder may not understand. The generation gap seems tacit. It’s common.  My mom and I also have generation gap, but it doesn’t matter. (I believe love can fill up the gap.)

Everyone in my class has a QQ number. (QQ is a copy of MSN, Instant Message chatting software) We have a group of our class.  Almost all the young people do on-line chatting. Even my ten-year old cousin does. We do chat groups to exchange ideas on common interest. And there are may BBS people can join the online forum they like.

 

Friends

My best friend is Kui Wang, nick name Z. We know each other since primary school. All the ups and downs in my life he’s been there for me. I once had I a difficult time and I questioned myself. Z let me find myself and believe in myself. I really appreciate that. And that really made him an irreplaceable best friend of mine.  [GK: Is there a problem about more single males than females because of the one-child policy? Do you notice that among classmates?]

Personally, I don’t see such problem around me. On the contrary, as a matter of fact, I always find there are more females around me. Ever since primary school, there have been more females than males in the school. I only hear girls worried about finding a boyfriend.

[GK: Do university students go out as a group or do some students pair up

and go on dates as a couple?]

Mostly in couples if one has a girlfriend/boyfriend. Often you can see friends go out as a group.

 

GK: What’s the attitude about premarital sex?

I feel that our generation is quite open about this comparatively. I know my male classmates don’t care about virginity. Girls, as I know, if think they find the right person, they wouldn’t care that much.  But some insist keep their virginity until they find the one, which includes me. About premarital sex, I happened to read an article “Love, Caution” in China Daily 21 st Century Today, which talks about premarital sex among young Chinese people. Here is some data:

 

Percentage of people who had premarital sex, by age group.

 

18~21            15%

21~24           39%

24~27         58.7%

27~29            73%

Source―RENMIN UNIVERSITY 2006

 

Although people are trending to be more open, there are still people who hold a traditional view of premarital sex. They somehow regard sex as an item after marriage.  Some think virginity is holy, should save to the people that they love. I am one of those people. But not necessarily after marriage, for me sex has nothing to do with marriage, if I find the person I really love, I will follow where love leads me.

 

Want in a Wife

Benevolence is the most important quality that I expect of her. I hope she is a caring and understanding wife. And she is a confidant of mine that I can share everything with. Virtually, my mom never had a marriage, at least a successful one. My father betrayed the family before I even knew him. I grow up with my mom. Now I even have a fear of marriage. I know I will be a committed husband at the first place. And I will not get married until I find someone knows the commitments of a family.

 

Role of Women

When I first heard Riot Girl, Punk Girl, and Gal’s Power, I thought they must have been rock n’roll bands. They are leaded by young women, who are influenced by Riot Grrrl. They love punk, and are proponents of the feminist movement. Feminism is their supreme goal.  About Riot Grrrl, Punk Girl, and Gal’s Power are leaded by young women who are influenced by Riot Grrrl. These Chinese young women love punk, and are proponents of the feminist movement. Feminism is their supreme goal.   Riot Grrrl apparently was very influential. Because the carrier of their ideology is music, which is timeless and universal, without boundary. Obviously those Chinese women named their after Riot Grrrl.     “Chinese woman hold up half the sky” comes from Mao, but the leading star of the feminism movements was his wife Jiang Qin, a very ambitious woman.  She caused a stir in China, a main character of the Cultural Revolution. After the Revolution the feminism movements still went on and were very effective.  Some say all Chinese women should thank her.

I didn’t mean Jiang Qin started an organization. She was a remarkable feminist. The Culture Revolution is an eternal scar in Chinese history.  Most books seem avoid this sensitive topic. When in secondary school, the history books minimize content of it and the teacher didn’t say much. So I sought books about it. As what I read she was a feminist, undoubtedly. As the most powerful woman at her time, she was too ambitious in that she wanted to replace Mao. Some say she wanted to be a “female emperor” in China. For her political position’s sake, she tried her best to improve women’s status and spread the idea of gender equality in public. It seemed that she was an influential activist. She was once a famous actress before that. Although she failed for her totalitarianism, she immensely wakened Chinese women’s yearning for an equal, better world. She let the concept of gender equality get deeply rooted in Chinese women’s hearts. Chinese women’s awareness of their role in the society and their equal rights is a crucial reason why they can get their expected respect now.

Jiang Qing or Chiang Ch’ing, 1914–1991, Chinese Communist political leader, wife of Mao Zedong. Born Li Yun-ho, she changed her name to Lan Ping in 1938 when beginning an acting career, joining the Communist party the same year. In 1939, she married Mao Zedong and thereafter remained in the background of Chinese Communist affairs until the outbreak of the  Cultural Revolution (1966–76). Appointed deputy director (1966) of the Cultural Revolution, she incited radical youths against senior party and government officials, and replaced nearly all earlier works of art with revolutionary Maoist works. A member of the politburo (1969–76), she was one of the most powerful political figures during Mao’s last years. For her role in the Cultural Revolution she was arrested (Oct., 1976) by Hua Guofeng, Mao’s successor, and sentenced to die.      (from Encyclopedia )    She committed suicide

All the books I read that mentioned about her were almost with disfavor or even with distain. Obviously she was loathed by the whole nation and even now not many would say good about her. I never judge people and I never have the right to. But she was a person that put the whole nation in the abyss of suffering. She wanted to control everything. She used people’s belief in Mao. There is only one word I can think about that time—CRAZY. I said people believed benevolence was a virtue, but I still cannot understand the unconceivable actions in the Culture Revolution. Due to her personalized, arbitrary politics, the revolution was betrayed, was twisted; a great people were taken for granted like a herd of tame sheep; a nation was diverted from economic development to the vain rituals of court politics. If you want know more about her, I recommend the book Madame Mao: the White-Boned Demon, written by American scholar Ross Terrill. The Chinese version was published in China. I remember it is a very old book. Objectively, some feminist sympathized with her because she published the idea of gender equality.

I know in history how Chinese women’s status used to be. Before the founding of PRC (People’s Republic of China), Women and man were totally different in social status.  But nowadays I hardly hear anything about feminism movement.  Sex discrimination is not obvious.  Women in China have the same social status with men by law. As the law enables woman enjoy equal rights with man in all aspects of political, economic, culture, social and family life, they have the equal rights (Personal Property Rights) to share and possesses property and land, their status is increasing steadily. It seems that the “Chinese woman hold up half the sky” feminism movements in my grandma’s time are effective. Comparatively Chinese women’s social status is very high now.  I’m surprised when I see some old movies, woman were treated inconceivably irrespected.

However, at the rural areas where people are not well educated, women are still not treated equally. They even don’t have the sense of equality and consider themselves as the husband’s property.  That’s why there are many organizations fighting for them.  Besides All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF), Women and Children Work Committee of the State Council, there is also National Committee of Female Workers, China YWCA, China Female Entrepreneurs Association, Geological Society of China Female Workers Committee, Chinese Female Scientist Association, etc.  I also heard of some unofficial feminism organizations like Riot Girl, Punk Girl, and Gal’s Power.

But the thing is not about law or any organization. It’s about mind, about perception. The feudal ideas die hard. Some of women don’t know they are treated unequally, they think it’s natural as the way it is. They follow the feudal moral principles. They think they are property of their husband and the family, their duty is to serve the whole family.

Gender equality will be mentioned when we talk about finding a job. Despite of the law enables women have the same opportunity as man, under the same circumstance, the job interviewer may prefer to hire a male candidate.  Even some female are in favor of male.  If a woman give a birth to a girl, her status at the family may be not the same as before any more, because many mothers-in-law want male heirs. At this point, women even have sexism themselves.

One woman appeared at Forbes magazine ‘The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” as the top 2.  As the highest-ranking female member of China’s Politburo, a vice premier, State Councilor, director of the Women and Children Work Committee of the State Council, and minister of health, Wu Yi is the most powerful woman in China. She really makes Chinese woman proud. More and more women appear in political affairs. More and more women make effort.

 

Environment

In my opinion, after different policies that have been carried out, the next step, the crucial part is changing people’s view about having a child in a family. The shift of the values will play a tremendous role in the population control.

China has been taking measures about the overpopulation for many years. Most parts of China see the effect of the strict control of population and the Family Plan which urging one child one family. So far as I am concerned, the majority urban families only have one child now.

About cars, as I know most Chinese can not afford to have one, yet those who can are trying their best to get one. Some car manufacturers are trying to produce cars that people can afford. Chery recently presents a series of cars pricing RMB 26,900~45,800, which surprises many. Chery Automobile Co. not Chevy. Interesting that I heard the news that recently General Motors is going to accuse Chery for its resemblance in the name to Chevy, surely surprised us with its low price cars. Cars in China are very expensive, usually pricing more than RMB 100,000. Chery’s low price strategy has already seen a big success that last year it accomplished a sales volume of 305,200, an increase of 62% over the same period of the previous year, and had a share of 7.2% of the Chinese car market, ranking 4th in the Chinese passenger car industry. Chery has already become a famous national brand in China. We discussed about it once in my International Business class. Now many of my teachers are talking about buying a Chery. Compared with prices of Chinese-foreign jointly funded brands and overseas brands, Chery is apparently a big temptation.

[China is the world’s largest producer of the greenhouse gases and the world’s second-largest consumer of energy after the US.]

Environment Protection is being discussed everywhere in China. Even in tests we are asked about the problem, and what should be done. Also it is a question asked for long. I remember from primary school we have been learning texts and asked to write essays about environmental protection.

I can even sense the greenhouse house emission.  It’s said that as a developing country, China’s per capital energy consumption and carbon dioxide emission are both much lower than the world average at present, and it will remain so till to the end of this century. But I doubt it. Nevertheless, I know China has been taking effort to change the situation for long. Mindful of its responsibility to protect the global climate, China follows the principle of attaching equal importance to economization on energy and expansion of the energy industry, striving to raise its energy utilization efficiency and to readjust its energy structure. While developing nuclear power, China spares no effort to develop hydro-power and to promote research on and exploitation of geothermal power, solar energy, wind energy, marine energy and other new energy source so as to reduce greenhouse emission.

I hate the air quality here. Even in the suburb area you cannot get rid of the annoying air problem. There is dust everywhere. What disappoints most is the trees are even covered with dust. China is a country with coal as its main energy source. As a result, air pollution is serious in cities where industrial activities and population concentrate. Acid rain is another headache, which has occurred and the situation is worsening in some regions and cities. The Chinese has adopted measures to encourage the development of clean coal technology and clean-combustion technology to control it.

[At home during power outages] There is water stored in very large buckets in toilets. But we don’t have outhouses. Only the refectories and stores have generators.

 

Economic System

China is still a socialist country, not really encouraging capitalism. The government claims they develop socialism with Chinese characteristics, China’s own socialism. Although they are using some capitalism means of managing economics, but that’s just superficial, they won’t change the foundation of socialism. Like they encourage free market, but this “free” is certainly under the governmental intervention. Like the joint-stock reform, the government is always the key and largest shareholder. In the key areas of economics, they always hold over 50% of the share. So they still are at the controls. In one word, the government is not encouraging capitalism, they just adopt some means.

As far as I am concerned, all those problems are what China is facing during the developing. China is still taking effort. But the task is not easy.  Maoism is always there. And as China’s developing, the policies vary accordingly. Although the socialist market is under the way, free market is encouraged; certainly intervention is also there.  Everything is being tried to promote China’s economy as long as the foundation of socialism is not changed.

The expression “Little Emperors” are commonly seen in our writings, especially in primary school. We refer it to the coddled children.

China ‘s economic system is socialist market economic system, with the public ownership as the mainstay and multi-types of sectors developing side by side. The government says all kinds of components are encouraged as long as it can animate the national economy and accelerate economic growth. They certainly encourage capitalism, but under the condition that the public ownership dominates the national economy, so that the CP [Communist Party] maintains the control. The government keeps state-owned economy dominant in the national economic lifeline of the important industries and key areas. The government is still further enhancing the control of state-owned economy. The truth is that the CP is controlling every field.

People are purchasing estate in cities or suburbs like crazy now. They throw their money to the estate agencies. The price is still increasing now. My aunt wants to buy a house in Wuhan, but the price is too high. However, the government will control the situation when it goes too far.

 

Health Care

As to medical system, many poor people die because they cannot afford the cost of needed medical care. Medicine for even a common cold can cost much. Yet poor workers and farmers don’t get health care. Some will say some people have got health care. But its funny people who can afford have got it while the most deserving people have not. One of classmates went to the countryside last summer. She told me that the rural cooperative medical system is being built.  If the villagers pay RMB 10 to the cooperative medical system every year, then if they get some serious disease, they can get 30% of their bill from the system. And the children don’t have to pay tuition fees to school now.

I know my problem. It is because of stress that I got gastric ulcer and duodenal ulcer. I got it in high school, which is unusual at my age. I went to the hospitals, spent a lot of money, no signal of getting better. The charge is too high. I don’t want let my mom get burden so I gave it up. One single examination will cost more than RMB 300, one bottle of medicine (dose only for a week or two) costs about RMB 200. First gastroscopy, they told me I got a polyp in my stomach, but they said they were not sure whether it was a tumor, and told me I should go to a big hospital. Unexpectedly, the big hospital said they could not judge whether it was a tumor, too, I had to do another one. I was also asked to do an enteroscopy. I did, they could find nothing. Three months later, I did another gastroscopy, they said the polyp was smaller yet they still didn’t say it was not a tumor. Again, at the ultrasonic echo gastroscopy that charged RMB 800, they were supposed to cut the polyp when they thought it was not a tumor, but they did nothing. I couldn’t bear this any more. It’s unaffordable and every gastroscopy is unbelievably intolerable physically and emotionally.

After tried many kinds of cheap medicine in the hospital of my university, I gave up trying. It was when I read a book about aloe vera saying it can help cure ulcer that I began to try it. I bought some aloe at the flower market and ate it everyday. It worked! I didn’t feel such pain as usual. But there is side effect, it’s toxic. I can’t eat too much. Now I also use yogurt. I’m actually taking risk, I am supposed to get another gastroscopy, as the polyp may still be there, I can feel it when I get a stomach sometimes. But the hospital can’t help anyway, they are irresponsible. They don’t care you. Money is their concern. As I said, those who need the health care most cannot get it. I’m one of them. Many elderly and senior when find they got cancer commit suicide as they can’t afford the medication, especially at rural areas.

I have read loads of books about health, how to keep fit, how to relax and handle the stress, hypnotherapy, etc. I thought I might be a specialist on health one day myself, ha ( ^ _ ^ ). I know a lot theories, I know where my problem is.

But when I’m busy I forget everything. I can predict I may be a workaholic, working too hard, ignoring everything, which will kill me eventually. That is a tremendous fear. So I think I should be a scholar, academician, professor or teacher, just do the research, just keep studying. That may be good for me. I don’t think I am suitable to be a businessman. Stress will kill me. Actually my grandparents are both doctors, and I have an aunt also a doctor. I lived with my grandparents for years when I was a kid. When I started to learn to read and write, the books I could found were all about medicine. My grandparents had many books and periodicals about medicine. So I certainly got influenced and interested in medicine. They all expected me to be a doctor. But I could not bear the nightmare that a doctor’s slight carelessness may take away a patient’s life. If I hurt someone I will feel guilty all my life. I might be a psychologist but never a surgeon, I told them.

 

The Elderly

The elderly, by law, should be unconditionally taken care of by their families. Everyone has the obligation to take care of his or her old parents. So whether the rural senior citizens live a good life depend on their children. But some people don’t treat their elderly parents well. (Or realistically, many people even cannot treat themselves well in the rural areas. I heard that extreme poor people can get some allowance for their basic living, but RMB 100~200 is far more than enough, I suppose.) I asked some of my classmates from the rural areas, they said if the elderly don’t have children to them, the government will allot some allowance, but the local village government keeps part of it, the money the elderly finally get is very limited. So the truth is many of the frail elderly in the rural areas are living a miserable life. That’s why I hope the adults take more care of the old.

Home is always sweet. East or west, home is best. Being my home is being with my mom. Only one day I begin to miss her so badly. I told my mom about you. She was very glad I can be of some help. Mom is always proud of me, and I am always proud I have such a great mother.   My grandpa’s nephrolith (I guess it’s Kidney Stones in English)  went worse and had an operation. We went to the hospital to take care of him. The whole holiday is almost spent in the hospital. Relatives and friends paid a visit a lot. Grandpa was never alone in the room. The ward was full of joy rather than depression.  When everyone was there grandma started to tell the stories that she has repeated for countless times.  But we all listened carefully like it was the first time.  And this time she recalled some stories that I had not known. Like a family get-together, although it was in the ward. Felt as if it had been the New Year Eve, we shared the fruits from the fruit basket some visitors brought and all kinds of snacks. We chatted.  The warmth was in the air and the room was full of laughter. Grandpa recovered very soon and now he is at home.  It was a wonderful holiday.

My grandparents (my mom’s parents) live with my uncle. My grandparents have 5 children, my mom as the eldest, my three aunts, and my uncle the youngest. Although my grandparents live with my uncle, my mom and my other aunts also take care of them. In China, almost all the elderly live with their sons, as after daughters get married, they move to the husband’s home. But daughters also look after their parents though they don’t live with them.

 

Government

I am neutral about the Chinese government. I look at it objectively. As a new generation, I witness the development of China. I marvel at the progress that China has made in such short time. But I am also disappointed at the government with many aspects. Anyway how could it manage to manage so many things?

Tibet is always a mysterious place. Things seem to be sensitive and controversial when come across to this place. But I hardly hear any real discussion about this among my peers. It seemed that no one question things about this.  Because in their mind Tibet is no doubt a part of China no matter in the past or present. They are taught so and told so. (Well, I am always a different thinker. I won’t totally believe what the Chinese government and media say. ) Somehow I guess there may be things covered or sugar coated by the government and the media. But I don’t know which version is true. The truth is vague that makes Tibet more mysterious for me. Officially it’s an autonomous region.

As what I read before, the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) in the 13th century brought the divided Tibet under the unified rule of the central government, and then it became a part of China. The question is that, during the founding of the People’s Republic of China, whether it’s Chinese troops and communist party that saved the Tibetan people out of their ancient and cruel serfdom or Chinese troops and communist party invaded their holy land around 1950s and forced them to subjugate with violent means? Only the Tibetan people know the truth. So far as I know, there is nothing like devastating the culture. The Chinese government’s policies are favorable to the minority ethnic groups. They have many privileges at many places. Ethnic culture diversity also encouraged. All ethnics groups have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages and to preserve or reform their own customs.

The survey I mentioned last time was conducted by East China Normal University. The result of the survey appeared on many newspaper, including China Daily. The figure is three times than that the government estimated. Most Muslim in China are ethnic minorities. In the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, majorities are Hui and most of them are Muslim. I have a teacher who is Hui. She told me that all her family members are Muslim. It’s like she was born in a Muslim area.  No certain figure shows that there is really how many Muslim in China.

The polices and theories are compulsory subjects. They are everything about the CP theories, not only Marxism, Leninism, but also Maoism, Deng Xiaoping Theory, Three Representatives, and everything about their policies. They write their thoughts into books and tell you how right they are. Every time a leader comes up with a guiding ideology, they will make it a subject. In the exams they will show what they did recently, and ask you to point out what kind of theories direct them. It’s very ridiculous.

Thank you for sharing your wonderful trip of Brazil. I was shocked by the favela story. I know there are gangs everywhere, but the Brazilian gangs obviously have gone too far. How could the government just simply ignore such chaos?  I’m sure there are also gangs in China, but only few are drug dealers I suppose. Once I went to a small restaurant nearby. The owner said there is some gang there and she has to pay money to them every time they come so as not to get trouble. They told her she pays money so that they will cover her (offer her safety).

“Three Representatives” is the theory of the former chairman Jiang Zemin—the Communist Party of China must always represent the development trend of China’s advanced productive forces, the orientation of China’s advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people.

The current theory: The new chairman Hu Jintao came up with his new theory “Eight Honors and Eight Disgraces”, which shows socialist’s concept of honor and disgrace. It’s kind of communist ethics:

Honor to those who love the motherland, and shame on those who do harm to her;

Honor to those who serve the people, and shame on those who are divorced from them;

Honor to those who quest for science, and shame on those who prefer to be ignorant;

Honor to those who are hard working, and shame on those who detest having to work

Honor to those who unite and help people, and shame on those who gain at the expense of others

Honor to those who are honest and trustworthy, and shame on those who forsake good for the sake of gold;

Honor to those who are disciplined and law-abiding, and shame on those who violate laws and disciplines

Honor to those who uphold hard struggle, and shame on those who indulge in a dissipated life.

 

About sending the intelligentsias to the countryside, I don’t agree that the poor are good and the educated are bad. In my impression, I don’t think it’s my preconception, that benevolence is a very common virtue, like a belief. So sending the intelligentsias to learn the goodness from the peasants is obviously not a good excuse.   The intelligentsias at that time never stop complaining about sending them to the countryside. They call it deception. Most of them were not willing to go to the countryside, where they couldn’t make something of themselves. They call it a waste time of their life. I can imagine what a tough time they went through.   The articles I read written by the intelligentsias back then are all like “mourning for their gone tragic youth”. “In memory of our youth” appeared commonly.   I heard many stories from the elderly when I was a kid.

Due to the Culture Revolution, the universities didn’t give admission, so the graduate could not get employment. They thought knowledge was useless at that period. It’s so ridiculous that such twisted notion could be conceivable then.  Mao urged the intelligentsias to go to the rural areas was mainly because of the severe employment problem. According to biography of Mao Zhedong, Mao wanted to send the intelligentsias away to the countryside resulted from their Culture Revolution protests. It sounds like he wanted to “kick them out of the cities.” And many advocated because of their fervent belief in Mao. Others just couldn’t resist the trend.

We have compulsory military training at the first year of college. We had that for 22 days. Two weeks is the minimum. We have to get at least two week military.  Different universities take it differently. Many middle schools and high schools also adopt military training. I experienced three times. The purpose is to discipline us. They hope to enhance our awareness of national defense and collectivity, let us feel the spirits of soldiers, and cultivate patriotism. I doubt standing under the burning sun for hours and hours and following the commands like “attention”, ”right face” and “left face” can really strengthen our willpower and perseverance. “Military is military” can just not justify the inhumane elements in the military training. I saw more than three cases of students’ sudden death in newspaper because they have heart troubles. They modified the policy after the appalling news of course. But what’s the use of that?

You can find everything we do in the training in this video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ettgo4mLnzY

And you can see the result:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtydWCmVg90&feature=relatedbout the scandals

Speaking of sandal, I did read some astonishing ones on paper recently. The Finance Minister, Jin Renqing, has been forced to step down after having an affair with the mistress of another senior Communist Party official last month. Last year The Communist Party chief of Shanghai was fired in Pension Scandal and thirteen officials have been expelled from the Party. Now this year, Ling Baoheng, who was charged with taking bribes totaling 500,000 yuan (US$65,789) when he served as deputy director of the Shanghai Economic Committee, vice president of Shanghai Light Industry Holding Company (Group), and director of the Shanghai Municipal State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.

Most common scandals I heard were about some TV programs. Like Super Girls, a household name in China (actually it’s copy American Idol), recently one singer exposed that the result was unexpected was because the voting company got bribes and manipulated the voting. She said, “If you want to win, you family have to be rich.”   Even some competition like the 10th National Games, three judges took bribes and they now have a lifetime ban on judging.

People can travel at will if they have money, whether go abroad of within the country.

About the Cultural Revolution, intelligentsia was not valued at that time, because Mao thought they are detached and distant from the workers, peasants and soldiers. People had unbelievable passion of building the new China, but they ignored the objective laws of nature, they only believed faith will move mountains. They thought they could build a better world without knowledge. The most specific story I read about Jiang Qing’s suicide: (She was sentenced to death, later changed to life imprisonment.)  In prison, she once tried to kill herself by taking 50 sleeping pills after her requirement of a family get-together was refused in 1988. The next year she was diagnosed with throat cancer and taken out for medication. She refused operation; on May 14th, 1991, she committed suicide by hanging herself.

Olympics certainly urge China to improve its human rights. In 1993, China bid for the host city of 2000 Olympics Games, China lost the chance just for 2 votes. That was mainly because of the problem of human rights. When bid for the 2008 Olympics Games, China didn’t avoid this issue. The government admitted its problem and promised change the situation of its human rights in seven years before 2008. China promised it would present the world a good Olympics Games with the theme “Humanistic Olympics.” In 2004, for the first time the concept of human rights was into introduced into the Constitution. The government says being the host country 0f 2008 Olympic Games, China will take measures under the supervising of the whole world.  The government claimed that the preparation of Beijing Olympics promotes the development of China’s human rights, as the Beijing Olympics emblem, mascot and slogan, and other selections including the design of the Olympic venues are widely solicited the views of the public. Other things like they will some survey twice per year (never know what kind of survey though). But I really can’t say I sense any remarkable improvement.

Objectively, to be competent as a host country of Olympics, the government did take some measures. Last year, the trains all over the country increased speed, the quantity and the quality of roads increased. On the whole, transportation has improved. China is still updating the communication facilities for Olympics, like the facilities for 3G technology is still being built. And of course, the environment is a mainly concern. The government has shut down small-sized enterprise which were unqualified for certain standards and as they were harmful for the environment. They also encourage eco-friendly fuel, control the sum of private vehicles, and encourage people to use mass transportation and use bicycles.

 

 Religion

Students can learn about deity from parents if their parents are theists. Parents’ beliefs are very influential at this point, I suppose.   My mom is a theist, so I got influenced. But my mom believes Buddhism, whereas I am a Christian.  I believe in God since I was a child because tons of books about western world I read.   Buddhism has a tremendously deep root in China.  I reckon that there are more people believe Buddhism than any other religions among the theists.   As for Taoism, it’s like a story to us. However, I seldom hear of my classmates talking about their religious beliefs. I feel that most of my peers are atheists.   I did have a fervent Christian classmate in high school though. She disciplines herself strictly by the Bible. She carries Bible everywhere with her and goes to church regularly.  She is from rural area. She told me there are more and more Catholic churches in the rural areas and many Christians give sermons there. It’s said that within 20 years, there will be 500~600 million Christians in China.  There was a survey about religions weeks ago. My class was closed to answer the questionnaire.  I hear that the result suggests there are approximate 300 million people who are theists in China now.

Sharon Stone’s comment about the 2008 earthquake being karma for mistreatment of Tibet was totally ludicrous. Just because there was Hitler and his Nazi government, doesn’t mean we should regard all Germans as fascists and put all Germans in the Auschwitz concentration camp and execute them. If we had done that after World War II, what would be the difference between us and Nazi?  Has she ever thought of the innocent people there?  So many innocent people died and that was “karma?” Dose she mean the 69010 innocent people deserve to die for the government’s fault? She has no respect for life. This is the most tragic thing in this world, the gulf between human beings, not the catastrophes. That’s the ultimate reason of wars and other tragedies we have made ourselves. Till now most Chinese still think Japanese are all monstrous after the brutal Japanese Aggression and WW II. What do the innocent ordinary people have to do with their government’s sins?

 

 Elderly

At present, China’s aged (60 or older) account for 11% of the total population, this shows that China has entered the aging society.  The elderly largely rely on the pension insurance. Yet the pension insurance coverage is only about 15% and most migrant peasant workers are not considered. Like in Chongqing Province, pension coverage of migrant peasant workers is less than 2%.  Even Beijing’s rural pension insurance coverage is only 24.4%.  Approximately, more than 90% of the rural elderly depend on their family to take care of them by estimate. But more than 70% aged are in rural areas. I know in the city, the retiree can count on their enterprise. And most of them get medical insurance by their enterprise.  If their enterprises get bankrupt, the government helps them get pension insurance. My grandma only gets RMB 600 (about $75) monthly from her pension insurance.

 

Holidays 

In China, no other holiday is so valued as the Spring Festival (lunar New Year).  It’s just like Christmas in the west.  The Spring Festival is from lunar New Year Eve to the Lantern Festival (15 days).

October 1st is the National Day in China, we have a 7-day holiday. I plan to go home. But I don’t know whether I can get a ticket yet. Every time I go to the train station I feel I can’t breath—–too many people there. Especially, you cannot imagine what it is like when the holidays come.

In my opinion, the revival of the traditional holidays is just one step they made in the overall plan of  “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”  By reviving tradition they want to enhance people’s notion of national identity. They hope people can be nourished by the traditional culture from the folk festivals. They want the tradition penetrates into people’s real life and their beliefs. It’s more like the wish of the strengthening of the traditional values. In one way or another, I can say that they want to influence people’s ideology.

There is certainly more behind this. As I can sense, in this increasingly globalized world, people’s mind go globalized. Naturally our values of folk custom and culture are changing. (There is nothing like wrong or right I think.) Apparently there is a breach in the value of the custom between the elder members in the family and the young. There are only two people besides me went home last Tomb-Sweeping Day in my class while 44 didn’t. In fact I went home simply because I missed my mom. But the elder members in my family treat this tomb-sweeping very seriously. Not once did they not go to graveyard on that day every year.

A folk festival is not complete without the special rite; otherwise it would just be a mark in the calendar. As before they were not official holidays, not much attention could be paid to the rite on the folk festivals. They were just like ordinary days. More or less we become oblivious about the traditional festivals. Now they made them official holidays, to make people free and to feel those days are different and be more aware of the cultural connotation.

During the Tomb-Sweeping Day, many people visited the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall to mourn the victims. The Memorial Hall will let people remember the past and cherish the precious peace. In my hometown, the primary school where I studied when I was a kid organized the children a visit to the Martyrs Mausoleum. What a great chance of cultivating their patriotism. Also lots of people paid a visit to some departed celebrities’ former domicile and their museums. There were various activities that I didn’t hear about before.

Meanwhile, more holidays spread throughout the year, will do more to promote consumption and they expect to boost the tourism sector. So besides the cultural awakening, economics-promoting is a by-product.

I am heading home for the Qingming Festival, or the Tomb-sweeping Day, a traditional Chinese holiday honoring the late [DEAD] ancestors.    Following the accident ANCIENT folklore, many Chinese believe that the spirits of deceased ancestors look after the family all the time. Sacrifices of food and Mingbi (spirit money) could keep them happy, and the family would prosper

In most places in China, when a baby is one-month old, the family will hold a banquet and invite all the relatives and friends to celebrate the child’s birth. In some places, the family will shave the baby’s hair and even the eyebrow for good luck at that day. We don’t have baptism or similar ceremony. But if the family is of ethnic minorities, they may have different way to bless the baby. Like I mentioned last time, most Hui people are Muslims, they may have a different way for blessing. In China there are 55 ethnic minorities, they have their own customs.

Here is something you can add to the baby blessing, although he is yet one-year old. In some places in China, at the first birthday of the baby, the family may let the baby play a game. We put pen, musical instruments, football, basketball, books, calculator, etc. (anything you like) before the baby, and see what the baby will pick up. They like to use this game to predicate what the baby like to do in the future. Like I remember my cousin picked up pen and calculator, so they said he may be an accountant and be good at deskwork. It’s just for fun. And my grandma took photos when my little cousin picked the items. It was a beautiful moment to remember. You can try it. Like if the baby chose a football, they may think, wow, my baby will be very healthy and good at sports, if the baby picks up a musical instrument, you can tell them they will have a talented musician in the future. So far as I known, many Chinese don’t really have any religious belief, they won’t mind how you do the blessing, because they love the baby, they feel good as long as their baby get blessing. So I think baptism can also be included.

 

Historic Preservation

It’s really sad that some old houses are torn down. Boos from the public never stop. The owners of the old houses complain both the willing ones and the unwilling ones: Those who live in the old dangerous houses are willing to leave, but the demolition compensation is limited, not enough to buy a new apartment; for some the old houses are like antiques passed to them from their elders, they surly unwilling to let go. The government claimed the valued heritage won’t be hurt. After Beijing won the bid for the host city, I saw the TV news that the government would spend RMB 2 billion to repair the relics and monuments. Then I did hear some movements like the Forbidden  City was closed for a while for reparation. I think the old Beijing rhyme should be preserved. Beijing’s charm is the aged part through the history not the modern part. Anyway the modernization is changing Beijing’s face. I wonder whether I still can recognize this sage who once witnessed human being’s civilization. How should I seek the clues of the memory of this old city one day I go to study its old culture is a problem.

 

His Future

My apprehension of the future is not about finding a job. (Actually, somehow I always believe I can get a job.) My apprehension is whether my life will be the one I dreamed about in my childhood, whether I can make my mother’s life better. As I told you I’m a very imaginative person. When I was a child I always had fantasy about the future. As I am getting to the reality closer and closer, I often have the weird feeling like what if I would let myself down, what if I couldn’t fulfill my childhood dream. And the commitment that I cannot let my mother down gives me enormous pressure. My mom never thinks about get anything from me. But I’m not a selfish person that not motivated by her unconditional after everything she has done to me. It’s just a kind of strange feeling that brothers me sometimes.  Then I remind myself I have a promising future, my worry is unnecessary.

My childhood dream is that I can take my mom travel around the world. I often asked God,” Why let me be born in the wrong continent?”  I always want to be a cosmopolitan. After graduation, I hope I can get further education in the western culture study in a foreign university. Kristof, my English teacher from Belgium, said why not go to study abroad if I want to be a cosmopolitan. He came to China to study Chinese after he gradated from law school. So I am preparing for GRE and TOEFL. Hope I can get an offer from an American university. After my study, I want to start my trip around the world. Find a job there, stay for a year or two, and then go to another country.

As I said, I want travel the world. Europe is most attractive to me since it’s the birthplace of western culture. I’m dying to experience everything I read about it.  The first place I’d like to visit is Ireland. The emerald Isle is the kind of place where I want to buy a house and spend my last days. The breathtaking green and marvelous scenery is incredible. I love nature. I love green. It seems that everything is green there.

I actually think about the possibility of being a teacher sometimes, but I must become a professor first, to be knowledgeable enough to teach someone else. I think I can make a good teacher. I will be a life-long learner. I love study. I love the unknown and I have the desire to exploit it. But not until I gain sufficient knowledge would I think about teaching. To be a teacher is not easy, to be a good teacher is even more challenging. I know what an amazing job they do. I respect every teacher.

 

 

A Chinese Youth

At Mao’s time, anyone who mentioned psyche would be considered as against Communist materialism. The stopped psychology just began to revive in recent years. The current education of psychology in China is no more than duplicating the Westerns achievement. Most psychology textbooks are just the translation of the textbooks written by US professors. I just read the original books I found because I don’t need to read other translators’ works. I would have more space of development in the field of psychology. People begin to understand psychology after the devastating earthquake in Sichun when China’s short of psychologist for the post-traumatic stress.  And the development of psychology in China need young people’s contributions.

According to Prof. Huang, who is the vice president of Association of Mental Health Education and Consultation in Hubei, relationships is the major concern of the Chinese youth currently and also what bothers them most. Youth mental health is one of Prof. Huang’s major researching fields. He is teaching me Health Psychology. During his long years of consultation work with youth, he finds most of youth who consults him worries about their relationships (generally their relationships with family, friends…).   www.un.org/esa/socdev/unyin/wyr07.htm

10-1

actually wrote you an email while I was in Beijing but I didn’t send it. I was trying to calm down. Considering that I shouldn’t let the emotional surge affect my rationality, I thought it might be better to wait, until everything is over, until I have a peaceful mind again. I tried everything to be positive because I knew I may always have some bias towards CCP. I had some clash inside between my ideal and the reality. I had to reevaluate what I believed and face the truth. Growing is a painful process, in which there are unstable and immature thoughts. I wanted to tell you everything but I hesitated to express.

 

The schedule was too tight that I couldn’t blog (Moreover I hate Internet café. They are like smoking rooms! ). But I wrote journal whenever I got some free time. It was a wonderful journey of my soul, a journey of discovery. I don’t think such a long story can be told in just one email.

 

Beijing is not the cultural mecca I knew any more. The modernization has cut Beijing into a thousand-faceted diamond. It is dazzling. But I was sad I saw less of the original color behind the glow. I welcome change. However, I more like to see the historical legacy than the modern buildings. It’s disappointing that many stuff have been commercialized and lost its original flavor. Nevertheless, Beijing is ancient yet young. I am happy to see the vigorously growing city leads the developing of a country.

 

Seeing is believing. I have been trying to be an objective observer in Beijing. Now I am calm, with less indignation. Yet the disappointment is inevitable. I was incredulous about what the press says, both the foreign press and of course the tongue of CCP-the national press. Who is telling the truth? I found my answers there.

 

It was such an “honor ” to be assigned to work in the provincial government office building in Beijing. I had that precious opportunity to know the inside of the government. I know the society is complicated, but the government is more complicated than I could ever imagine. I just understood there that the essence of the feudalism still exists through thousands of years. I can’t believe it. It’s like it roots in people’s mind. All they want is domination. They want total control! They want lambs not people with their own thoughts. It’s such a pity that the bureaucracy changes people. I met all kinds of people and made a lot of good friends there. The newcomers are very nice. They are pure and “uncontaminated.” I like to get along with them. But some of the experienced officers are just hard to understand. I was afraid of them. I didn’t know which was their mask and which was their true face. I talked with some staff about how they think of the politics. It’s like tacit rules for them, if you want survive in such a society you have to adapt to it. They know the social ills perfectly yet instead of doing something to it they choose to be someone they are not. My director and I had a long talk and she told me that they don’t need independent thinkers but people who obey their control. Some of them are smart and they know what they want, and they will do anything to achieve their goal. Some just dutifully finish the job. Some are just trying to climb the social ladder rather than fulfill their self-value. I felt sick for the unnatural human relations I saw. I am proud that I had my soul intact. I remained who I am always.

 

I had to admit there myself that there is no human right or whatsoever sometimes. I believed there is always a choice. But I personally encountered the fact you just have no choice sometimes. There are a lot of things were covered during the Olympics. The Olympics is top of all priorities. Anything else is secondary and can be sacrificed. You must have heard the recent appalling scandal of China’s milk industry. They add chemical Melamine into milk so that the protein proportion appears to be higher. Many babies get kidney stones because of it. Now the whole national milk industry is in crisis as it turned out that all the manufacturers added Melamine into their dairy products according to the test. No one dare to drink milk bought in markets now. They certainly wouldn’t let out such scandals during the Games. One hotel owned by the provincial government is provided with students by schools as workers. The students, most are 16,17 or younger, work there in the name of “interns” as house cleaners or guards. They are deceived about the work condition. When they get there and find the truth most of they naturally like to leave, because their schools have contracts with the hotel whereas they don’t sign any contracts with either the hotel or their schools. But if they leave their school won’t let them graduate and the hotel won’t return their money paid earlier as deposit. They are really stuck in a dilemma. The nightmare is that they have to work there for one year doing things they don’t like everyday. Where are their human rights? Most of them are even minors.

 

There were lots of dirty things I wanted to reveal during my stay but I was too in a dilemma myself. I worked in the government and I talked to hundreds of foreign journalists everyday. What do I do? I asked myself everyday! If at that time I talked more than I should, I would shame the whole nation. But how could I just let it be pretending I saw nothing? I have been too critical with this society because I am too disappointed we lack a power of criticism. I felt so helpless when I saw people tried to “fit in” rather than change the society. Now I have totally lost my faith in CCP when they fool the people again and again.  9-15-08 I think the traditional family roles already began to sway after the New Culture Movement. The New Culture Movement in 1915, which was the basis of the May Fourth Movement, strongly scolded and devalued the Confucianism, and promoted science and democracy. It enlightened people to seek individual freedom and women’s equal rights. Lots of Western doctrines thrived at that time. Confucius’ value was trampled and labeled with “decrepit feudal doctrines” and was the focus of the criticism. The enlightenment movement shook the Confucianism, the corn foundation of the traditional value of family. But I agree that the impact of culture revolution accelerated the changes in family roles.

 

Did I tell you that a lot of middle school and high school students go to tutorials for the entrance exams? They either get private tutors or join a tutorial class, mostly in weekends or holidays. Students get instruction and practice in the subjects that they are not good at, so that they can get a higher mark in exams.  Teacher is a good job in China because during the winter and summer holidays they get a lot of chance to earn money. Many parents like their children to go to the tutorials instead of sitting at home. Rich parents may find private tutors to give their children individual instructions. A teacher revealed that he can earn RMB 20000~30000 from his tutorial class in a summer holiday, which is eight to ten times of his one mouth salary.

 

I wouldn’t be surprised by the result of the survey. However, the survey took all the samples in Nanjing, which is one of the most advanced cities second after Shanghai in Yangtze River Delta, so it would be natural that over 70% of them like to stay in Yangtze River Delta and find a job there. Unlike life in US, people here don’t have such a mobile life as Americans. Location is one of prior considerations when many Chinese students choose their colleges. We may choose a city to study there and then later it will be easier to work there. Colleges in advanced cities like Beijing and Shanghai require higher scores to control migrant waves. Clearly the governments don’t want people all go to the advanced cities. Colleges in less developed areas require low scores to encourage students to go there and promote the development there.

And based on my observation, more and more girls like to put ” a good job” before ” a good husband” in their priorities.

 

On Fri, Aug 22, 2008 at 9:16 AM, Gayle Kimball <gkimball@csuchico.edu> wrote:

Dear Yuan,

You must be on overload from all the travel and people and being around the Olympics. When things settle down, here’s my summary of an article on Adolescence in China and Japan for my never ending work on global youth book, for you to check for accuracy and add what’s missing. There’s no hurry, I just like to do something while it’s on my mind. I’m keeping my eyes on the news to see who Senator Obama will nominate for Vice President. The race with McCain is getting nasty. Thanks, auntie

 

Many children grow up in a one-child family. In China, some worry about these “Little Emperors” not being disciplined enough, but Chinese kids I surveyed point out these kids work hard to please their parents through school success which is believed to lead to a good job.

Another major influence, in China, traditional family roles were shaken up by the changes following the decade of the Cultural Revolution begun in 1966, when children were encouraged to report on their parents’ political correctness and to take leadership roles in the movement. Millions of teens left home and traveled around the country or some were sent to the countryside for re-education of their political attitudes (see the film Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. During the Cultural Revolution two intellectual city boys are sent to the countryside. The film explores the impact of the country on them, and visa versa, especially the young girl seamstress who falls in love with reading and decides to go to the city by herself.) This political zeal has been transformed into focus on economic reform, wanting to earn a lot of money, and consume trendy items.

Schools in Japan and China provide the focus for youth, as they spend more time there studying and participating in mandatory clubs. Schools also offer free physical health exams. Parents tell them doing well in school is their main job. Bullying at school is a problem discussed in the Japanese press, and mentioned by some of my Japanese survey respondents, but doesn’t seem to be a problem in China.

Many students attend after-school academies to help study for the entrance exams. It’s common to see uniformed students traveling home at dinnertime, well after regular school is over. After junior high school, students divide into academic or vocational schools depended on their entrance exams. In China, around half of students attend vocational schools, compared to around 20% in Japan. Admission to university is based on college entrance exam scores, which encourages rote memory of exam answers rather than critical thinking. More males than females attend college, unlike the US and UK where females are the majority.

 

A China Daily article about gender differences; do you agree??

Survey: Men want career; women want men

By Bao Xinyan (China Daily)

Updated: 2004-11-24 07:22

 

NANJING: Emphasis on job selection for Chinese male college students is on career prospects while women say they want to centre their plans on places where satisfactory husbands will be easy to find, a survey says.

 

The survey was conducted in Nanjing, capital of East China’s Jiangsu Province by six students from the School of Literature at Southeast University. The team consisted of two sophomores, two juniors and two seniors.

 

According to Jiao Yanwu, a junior who was the team leader, the investigation found that most students had similar choices for cities, enterprises and salaries.

 

For example, some 70 per cent of students hope to work in Yangtze River Delta cities, and more than half chose cities like Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou.

 

However, 43 per cent of male students regard individual development as the most important point in choosing their jobs, while 39 per cent chose salary and 24 per cent chose place.

 

They said they made such a choice because they believe they will have to take on heavy responsibilities for supporting their families in the future, the students wrote in the survey results.

 

Forty per cent of the young women students said that they would first think of both the salary and living standards in the workplace, while 37 per cent chose individual development. And, 22 per cent chose the convenience of finding Mr. Right as a high priority.

 

The survey team found that female students paid more attention to comfort and ease in their lives, hoping to toil in work venues that will attract excellent young men and be convenient in allowing them to find future husbands.

 

“As a female student, I can understand the result of the investigation,” said Peng Jie, a senior at the university who read about the results in a local newspaper.

 

“To choose a comfortable job with an ordinary salary is just OK for some girls,” she said. “What they need more is an excellent husband, since social competition is so fierce today.”

 

The team spent four weekends sending out 4,500 questionnaires to students in different majors at more than 20 universities and colleges in the city during September and October, including Nanjing University, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing Agricultural University and Nanjing Forestry University.

 

Altogether, 4,386 questionnaires were collected, among which 3,979 were valid.

 

The team chose 3,709 questionnaires for analysis, 1,956 from male students and 1,753 from female students, all of whom were seniors, graduate students or doctoral students.

 

Olympics

I only saw the ocean in TV. ( *_ * ) What a pity! I long to feel the ocean myself one day. Shame I never been to the seaside while I feel have an affinity for water. My Chinese name Yuan in Chinese means wellspring (of water), fountainhead, fountain, water. Wang is an adjective describing that ocean is vast. So mostly I am called Water Brother. I joked that I will found a company Water Brother to beat down Warner Brother.

*************************

[After translating at Olympics: Actually wrote you an email while I was in Beijing but I didn’t send it. I was trying to calm down. Considering that I shouldn’t let the emotional surge affect my rationality, I thought it might be better to wait, until everything is over, until I have a peaceful mind again. I tried everything to be positive because I knew I may always have some bias towards CCP. I had some clash inside between my ideal and the reality. I had to reevaluate what I believed and face the truth. Growing is a painful process, in which there are unstable and immature thoughts. I wanted to tell you everything but I hesitated to express.

 

The schedule was too tight that I couldn’t blog (Moreover I hate Internet café. They are like smoking rooms! ).But I wrote journal whenever I got some free time. It was a wonderful journey of my soul, a journey of discovery. I don’t think such a long story can be told in just one email.

 

Beijing is not the cultural mecca I knew any more. The modernization has cut Beijing into a thousand-faceted diamond. It is dazzling. But I was sad I saw less of the original color behind the glow. I welcome change. However, I more like to see the historical legacy than the modern buildings. It’s disappointing that many stuff have been commercialized and lost its original flavor. Nevertheless, Beijing is ancient yet young. I am happy to see the vigorously growing city leads the developing of a country.

 

Seeing is believing. I have been trying to be an objective observer in Beijing. Now I am calm, with less indignation. Yet the disappointment is inevitable. I was incredulous about what the press says, both the foreign press and of course the tongue of CCP-the national press. Who is telling the truth? I found my answers there.

 

It was such an “honor ” to be assigned to work in the provincial government office building in Beijing. I had that precious opportunity to know the inside of the government. I know the society is complicated, but the government is more complicated than I could ever imagine. I just understood there that the essence of the feudalism still exists through thousands of years. I can’t believe it. It’s like it roots in people’s mind. All they want is domination. They want total control! They want lambs not people with their own thoughts. It’s such a pity that the bureaucracy changes people. I met all kinds of people and made a lot of good friends there. The newcomers are very nice. They are pure and “uncontaminated.” I like to get along with them. But some of the experienced officers are just hard to understand. I was afraid of them. I didn’t know which was their mask and which was their true face. I talked with some staff about how they think of the politics. It’s like tacit rules for them, If you want survive in such a society you have to adapt to it.They know the social ills perfectly yet instead of doing something to it they choose to be someone they are not. My director and I had a long talk and she told me that they don’t need independent thinkers but people who obey their control.Some of them are smart and they know what they want, and they will do anything to achieve their goal. Some just dutifully finish the job. Some are just trying to climb the social ladder rather than fulfill their self value. I felt sick for the unnatural human relations I saw. I am proud that I had my soul intact. I remained who I am always.

 

I had to admit there myself that there is no human right or whatsoever sometimes. I believed there is always a choice. But I personally encountered the fact you just have no choice sometimes.There are a lot of things were covered during the Olympics. The Olympics is top of all priorities. Anything else is secondary and can be sacrificed. You must have heard the recent appalling scandal of China’s milk industry. They add chemical Melamine into milk so that the protein proportion appears to be higher. Many babies get kidney stones because of it. Now the whole national milk industry is in crisis as it turned out that all the manufacturers added Melamine into their dairy products according to the test. No one dare to drink milk bought in markets now. They certainly wouldn’t let out such scandals during the Games. One hotel owned by the provincial government is provided with students by schools as workers. The students, most are 16,17 or younger, work there in the name of “interns” as house cleaners or guards. They are deceived about the work condition. When they get there and find the truth most of they naturally like to leave, because their schools have contracts with the hotel whereas they don’t sign any contracts with either the hotel or their schools. But if they leave their school won’t let them graduate and the hotel won’t return their money paid earlier as deposit. They are really stuck in a dilemma. The nightmare is that they have to work there for one year doing things they don’t like everyday. Where are their human rights? Most of them are even minors.

 

There were lots of dirty things I wanted to reveal during my stay but I was too in a dilemma myself. I worked in the government and I talked to hundreds of foreign journalists everyday. What do I do? I asked myself everyday! If at that time I talked more than I should, I would shame the whole nation. But how could I just let it be pretending I saw nothing? I have been too critical with this society because I am too disappointed we lack a power of criticism. I felt so helpless when I saw people tried to “fit in” rather than change the society. Now I have totally lost my faith in CCP when they fool the people again and again.

 

Indigenous Beliefs in Other Dimensions

Malidoma Patrice Some’, from Burkina Faso, contrasts his indigenous people’s traditional beliefs with modern beliefs in his book Ritual: Power, Healing, and Community. His Dagra tribe, like others in Africa, believes that the Otherworld empowers this world, that spirits of ancestors exist in nature and people must be respectful of their presence to be healthy and fertile. In Nigeria, young people often carry charms to protect themselves from supernatural forces;[i] in South Africa striking miners carried charms in 2012 to (unsuccessfully) protect themselves against police bullets.

In addition to a supreme God, there are nature spirits, ancestral spirits, and evil spirits, as Koala described in Chapter 1. During the dry season when the people aren’t able to farm, the villagers commune with spirits through ancient ritual, storytelling, initiations, dance and music. Ritual includes sacrifice in front of shrines in a room set aside for the ancestors. Communal, family, and individual rituals are the way to stay connected to the ancestral realm. Elders know how to do them properly, serving as shamans, diviners, and healers. Some’’s grandmother was such a powerful medicine woman that his tribe believes she was able to take on the body of a dog when she got too old and feeble to walk.

The Dagra believe our spirits continue on after death, some reincarnate in a new body and others become a part of nature. Some’’s grandfather addressed him as brother because he believed his brother’s spirit returned in his grandson. The Dagra believe everyone has a life purpose, “intended to keep this cosmic order healthy.” At Some’’s own “fetal ritual hearing,” when his mother was pregnant with him, the shaman reported that he came to “carry our name across the big sea,” so Malidoma means “be friends with the enemy.” His grandfather raised him in his early years, because they believe babies and elders are closest to the Otherworld, while fathers are too young to be wise.

 

It’s not just indigenous people who believe in the spirit world and write about the information they gain on other dimensions. Dr. Eben Alexander was a rational nonbeliever, a Harvard University surgeon and professor, until he was in a comma for a week due to bacterial meningitis that attacked his brain, leaving him on life-support machines.[ii] Because his brain was out of commission for longer than in most near-death experiences, he was able to ask questions over time, assisted in his other dimensional journeys by the spirit of his dead sister. OM, as he refers to God, taught him that there are a multitude of universes [just as String Theory physics predicts and Robert Monroe’s books on astral travel describe]. The dimensions aren’t separate; he explains, “This terrestrial realm is tightly and intricately meshed within these higher worlds.” The universal essence is unconditional Love: “Love and compassion make up the very fabric of the spiritual realm.” Some evil exists because without it there could be no free will or growth. Dr. Alexander learned, “Our role here is to grow toward the Divine, and that growth is closely watched by the beings in the worlds above,” which he described as “the souls and lucent orbs” called angels. While on the other dimensions, he felt energized by prayers of his family and friends. For skeptics that consciousness exists out of body, he recommends the book Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century.

Scientists only understand about 4% of what’s in the universe, since 96% of it is mysterious invisible dark matter and dark energy. The math of Super String Theory and Information Theory indicates there are multiple dimensions (10) and multi-universes. The invisible information field of Quantum Physics and Super String Theory of mathematicians doesn’t jive with common sense (which led educated people to believe the world was flat and the earth the center of the solar system), but it’s been proven mathematically and sometimes experimentally. Tribal shamans have known about the information field and multiple dimensions for eons of time using different terms.

Quantum Mechanics, the study of sub-atomic energy, began early in the 20th Century in Germany with brilliant young physicists. Quantum physics discovered a universal field that conveys information. This enables distant effects on an electron or photon, including the mere act of observing it. A discovery called quantum non-locality found that if two electrons are paired or ”entangled” and then separated, and you change the spin on one in a distant location, the other immediately changes in response. This means the electrons didn’t communicate with a wave function, but instantaneously through an information field.

 

 

Mindfulness meditation taught in The Mindful Schools curriculum, taught to over 30,000 children, produced statistically significant improvements in behavior.[iii]  Their video titled Room to Breathe shows students practicing the technique. African-American teenage boys with high blood pressure were able to bring their blood pressure down over the four months they practiced Transcendental Meditation (a phrase or mantra is repeated about 20 minutes while sitting quietly). The teens reported that they were able to concentrate better, felt less anger and had improved relationships with others.[iv] Prisoners who learned to do Vipassana Buddhist meditation in India and Alabama had fewer disciplinary problems.[v] Filmmaker David Lynch advocates going within in mediation as a way to eliminate school violence. He recommends,

 

In today’s world of fear and uncertainty, every child should have one class period a day to dive within himself and experience the field of silence—bliss—the enormous reservoir of energy and intelligence that is deep within all of us. This is the way to save the coming generation. I have been “diving within” through the Transcendental Meditation technique for over 30 years. It has changed my life, my world.[vi]

 

Candace Pert, Ph.D., explains in Molecules of Emotion that stress causes:

 

The largely autonomic processes that are regulated by peptide flow, such as breathing, immunity, digestion, and elimination, to collapse down to a few simple feedback loops and upset the normal healing response. Meditation, by allowing long-buried thoughts and feelings to surface, is a way of getting the peptides flowing again, returning the body, and the emotions, to health.

 

Meditation involves inner listening, quieting the mind by concentrating on one thing, such as breathing in and out, or a phrase, or a picture. T.S. Eliot’s poem “Burnt Norton” reminds us to be in the “still point of the turning world, there the dance is.” The Buddha talked about this peaceful state in terms of the middle path and non-attachment. Jesus advised to be in the world, but not of it. The Dalai Lama suggested allowing the mind in meditation to be like clear water; “stay with this unfabricated mind without allowing conceptions to be generated.”


  [i] Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, ed. Adolescent Psychology Around the World.   Psychology Press, 2012, p. 63.

[ii] Eben Alexander, MD. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. Simon & Schuster, 2012.

Which Countries are Happiest?

Which Countries Are Happiest?

“Is it easy to find happiness in this 21st century, a fast moving life where one finds difficult to even find a smile on one’s face? asks Dhwani, 14, f, India. Despite their number one concern being the global economic crisis and unemployment, global youth feel happy—76% say they’re very happy even though one in three is stressed, according to a Viacom survey of 15,000 youth ages 9 to 30 from 24 countries.[i] Latin Americans and the younger respondents are especially happy. As we’ve seen, what makes young people most happy is spending time with family and 45% say their best friend is a family member. Friends also make them happy. They average over 200 online friends; three-quarters of the respondents report social media has a beneficial effect on their friendships and changes the way they think about the world. Over 80% say they always try to be positive and can accomplish anything if “I work hard enough.”

Beyond the fulfillment of basic needs, having more technology and possessions don’t lead to happiness. The WIN-Gallup International Global Barometer of Happiness surveyed 58 countries and found no relationship between income and happiness; what influences well-being is social status compared to peers.[ii] Americans who’ve spent time living with poor people living traditional lives in Africa comment on their happiness and lack of complaining, even when dealing with prolonged hunger. For example, a development expert commented in her book, “I was awestruck by the Ugandans’ ability to endure suffering and still embrace great joy.”[iii] In Havana, Cubans told me that Americans have a lot of material things, but Cubans enjoy life more, dancing, going to the beach, and spending relaxed time with family and friends. When I asked an Indian high school principal how his generation is different than teens today, retired Colonel Sekar said, “We enjoyed life better and are more at peace with failures.” Another Indian principal told me his generation had more time to play sports and enjoy life. Europeans tend to work less, have less stuff, and have more time and quality of life than Americans.

A 2012 Gallup World poll about well-being reported that Latin America stood at the forefront for positive emotions, with Panama, Paraguay and Venezuela at the top.[iv] The poll asked 1,000 people age 15 and older in 148 countries questions like “Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday? Did you feel a lot of enjoyment, physical pain, worry, sadness, stress, or anger?” Thailand and the Philippines also scored high for positive emotions. Negative emotions were highest in the Middle East and North Africa, with Iraq, Bahrain and Palestine topping that list. Singapore is very prosperous but the people were the least emotionally expressive. The countries of the former USSR also scored low on expressing emotions. Countries with greater economic suffering become unstable—on average, about two countries per year collapse into revolution.

The Gallup World poll found East Asian countries tend to have lower levels of life satisfaction that would be expected, while Latin Americans had higher levels than expected.[v] The poll found that well-being follows from good health, feeling secure and having freedom. Having a good job helps but economic factors have less impact, after basic needs are met. Few differences were found between men and women except that having children is more difficult for men and marriage is more beneficial for them, while their social connections were more important to young people.

            In Pakistan, Hassan observed that villagers are happier than wealthy urban dwellers:

 

The villagers, despite of not earning enough and facing daunting economic challenges, sleep like babies at the end of the day for multiple reasons.

A. They are tired from the day’s work and have spent lots of time in the fields. Hence, when they return home in the evenings, all they care about is a few bites of food and sleep. This is their life.

B. Their faith is strong and subtle so that they do not worry about any robbery. They have submitted their everything to Allah and believe that He will protect their well-deserved earnings. The rich are insecure about the safety and protection of their wealth, house, car, etc. which doesn’t give them the inner peace they desire. 

 

A World Happiness Report, presented to a 2012 UN conference on creating a new economic model, found that happiness is more strongly associated with community engagement, social networks, mental health, and individual freedom and lack of corruption than with money—again, once basic needs are met.[vi] In this framework, individualism and social support both are helpful. Costa Rica is an example of a happy poor country. In the Happiness Index of 170 counties, the wealthy US ranked at a low 150. An Indian man explained to an Australian woman living in India, “We Indian people, we look at the people more poor, more low, more hard than us and we be thanking God we are not them. So we are happy. But you white peoples, you are looking at the peoples above you all of the times and you are thinking, Why aren’t I them? Why am I not having that moneys and things? And so you are unhappy all of the time.”[vii]

As usual, Scandinavian countries are among the top of the list of good outcomes, among the happiest, while the lowest are poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa indicating that poverty of course diminishes life satisfaction. The UN Happiness Report advocates “adopting lifestyles and technologies that improve happiness (or life satisfaction) while reducing human damage to the environment.” Examples of taking action towards this goal, Brazilian youth in an eco-village are trained to conduct happiness surveys and practice altruism, resulting in new neighborhood activities to take action when needs are identified.[viii] Schools near San Paulo teach compassion and wellbeing, encouraging children to be “doctors of joy.”

OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) rated 36 countries on their life satisfaction,[ix] reporting that the strongest influence on well-being is high social status among peers. Other influences on satisfaction include community and civic participation, education, jobs, health, and work-life balance. The lowest satisfaction scores are in Hungary, Portugal, Turkey, Russia and Greece, again indicating that economic difficulty lowers life satisfaction. The OCED report found that happiest countries are Australia, Norway and the US. Australia has near full-employment and 71% of the people trust their political institutions, compared with the OECD average of 56% trust. Australian men had one of the highest scores for helping with family work, higher than the US and Canada. This finding is a wonderful contradiction to the old stereotype of the macho Aussie man drinking beer with his mates.

UNICEF’s large survey of about 10,000 youth in 17 countries found that in East Asia and Pacific, the young people said they are happy most of the time (52%) or sometimes (47%). The happiest were younger and urban kids, and those who live in Australia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Happiness was low in China. What makes youth happy is contact with family and friends. Youth feel sad when they’re scolded or punished as for doing poorly in school, when they’re left alone, and when thinking about death.

In Europe and Central Asia, two-thirds of the young people felt happy most of the time, more so in Western Europe (80%) than in transition countries (60%). Those in two-parent and more well-to-do families were more likely to be happy. Similar to Asian students, causes of happiness were being with friends and family, followed by doing well in school and playing or having free time. Like Asia, being scolded caused unhappiness, as did getting poor marks in school, and problems or quarrels at home. They worried most about family problems, doing badly in school, and economic problems. Other worries included the environment, politics, war and future employment. Despite their fears, 60% believe their life will be better than their parents’ lives, but only 43% believe life is better today than a decade ago, while 26% believe it is worse–especially in eastern countries.

About the same percentage of South American kids feel happy as Europeans, while one third of kids in South American don’t often feel happy. Unhappiness increases with poorer families, kids who are black or indigenous, and in the Caribbean. What upsets kids is family problems and quarrels, school problems, and money worries. The saddest news they had heard recently was about natural disasters, followed by hunger, war, child abuse, delinquency, and violence. However, 76% think the quality of their lives will be better than their parents, more than in Europe. Youth are generally optimistic.

More than 100 questions about happiness were asked of 1,280 Americans ages 13 to 24 in 2007 by the Associated Press and MTV. As for people of all ages, relationships are the greatest source of happiness in this order: spending time with family (73% say their relationship with their parents makes them happy), spending time with friends and with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Money was not high on the list, nor was sex, although 70% said they would like to be rich in the future. Having highly educated parents has a more positive effect on happiness than income. These young people report their electronic devices increase their happiness. Having spiritual beliefs is also associated with happiness (80% of those who say religion and spirituality are very important to them are happy, compared to 60% who say spirituality is not an important part of life). Comparing groups of young people, 72% of whites said they’re happy with life in general, but only 56% of blacks and 51% of Hispanics agreed. When asked to name their heroes, nearly half mentioned one or both of their parents, with Mom a bit out in front—as with our SpeakOut respondents. Most want to be married and have kids.

In general kids seem happier, as studies show they laugh a lot more than adults. Women tend to laugh more than men and men are the best laugh-getters, states Robert Province in Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. (It’s good for our health, increasing the healthy function of the tissue lining the blood vessels, reports a 2005 study at the University of Maryland.) Differences in life satisfaction aren’t much different between men and women, according to the OCED report, although women are slightly more likely to be concerned about their health and having a social support network and slightly less concerned about income.

A study of 420,000 people from 63 countries found that people who had the freedom to make their own choices claimed the highest levels of well-being.[x] The analysis revealed, “a very consistent and robust finding that societal values of [freedom and autonomy] were the best predictors of well-being,” reported study authors Ronald Fischer and Diana Boer. Freedom influences happiness, agrees a Chinese student.

 

American people are mostly comfortable with their condition. I know people from all poor and rich families; they are the same, feel happy here. But in China everyone wants to have more, so how can they happy? In the States, people mostly the same rights, it’s fair. But it’s not fair in China in school, society, organizations, or companies. It’s difficulty to get anywhere without connections. Zheyu, 20, m, Central China

 

An illustration of this equation that freedom equals happiness is the high teen suicide rates in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia, where autonomy is discouraged. Russian health experts explain that suicide happens because of rigid parenting, alcohol abuse and domestic violence. One of the few Russian child psychologists, Anatoly Severny, observed, “At home, you order, you enforce, you punish your kids instead of trying to understand them. Schools use what I call repressive pedagogic. Kids are forced to do everything.”[xi] Post-materialistic values seem to be better for child raising.

Max, a high school teacher in the Ukraine, told me that, in contrast to Russia, every school in his country has a psychologist, albeit low paid. Teachers meet regularly to discuss their students’ progress and hear reports from the psychologist about at-risk students. The same teacher stays with elementary school students for four years. As a master teacher, he supervises a group of around 400 students from grade 7 until they graduate, so he gets to know them very well. Parents contact him about their concerns, and he organizes trips and he talks with his students. He works to make his group a team and therefore he doesn’t find bullying or depression to be a problem. At-risk kids (such as those with addict parents) are encouraged to stay involved in activities like sports and school clubs. Other support systems for families are free kindergarten at age three, free school lunches, and free medical care and mandatory pre-natal checkups. If necessary a local doctor will come to the pregnant woman to check on her health.

If very unhappy Sandy Hook Elementary school shooter Adam Lana had this kind of teacher attention, the tragedy might never have happened. To help students, school districts in various states in the US teach Social and Emotion Learning, SEL.[xii] As in the Ukraine, students have an adult advisor plus a discussion group of peers. Students learn to express and handle difficult emotions, resolve conflict, and engage in role-playing to learn empathy. Studies of students in SEL programs find they have higher self-esteem, less depression and anxiety, and less disruptive behavior, as well as higher standardized test scores. Indian Principal Sekar uses SEL in his school as well as he advocates holistic and progressive education in an era when the industrial assembly line model isn’t relevant. In his school newsletter he wrote, “As schools adapt and evolve to make themselves relevant and contextual, socio-emotional learning will acquire pride of place, more than books, curriculum and marks.” However, he said parents and the community aren’t yet ready for this trend.

In a movement away from zero tolerance of misbehavior using punitive suspension, expulsion, and police explained in Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse by Annette Fuentes (2013) and Youth in Revolt by Henry Giroux (2012), US schools are teaching staff and students how to succeed. They learn conflict resolution, empathy, peer mediation and communication skills. These programs include Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS), Safe and Civil Schools, Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS), and Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools (HEARTS).[xiii]


[i] “The Next Normal,” Viacom Media Networks. This market study claims to be the “broadest single study of Millennials to date” and the first “truly global portrait.” 2012. Analyzed 15,000 youth ages 9 to 30 in 24 countries.

http://www.viacom.com/news/Pages/newstext.aspx?RID=721468

[ii]  Mary Rauto, “Survey Rates Fiji as the Happiest Country,” the Fiji Times Online, January 20, 2012. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=191256

[iii] Jacqueline Novogratz. The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World. Rodale Press, 2009, p. 19.

[iv] Jon Clifton, “Latin Americans Most Positive in the World,” Gallup World, December 19, 2012. http://www.gallup.com/poll/159254/latin-americans-positive-world.aspx

[v] Romina Boarini, et al., “What Makes for a Better Life?,” OECK Publishing, march 2012.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5k9b9ltjm937-en

[vi] “First World Happiness Report Launched at the United Nations,” Earth Institute, April 2, 2012.

http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/2960

[vii] Sarah Macdonald. Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure. Broadway Books, 2003, p. 111.

[viii] Laura Musikanski,” The UN Embraces the Economics of Happiness, Yes Magazine, April 12, 2012. Reported by Susan Andrews about Future Vision Eco-Village to a UN conference on “Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.”

http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-un-embraces-the-economics-of-happiness

[x] Robert Preidt, “Study: Freedom More Important to Happiness than Wealth,” USA Today, June 24, 2011.

http://yourlife.usatoday.com/mind-soul/story/2011/06/Study-Freedom-more-important-to-happiness-than-wealth/48816940/1

http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/06/buy-happiness.aspx

“What Is More Important for National Well-Being: Money or Autonomy? A Meta-Analysis of Well-Being, Burnout and Anxiety Across 63 Societies,” Ronald Fischer and Diana Boer, Victoria University of Wellington; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 101, Issue 1.ß

[xi] Will Englund, “Teens Choosing Death in Russia,” Washington Post, March 7, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/teens-choosing-death-in-russia/2012/03/01/gIQADrhPwR_story_1.html

[xiii] Jane Ellen Stevens, “The Secret to Fixing School Discipline? Change the Behavior of Adults,” Aces Too High News, March 20, 2013. http://acestoohigh.com/2013/03/20/secret-to-fixing-school-discipline/

Measure National Progress Not by GDP but Happiness

New Ways of Measuring Progress

Instead of valuing a steady increase in consumption and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that harm the environment, pioneering Bhutan developed a Gross National Happiness Index in the 1970s identifying 124 variables that influence fulfillment. (Bhutan also created a national Organic Policy for agriculture, with no GO, no pesticides, no Monsanto.) Others developed a Quality of Life index and in the US an NGO called The Happiness Initiative provides a happiness metric. The “we” spirit is typical of Scandinavian countries like Denmark, contrasted to the “I” focus leading to the decline of the US, explains Thom Hartman in Threshold. Adam Werbach, a young former head of the Sierra Club, advocates a sharing economy in his Strategy for Sustainability A Business Manifesto (2009). For example, he suggests instead of buying a car, rent a Zipcar car sharing program and rent out rooms to travelers through Airing.

Riana Eisner, author of The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics, argues that the true wealth of nations stems from the contributions of nature and people.[i] She points out that companies that make the Working Mother Magazine best list are rewarded with healthy profits. In my telephone interview with Eisner, she of course pointed to Scandinavia as a model of a caring economy, with universal health care and long parental leave and good childcare. She said critics call them “nanny states” although men and women benefit equally. Eisner advocates moving from a hierarchical system of domination to a partnership model that values the contributions of women and nature. Neither socialism nor capitalism has the answer so a new caring economic system is needed; she hopes young people will contribute to the change. She advocates that schools teach children how to care for themselves, others and nature.

How to Increase Women in Government

What Governments Can Do to Increase Equality

Family Law

Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile, maintains that transitional measures are necessary to accelerate women’s representation in government. The 2012 World Bank report on gender in development and its Adolescent Girls Initiative gives the following examples of proactive government programs.[i] Governments can reform traditional family law, as in Kenya or in Ethiopia where the law requires both spouses to agree on administering family property. When the US eased divorce laws, domestic violence decreased. Morocco eliminated references to the husband as the head of the household. Countries like Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile and South Africa have a Minister of Women’s Affairs and equal rights are included in the constitution in the Philippines.

The Scandinavian countries provide an excellent model of how to support both men and women in enjoying multiple roles at home and work. Juggling multiple roles and less access to funding sources discourage women from running for office. In Sweden, eight in 10 women work outside the home because they have long parental leave (480 days paid parental leave before the child is eight) and free childcare, although it’s not a perfect system.[ii] In the Netherlands families can take a day off each week and the government subsidizes daycare as a family benefit. In Canada, couples with a baby may take six months leaves of absence with 90% pay. In Australia, a mother on maternity leave can earn 18 weeks of pay at minimum wage and her partner can take two week of paid leave, as well as the right to request flexible work hours. As with every global problem, the model solutions exist.

 

Education Incentives

Governments can increase girls’ school enrollment by giving families small payments or bags of grain as in Ecuador and Malawi and by teaching families about the return on girls’ education, as in Madagascar. “Second-chance” programs offering vocational skills, internships, and life-skills encourage girls to return to school in Senegal. Mexico’s 2012 federal budget set aside 15% for children’s programs including education and Oportunidas that pays poor families to send their children to school and get medical checkups.[iii] Most Latin American countries provide some incentive for school attendance and medical care for children. Mercedes, an Argentinean high school teacher, complained to me that although the government gives students lunch, a uniform, and a laptop and some of them get money to attend school, most of her students don’t value education or go on to university. Some of the girls get pregnant in order to collect welfare as their parents do: Most of their parents don’t have jobs and don’t provide models for their children. When I asked her how students are different than when she was in high school, she said they’re more hyperactive and less respectful. School-based programs, such as in South Africa and Canada, discuss gender roles and relationship skills with the intent of reducing violence against women.

 

Gender-Sensitive Budget

Since the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and partner organizations began the Gender-Responsive Budgeting Initiative in the mid-1990s, the project has expanded to nearly 40 countries. A gender sensitive budget allows citizens to see how women’s issues are funded or underfunded. Hugo Chávez, the late president of Venezuela, put this type of budget in place in 2005, as did India. UNYouth points out that youth-serving development programs often benefit educated, urban and male youth, although educating girls cuts infant mortality, increases her earnings and investment in her family, and increases her country’s income.

 

Quotas for Female Legislators

Over 97 countries use gender quota systems resulting in women being nearly 33% of their legislatures, compared to 12% in countries without quotas, according to UN data.[iv] Quotas can be assigned by national legislation or the constitution or by political parties, as in the Nordic case. Sweden’s quota system resulted in women holding 45% of its parliamentary seats in 2012. In Germany, the Christian Democratic Union established a 33% quota for party officials in 1996. In France, a 1998 law required political parties to nominate an equal number of male and female candidates for elections, but parties often choose to pay fines rather than comply. In Spain, parties may get around the quota by including women on their list whose last name puts them lower on the alphabetical Senate ballot. If women are put at the bottom of the lists for national elections, they have no chance of being elected. Colombia requires that 30% of all political appointees be female, including the cabinet.

After quotas were established in Albania the percent of women legislators doubled to over 16%, Nepal has almost one-third women legislators–the highest in Asia, and Rwanda has over half female legislators. Electoral Politics: Making Quotas Work for Women gives other examples of successful implementation of quotas.[v]

When the Indian government established quotas for women leaders in local government, public services such as sanitation and schools improved, girls had role models, and there were more arrests for crimes against women.[vi] In women-led councils the number of drinking water projects was more than 60% higher. However, a pharmacist I interviewed in Delhi said too often the wives of politicians are appointed, included an illiterate woman appointed to an education post in his area. A bill to reserve seats for women in the parliament is pending, as only 6.5% members of parliament are women. The upper house passed the Women’s Reservation bill in 2010, after 13 years of debate. It would amend the Constitution to reserve one-third of seats in parliament and state assemblies for women, similar to the existing reservation in local government. The lower house tabled the bill again in 2012, perhaps because of unwillingness to give up some seats occupied by men.

Argentina passed a law in 1991 requiring that one in three candidates nominated for election to the legislature must be women. It also has a woman president, two female Supreme Court Judges, and legalized gay marriage. However, the living condition and opportunities of women in cities is very different than women in rural areas. A political party in Costa Rica alternates men and women candidates on electoral lists.

Some countries reserve seats for women, mostly in South Asia and Africa. In Iraq, 25% of the seats in parliament are reserved for women, but they don’t have much power. The Minister for Women’s Affairs, Nawal al-Samarraie, quit when the government cut her budget to $1,500 a month for the entire ministry. In Morocco reserved seats increased the percentage of women in parliament from 0.6 to 10.8%.

Although only 25% of EU national parliament members and senior ministers are female, Spain requires that women make up 50% of its cabinet and 50% of all company boards and quotas for women corporate board members are also required in Norway. Former Spanish Socialist Prime Minister José Zapatero appointed 31-year-old Bibiana Aído as head of a new Ministry for Equality. However, she was removed after three years due to budget cuts.


[i] http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTGENDER/0,,contentMDK:22992327~menuPK:489120~pagePK:210058~piPK:210062~theSitePK:336868,00.html

[ii] “Swedish Childcare System is Hardly a Utopian Model,” The Local: Sweden’s News in English, May 30, 2011. http://www.thelocal.se/discuss/index.php?showtopic=42013

[iii] UNICEF News Notes, December 23, 2011 http://www.unicef.org/media/media_61143.html

[v] Homa Hoodfar and Mona Tajali. Electoral Politics: Making Quotas Work for Women. Women Living Under Muslim Laws, 2012.

[vi] Lori Beaman, et al., “Political Reservation and Substantive Representation: Evidence from Indian Village Councils,” India Policy Forum, 2010.

http://www.hks.harvard.edu/…/politicalreservationandsubstantiverepresenta.

Women in Government Internationally

Women in Government

Why are most countries having men leaders only and not ladies?

Zulea, 17, f, Kenya

 

I’d like to be the first Kenyan leader who completely eradicated corruption and poverty. Lylac, 16, f, Kenya

 

The lack of equal representation of women in governments is not due to lack of female ambition or ability, but “arises from men choosing men,” explains Margot Wallström, former chair of the Council of Women World Leaders.[i] She suggests that women need to support each other and publicize gender discrimination perpetrated with “master suppression techniques.” She explains, “I have lost count of how many times I have experienced or witnessed men ridicule or ignore women at meetings or in public, and exclude them for the decision-making process.” Thirdly, she says laws are needed to stop discrimination—such as quotas for female candidates–and enable a better work-life balance.

Some countries had early women’s movements as part of their nationalist struggles against colonial rule, as in Turkey, Egypt and India. Feminism spread around the globe in the 1970s spurred on by the UN’s International Year of the Woman in 1975. The UN organized conferences on women in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995).[ii] I attended the Copenhagen conference and was surprised that most of the official delegates were men. My son and his dad made the local TV news, showing a father caring for his baby. The 15-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action occurred in 2010. Motivated by UN leadership, governments set up ministries for women’s issues in the 70s. Universities set up Affirmative Action programs and Women’s Studies programs in the 1970s—I was the first coordinator at my university.

The UN adopted CEDAW in 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Only eight nations haven’t signed on. The US is the only developed nation that hasn’t signed as conservatives oppose following UN regulations. It deals with poverty, violence, AIDS, access to representation in government, etc.[iii] “The CEDAW Convention is at the core of our global mission of peace, development and human rights,” observed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. We can pressure our politicians to sign on or enforce CEDAW.

The African Union provides a model policy on how to “function in accordance with the promotion of gender equality.”[iv] However, it’s 2009 policy reports: “70% of member states currently have gender policies and yet few of them have been implemented. . . . A few of them have established Gender Management Systems (GMS),” which it would like to see adopted in all member states.

Public-private programs assist women to advance in the workplace; Mexico’s federal program, Generosidad, awards the Gender Equity Seal to private employers who do an excellent job of gender equity. It inspired similar programs in Brazil, Costa Rica, and Egypt. The European Women’s Lobby wages a campaign for “50/50 for Democracy,” which began in 2008.

The countries that have the best equality programs are in Scandinavia, with Iceland at the top, followed by Norway and Finland (according to the Global Gender Gap Index created by the World Economic Forum in Geneva).[v] The US was in 17th place in 2011.  The most egalitarian country in Africa was Lesotho. Norway is at the top of an index of best countries for mothers, with the US much lower at 31 out of 44 developed nations, partly due to its least extensive maternity leave.[vi] In Sweden both men and women are entitled to 480 days of parental leave for childcare and elder care. A Feminist Initiative political party was formed in 2005.[vii] Although Sweden is a leader in equality, oppression of women exists if there’s any truth to the disturbingly violent 2009 films Millennium Trilogy based on novels. They reveal the ugly underbelly of corruption, prostitution, and violence against women displayed in the life of the tough punk main character, Lisbeth Slander.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union reports that women’s presence in parliaments (only 19% globally) and in ministerial positions significantly increases investments in social welfare and legal protection, as well as honesty in government and business.[viii] Scandinavians have the most equal representation of women in parliament with women at 42%.

In India in 1993, the government changed the constitution to require that one third of village panchayats chiefs be women. A reporter comments, “In rural India, which is by any measure more patriarchal and conservative than urban India, the promotion of women to public positions of power constitutes nothing short of a revolution.”[ix]. In villages run by women, more water pumps or taps were installed and were better maintained.[x] Although fewer than 11% of members of the country’s parliament are women, a proposal in 2010 to extend the one-third reservation for women in parliament caused uproar. It was passed by the upper house, but not the lower house.[xi] Despite this activity, an Indian activist told me in 2010, “India never had a feminist movement! I think that is the problem with the ‘women’s movement’ in India. It does not have a feminist foundation.”[xii]

What about on the local tribal level of leadership? I asked a Nigerian chief, James Iowarri, if women can be chiefs. “Yes, in some communities, women can also be made Chiefs, while in some, only men can be made Chiefs, while their wives are made Lolo or Olori. In IgboLand–my tribe, an accomplished woman of integrity, dedication and of note, can be made a Chief. Such women are rare but they exist.” In Bali, Indonesia, only men head the important communal groups called banjars.

The first country to give women the right to vote was New Zealand, in 1893.[xiii] Since then women have headed countries including: Australia, New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka (the first country to have a woman prime minister), Bangladesh, Liberia, Haiti, Philippines, Ireland, United Kingdom, Israel, Norway, Finland, Argentina, Brazil, Thailand, Jamaica and Denmark. In 2011, 20 women were presidents or prime ministers.[xiv] Sonia Gandhi (Italian by birth) is the head of the ruling Congress Party in India.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (born 1938) became the first African woman president in 2006. She said voters told her during the campaign, “Men have failed us. Men are too violent, too prone to make war. Women are less corrupt, less likely to be focused on getting fancy cars and fancy homes for themselves.” Her campaign relied on women going village-to-village, door-to-door campaigning. She appointed women as Ministers of Youth and Sports, Gender and Development, Commerce, Foreign Affairs, and Finance. She believes that being mothers gives women leaders “a sensitivity to humankind” that will make the world a better and safer place.[xv]

She explains in her book This Child Will Be Great that African women are honored as mothers and aunts, but are not considered equal to men. Her husband felt free to hit her. She was reluctant to divorce him though because fathers get custody of children, but finally did get a divorce and he did take her four boys. She went on to be educated in the US to be an economist and served in Liberian government agencies, the UN and the World Bank

She was jailed and threatened when young rebels brought civil war to her country. Samuel Doe was only 28 when he and his fellow soldiers forcefully took control of Liberia in 1989, followed by civil war between battling warlords until 2002. They relied on child soldiers, killed a quarter of a million of the 3 million Liberians and uprooted most who survived. When soldiers kidnapped and threatened to kill her, she calmed them down by saying, “Think about your mother. How would you feel is someone did this to her?” Democratic elections were finally held in 2005 with Johnson Sirleaf’s victory at the polls. When she asked children what they wanted, they said to go to school. Her first year as president, school fees were abolished in public primary schools and reduced in high schools, creating a 40% increase in school enrollment. Parents can be fined if children were working on the streets during school hours.

In 2010, she reported on her accomplishments:[xvi]

 

Women hold strategic positions in the Cabinet and in other government bodies. I have established a market development fund supported by private donations to empower rural women through better working conditions and literacy training. A second fund, also from private donations, provides funding for the building of 50 schools, training of 500 teachers and scholarships for 5,000 girls throughout the country; girls and women have voices in claiming participation in societal endeavors.

 

She was reelected in 2011 winning over 90% of the vote, soon after being    awarded a Nobel peace prize along with two other African women activists. One of them is Laymeh Gbowee, co-founder of the Women’s Peace Network in Liberia which helped to end a decade of civil war.[xvii]

Over 97 countries use gender quota systems resulting in women being nearly 33% of their legislatures, compared to 12% in countries without quotas, according to UN data. However, if women end up at the bottom of the lists for national elections, they have no chance of being elected. Sweden has a quota system and women held 47% of its parliamentary seats in 2007.[xviii] Argentina passed a law in 1991 requiring that 1 in 3 candidates nominated for election to the legislature must be women. In France, a 1998 law required political parties to nominate an equal number of male and female candidates for elections, but parties often pay fines rather than comply. In Iraq, 25% of the seats in parliament are reserved for women, but they don’t have much power, and the Minister for Women’s Affairs, Nawal al-Samarraie, quit when the government cut her budget to $1,500 a month for the entire ministry.

By 2010, only 19% of parliament representatives were women, up from 11% in 1995.[xix] At the current rate of progress, it will take 40 years to reach gender parity in the world’s national legislatures.[xx] The highest numbers of women legislators were in Rwanda, Sweden and South Africa. Nine chambers lack any women at all, as in Saudi Arabia. Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in parliament because genocide killed so many people. The highest percent of women in lower or single legislatures were in these countries, 2007:

1. Rwanda – 48%

2. Sweden – 47%

3. Finland – 42%

4. Costa Rica – 39%

5. Norway – 38%

Although only 25% of EU national parliaments and senior ministers are female, Spain requires that women make up 50% of its cabinet and 50% of all company boards (quotas for women corporate board members are also required in Norway). Spanish Socialist Prime Minister Zapatero appointed an equal number of women and men to his Cabinet, including 31-year-old Bibiana Aído, head of a new Ministry for Equality. However, she was removed after three years due to budget cuts. Zapatero explained,

 

I’m not just antimachismo, I’m a feminist. One thing that really awakens my rebellious streak is 20 centuries of one sex dominating the other. We talk of slavery, feudalism, exploitation, but the most unjust domination is that of one half of the human race over the other half. The more equality women have, the fairer, more civilized and tolerant society will be. Sexual equality is a lot more effective against terrorism than military strength.”[xxi]

 

Neus, a Spanish graduate student, added:

 

Yes, the equality in the government cabinet is what he promised that would do if he got elected. It is the first step towards a more egalitarian job market, since we still have lower salaries for the same position that a man has in the private sector. And most of the high position jobs are given to men. I guess that the public sector is the one that has to model and demonstrate women’s abilities and then the private may follow. We are in the very beginning, but things are changing; we have to keep pushing for our rights!

   Activism for Gender Equality

The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project poll of people in 22 nations about gender equality, released in 2010, found that solid majorities support it and say inequality persists in their countries, as many believe that men have more access to better paid jobs.[xxii] Women are far more likely to think gender inequality is problematic. Nigerian men were the only exception to believing in equal rights. Muslim respondents—men more than women—are least likely to advocate equality and in fact their preference for equality in marriage has decreased over time in Nigeria and Pakistan. Attitudes towards marriage became more egalitarian over the decade in seven of 19 countries, as in Jordan, Russia, Poland, Lebanon, Mexico and the US.

Many people of various religions feel that when jobs are scarce, men have more right to a job, including mainly Muslim countries and India, China, South Korea and Nigeria. Men are more likely to have this view. When asked if it’s more important for a boy to have a university education than a girl, a majority agreed only in Egypt (50%), among Nigerian Muslims (50%), Pakistan (51%), and India (63%). When asked if men or women have better lives, about half agreed men did (more women than men) and about half said they were the same. The exceptions were South Korea and Japan where respondents thought women have a better life, perhaps because of men’s long work hours. It’s encouraging that advocacy of equality is increasing, but worrisome that it lags in Muslim countries.

What do women want? Only 10% of all young Europeans in a large survey favor keeping a strong distinction between men’s and women’s roles.[xxiii] Women want equal opportunity with men and not to be treated as inferior. They want equal pay for equal work. In the US, a woman earns only an average of 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns for full-time work, although women are half the workers. The wage gap is bigger for employed mothers and women of color, despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963. For a college-educated woman, the wage losses over her lifetime are over one million dollars, compared to her male peers.

A telephone survey of US Generation Y women found almost half would like to be entrepreneurs  (47%) so they can be their own boss and balance career and family.[xxiv] Although most would like to see a woman President, they are not interested in holding political office or in being a CEO because of their focus on balance. Their top political issue is improving education.

Globally, women are taking a stand. Nala, a 16-year-old Maasai girl in Tanzania, helped organize support groups for Maasai women. In her twenties, she founded the Massai Women’s Forum, which now has over 30 chapters. It expanded from adult literacy classes to village nursery schools, loans to women’s groups, and girls’ education programs. It’s considered one of the few organizations that really help people by creating a social network to create change. Nala described her work as “to educate young Maasai women who are being forced to marry older men…to advocate the right of Massai women’s education, because Maasai women need to do something different and not just get married. ….We have a lot of girls fleeing from forced marriages and coming to MWF because many them need education support.” [xxv]

When Nala finished primary school, her father wanted her to marry. She put up a “big struggle” and refused to get married. She was strong-willed, given the nickname “half-man” by an uncle after she protected her family’s cattle herd from being stolen. Her male relatives were going on to secondary school and she wanted to go with them. Her cousin helped intercede with her father and tried to convince his father—an age group leader—to help her. After months of planning, disguised in a red blanket worn by Maasai men, at midnight she got in a waiting car of an educated Maasai friend of her cousin, who drove her to the capital city of Dar-es-Salaam. Her helpers talked her father into calling off the marriage and repaying the dowry. As 16, she began coordinating women’s groups.

Another woman activist in an extremely patriarchal society is Tawakkol Karman, a leader in the 2011 rebellion in Yemen, inspired by the youth uprising in Tunisia.  She’s known as the “mother of the revolution” and “iron woman.” She’s 32, a college-educated journalist, the mother of three children, active in the opposition party Islah. She organized protests and sis-ins beginning in 2007., campaigning for women’s rights and press freedoms. See her photo online.[xxvi] Yemeni women are often burka-clad with only their eyes showing, the majority is illiterate, and many girls are married off as children, their legal testimony worth half of men’s. Some held a veil burning to protest.

When asked to comment on this section, Ms. Karman emailed me via Facebook, “wonderful subject, but many women–especially from the new generation of young people–are wearing the veil only because the generation of young people in Yemen has more freedom than its predecessors.”‎  She stopped wearing the niqab, keeping the headscarf, in 2010 so she could be “face to face with my activist colleagues.” The demonstrations started at Sanaa University with ten people the day after Ben Ali left Tunisia. Men were surprised when Ms. Karman took the microphone to speak but they followed her and her Facebook and cell phone messages. After a week, she was acknowledged as the movement’s leader.

She was jailed in January but released after three days although thugs beat her and other protestors. Dictator Saleh told her brother, “Control your sister. Anyone who disobeys me will be killed.” The Muslim imams accused her of degrading the morals of Yemeni women. Saleh declared that women and men mingling in the demonstrations was a violation of Islam. A text message spread: “Saleh has brought shame upon his country’s women; meet tomorrow at 3.30 p.m. at Sanaa University for a women’s march of honor,” resulting in 10,000 women in black abayas marching through the capital on April 16. Ms. Karman said when her husband and father tell her to stop her activism, worried for her safety, “I ignore them, of course.” The demonstrations steadily grew to over a million protestors.

This is not her first foray into activism, as she previously led sit-ins at the Ministry of Social Affairs to gain the release of jailed journalists in her role as head of Women Journalists Without Chains. Framed photographs of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Hillary Clinton sit on the mantel in her sitting room. She told a journalist that Clinton is her role model and she was inspired by Mandela’s memoir and Gandhi’s autobiography.[xxvii] She was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize on October 7, 2011, along with the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Leymah Gbowee, peace activist in Liberia. She found out about the award where she has spent most days for eight months, in a protest tent in Change Square in central Sanaa.

Here is her analysis of the role of women in reducing terrorist extremism:[xxviii]

 

Women have more opportunities in challenging extremism and terrorism than men due to woman’s nature in having patience, containing others, hating killing and bloodshed and—more importantly—women have tremendous feelings of love and sacrifice towards their husbands, children, and communities that is enough to enhance the attitude of coexistence, respect, trust, and listening to the other. This, in turn, will lead drying the roots and sources of extremism. Extremism stems from the culture of rejecting the other and the culture of hating the other. Therefore, there is no solution other than spreading the culture of coexistence and dialogue, skills that women master and possess.

A Yemeni woman cannot be part of terrorism because she herself is suffering from terrorism. She is banned from taking part in public life, fearing she will mingle with men (which is forbidden). The intellectual terrorism that is practiced against woman by a large segment of men in the Yemeni society makes her ineffective in the public domain either politically or socially. A Yemeni woman without doubt has no role in recruiting or training terrorists in order to kill innocent people. If the policy of excluding women from public life and preventing her from effectively taking part in developing this country and challenging terrorism along with men continues, the culture of extremism will flourish and the ramifications will be disastrous.

 

Malalai Joya is a pseudonym for an Afghan feminist and youngest member of the Afghan parliament fears for her life. A documentary called Enemies of Happiness filmed her running for office in the country populated with the highest percent of young people. She was suspended from attending parliament because she spoke up very directly about the corrupt Karzai government’s embracing of violent warlords and the US support for this regime. ”Collateral damage” from western military has killed thousands of civilians, she protests. This in a country where she reports “killing a woman is like killing a bird,” rape goes unpunished every day, girls are still sold into marriage, and most (80%) women are illiterate. She has to travel with bodyguards because of the fundamentalists’ threats on her life, like Somali writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali.[xxix] )

Her courage and outspoken commitment to freedom and literacy started as a teenager, when she taught Afghan women in refugee camps where she lived near Peshawar, Pakistan. She then risked her life to teach girls in secret schools under the Taliban, back in Afghanistan. It’s one time she was grateful for having to wear a burka that disguised the schoolbooks she carried. She tells her story in A Woman Among Warlords and continues to lobby for democracy in her country and for withdrawal of foreign troops. Like Tawakkol Karman who led the rebellion in Yemen, she had a supportive father and husband and was inspired by reading about revolutionaries like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.[xxx] Ms. Joya’s list also includes Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, Bhagat Singh, Saeed Sultanpur, and Victor Jara. The courage these three young women demonstrate in patriarchal societies is inspirational.


[i] www.cwwl.org/index.html

Margot Wallström, “A Womanly Virtue: Female Representation as Global Security Strategy,” Harvard International Review, May 1, 2011.

http://hir.harvard.edu/print/women-in-power/a-womanly-virtue

[vi] Editorial, “U.S. Moms Deserve Better,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 8, 2011.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/05/07/EDEI1H5A1C.DTL

[viii] Claire Devlin and Robert Elgie,” The Effect of Increased Women’s Representation in Parliament: The Case of Rwanda,” Oxford Journals, February 3, 2008

http://pa.oxfordjournals.org/content/61/2/237.full

[x] Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Alfred a. Knopf, 2009, p. 197.

Women’s Campaign International coaches grassroots activists about how to achieve their goals and run for office.

[xii] Rita Banerji, www.ritabanerji.com

The 50 Million Missing Campaign http://50millionmissing.wordpress.com/

[xiv] Lynn Harris, “Female Heads of State.” Glamour Magazine, November 1, 2010.  http://www.glamour.com/women-of-the-year/2010/female-heads-of-state

[xv] Deborah Solomon, “Questions for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,” New York Times Magazine, August 23, 2009.

[xvi] Lynn Harris, “Female Heads of State.” Glamour Magazine, November 1, 2010.  http://www.glamour.com/women-of-the-year/2010/female-heads-of-state

[xvii] Gbowee wrote Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War, 2011. She’s featured in a documentary, Abby Disney’s Pray the Devil Back to Hell, 2009.

[xviii] Michelle Nichols, “Share of Female Lawmakers Hits New Global High,” March 1, 2007

[xix] United Nations, “The Millennium Development Goals Report,” June 15, 2010, p. 25.

[xx] Helen Clark comments about the impact of women in government. http://content.undp.org/go/newsroom/2010/march/helen-clark–international-womens-leadership-conference.en;jsessionid=axbWzt&#8230;?categoryID=593043&lang=en

[xxii] “Gender Equality Universally Embraced, But Inequalities Acknowledged,” July 1, 2010. http://pewglobal.org/2010/07/01/gender-equality/

[xxiii] Young People Facing the Future: An International Survey. Foundation Pour L’Innovation Politique, directed by Anna Stellinger, p. 31. An email survey of 17,000 people aged 16 to 29 in 17 countries in 2007.

[xxiv] 500 women aged 18-29 Willow Bay, March 23, 2007, Huffington Post www.huffingtonpost.com/willow-bay/what-a-generation-y-woman_b_44132.html. Similar findings were reported in http://www.bpwfoundation.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=5886

[xxv] P. 157 Benjamin Gardner

[xxvi]  Sudarsan Raghavan, “In Yemen, Female Activist Strives for Egyptian-like Revolution,” Washington Post, February 15, 2011

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/14/AR2011021402988_2.html?wprss=rss_world&sid=ST2011021403394

[xxvii] Dexter Filkins, “Letter From Yemen,” The New Yorker, April 11, 2011.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/04/11/110411fa_fact_

[xxviii]Letter from Tawakkol Karman to Women Without Borders, February 2, 2010. http://womenwithoutborders-save.blogspot.com/2010/02/letter-from-twakkol-karman-chairwoman.html

[xxix] Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Infidel. Free Press, 2007. See also Fadumo Korn. Born in the Big Rains: A Memoir of Somalia and Survival. The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2006.

[xxx] Malalai Joya. A Woman Among Warlords. Scribner, 2009, p. 33.

Women in Muslim Nations

Women in Muslim Nations

In a Global Gender Gap Report, all 14 of the Arab countries ranked in the bottom 30.[i] In a 2009 survey of 15,000 youths, 67% of the female respondents believe it’s OK for a husband to beat his wife if she speaks to another man.[ii] This ownership of women’s bodies continued in the 2011 revolution when around 18 young women protestors were tested for their virginity, supposedly to find out if they were prostitutes. No women were on recent committees to shape policy and the constitution, despite women having the right to vote since 1956.

Some Muslim feminists point to progressive steps taken by the Prophet on women’s behalf and look to his youngest wife, Ayisaha, whose writings or hadith are quoted in shar’ia Islamic teachings. An interesting note is Muslim women were initially reluctant to participate in street protests in Egypt because of a history of widespread sexual harassment in a male-dominated crowd. However, the demonstrators were very respectful of women as organizers urged a peaceful protest—“purity” was the theme. Alia Mustafa El Sadda, a 20-year-old law student at Cairo University, protested with her mother, aunt, and two younger sisters because the demonstrations were the “only chance” for change.[iii] She said the protest was unique in its high number of women, and the respectful way the men related to them. See the Equality chapter for my interview with three women activists in Tahrir Square.

 

Pakistan           

Today in a lot of countries like India, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Indonesia and even in my own country, girls are given less importance than guys or considered a burden sometimes. Even in really developed areas of those countries girls are less trusted by parents. Part of it is because they are considered the honor of the family, and their respect is considered a respect of the family. And part of it is because parents in these countries give a lot more importance to what society says. Today in these countries, if a girl is raped and loses her respect, the parents who still love her as their child, force her to commit suicide for the fear of what society will say. But society never says anything to that guy who committed rape. If a family has limited resources than their son’s wishes are usually priority.

When we were young we realized in our house we sisters were given more love and rights than our brothers, which was really unusual. But I think my father was born with that kind of heart and when he saw how people hate their daughters or consider them less loveable than sons, mostly because girls increase the burden on poor parents. Their marriage requires a lot more money. And then there is a very wrong tradition of giving money and property to a daughter when she is being married. All these things forced parents to consider their daughter a burden. My father wants for a girl to not to feel herself less capable than boys and less important than boys.

I shouldn’t go out without my dad or my elder brother with me. Society won’t think it right. And society matters a lot here, especially in a small city where I live, it matters a lot more for a girl to go out alone and I don’t want anyone to talk bad about my dad. I have been very depressed about my college plans since I’m not getting very many opportunities to go out and search, being a girl coming in the way. [She got into medical school with her excellent exam scores.] Sahar, 17, f, Pakistan

 

I asked Hassan to film villages near his home in Peshawar. I told him I was surprised that the people on the street, the children playing, were all male except I saw two women in purdah walking down the street. Hassan explained,

 

I was new to the village. They saw me for the first time with the camera. The women outside quickly went to their homes because they are scared of their men and they know that they are supposed to be inside at such times. We are talking about people who are absolutely confined to their own homes and not go out a lot. I live in Peshawar and we do have some exposure to girls. For example, we have co-education here. Women go out of their homes to markets, interact in schools, colleges, universities, cafes, etc. Villages have different lives than cities.

 

I also asked him about the role of women in Islam (the S.A.W. is respect to the prophet’s name, a calling for Allah’s blessing):

 

Women are surely a degree less than men when it comes to basic powers. Men are seen to be authoritative figure, just like every modest society. Wives are entitled to obey their husbands and speak to them in a lower tone. Women are supposed to cover themselves completely once they go out and interact with other men. In fact, their tone shall also be loud and to the point so the opposite person doesn’t hold anything in his heart. [I asked if this means they shouldn’t flirt and he said yes.] When it comes to business affairs, or for example, it’s a phone call, she should have an erect, serious voice to avoid controversies.

 Please keep in mind that this doesn’t take any credit away from the importance of women in Islam. Islam has made tireless struggles in the Dark Age to make sure women get their divine rights. Women are also considered very respectful in the society. In fact, there is a saying by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), “Paradise is under the feet of mother”. He (S.A.W) means to say that if you want to win the paradise, if you want to achieve the eternal life, win your mother’s heart. There are also many other examples and quotes from Quran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), which shows that women hold an important place in the society.

 

Saudi Arabia

A college student told me about gender roles in his country in an interview:

 

In Saudi Arabia, the only time girls and boys interact is in pre-school. If you go to friends’ homes, boys don’t eat with girls or play together. Girls might make cookies together, make crafts, or play clapping games, and boys play sports like soccer. Girls cover their hair with hijab—headscarf. When it’s time to get married, my mother or aunt will look for a wife for me. I’d like a tall woman, not fat, from my town, who will be a good mother. My mother quit teaching high school when she had her first son.

Mohsen, 19, m, Saudi Arabia

 

An American journalist who taught young journalists in Saudi Arabia reported on gender relations in his HBO special, My Trip to al-Qaeda.[iv] Lawrence Wright said the men are “nearly incapacitated by longing.” Some young men refer to the burka-clad women as BMO, “black moving objects.” He was “constantly flabbergasted by the lack of understanding between the sexes. I had thought Saudi women would be a force for change, but this was not really true.” There’s no civil society, nothing for young people to do but shop. He said as kind of a joke what civilizes young men is the desire to please girlfriends, but in reality segregating the sexes does lead to deviant behavior and subordination of women. A Saudi woman told me that because of all the regimentation, everything happens underground.

King Abdullah has made some progressive steps, founding the kingdom’s first co-ed university and giving women the right to vote and run for local office in the local advisory councils (no lawmaking power) starting with the 2015 elections. There are no national elections. He hasn’t yet overturned the the policy of male guardianship, putting Saudi women in the legal status of minors, or the ban on women driving. He did overturn a court’s decree of 10 lashes for a woman caught driving in a protest movement. As a consequence, the average woman spends half her income on a driver and protests have sputtered off and on since 1990.[v] One of their Facebook pages is “Support #Women2Drive.” A Saudi feminist, Wajeha al-Huwaider called the kingdom “the world’s largest women’s prison.”

 

Afghanistan

When the young Taliban men took over in Afghanistan (1996 to 2001), they ruled that girls and women couldn’t be educated, employed, or walk on the street without a male family member walking with them–leaving widows in a real bind. Violence against women by their husbands wasn’t punished. They also required men to grow a beard. Traditional practices keep women subordinate as films illustrate.[vi] The movie Osama portrays an Afghan widow and her daughter living under the Taliban. They disguise her as a boy so they can go out of the house, but she’s discovered when she’s forced to attend a madrassa school. In his book A Thousand Splendid Suns Haled Hosseini describes the hardships women endured under the Taliban. His book and movie The Kite Runner tells the story from boys’ experience, as portrayed in the movie of the same name. This movie shows prejudice against the Hazara ethnic group by the ruling Pashtuns (the Taliban are Pashtun) and the practice of bacha baz explained below.

Even after the Taliban were overthrown by the US in 2001, they’re still bombing girls’ schools and throwing acid at girls who attend school. Most women still aren’t educated and depend on their husbands, but over 300 Muslim women protested in the capital of Afghanistan, April 2009. They were called whores by some of the men who supported religious restrictions on women’s rights. A 2009 law gave Shia minority husband the right to refuse to provide food for his wife if she refuses to have sex with him, a woman must have her husband’s permission to work, and only men have legal custody of their children, as in the 19th century in the West.[vii] The women delivered a petition to Parliament to repeal the 2009 law that permits Shiite Muslim husbands to rape their wives, requires a husband’s permission for a woman to go to school or work outside the home, and requires that if a husband wants his wife to dress up or “make herself up” she must obey.

Women live in fear in Afghanistan. “I get threatening calls almost every day asking why I think I am important enough to work in an office,” said Fouzia Ahmed, 25, a government secretary in Kabul. “The truth is, no women feel safe here. We are always threatened. That’s why we need the eyes of the world.” An Afghan woman is shown on a Time magazine cover, her ears and nose chopped off by her husband’s family because she tried to run away from domestic abuse.[viii] The local judge, a Taliban commander, allowed it. (The 18-year-old is currently being sheltered in New York City after having reconstructive surgery on her face.)

Afghan men can’t talk to an unrelated woman unless engaged to her. Segregating the sexes, however, leads to perverted sexuality and pedophilia, as in the Afghan Pashtun practice of bacha baz, young boys kept as lovers by older men. “How can you fall in love if you can’t see her face? We can see the boys, so we can tell which are beautiful,” explained a 29-year-old man.[ix] A common expression is, “Women are for children, boys are for pleasure.”

An innovative model program to train slum women to earn money was set up as part of an Indian billion-dollar aid program for Afghanistan. The training takes place in a guarded Kabul park where men are not allowed. Women and girls can take off their burqas, play on the swings, and learn organic farming, sewing, and literacy. A 19-year-old girl commented, “This is the one place that’s ours. For us, home is so boring. Our streets and shops are not for women.”[x] A former member of the Afghan parliament, a feminist, Malalai Joya described her experience in her book A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice published in 2011 when she was 32. When she spoke up in parliament about corruption, they turned off the microphone and her life was threatened to the point she had to leave parliament.

 

Iran

Some fundamentalist Islamic leaders see women as the source of all kinds of trouble, even earthquakes. In 2010, an Iranian cleric in Tehran blamed potential earthquakes on women. Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi explained, “Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes.”[xi] A global campaign tried to prevent Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old widow and mother of two, convicted of adultery in Iran, from being stoned to death. In one day alone, 500,000 responded to an Internet call for save her and her sentence was suspended.

A tourist in Iran in 2010, Sheila Collins reported to me about segregation of the sexes,

 

What surprised me is there is a very close bond of friendship between the boys starting at a young age. You see them everywhere–high school, college–with arms around each other, sometimes holding hands, greeting each other with real warmth and affection. [I saw the same in Egypt.] According to our Iranian guide these friendships are so strong they last through adulthood. Perhaps it is because they are segregated from girls from the beginning in school, etc. I was so glad to see young people – boys and girls – sitting on the grass, on benches acting pretty much the way we did when that age. There were no duennas around to keep an eye on them. Cities were less conservative and the young women often made fashion statements out of their Jaballahs and headscarfs. I hear rumors that things are tightening up because the ayatollahs see creeping western influence. Religion is there, that’s for sure, but many young people seem to be very much making up their own minds.

 

Ali, a young Iranian, told me that when his niece, age 18, and her boyfriend were eating dinner in a restaurant, neighbors called the police because it’s illegal for an unmarried couple to be together and even spouses can’t show affection in public. The boy was taken to the police station and the girl’s parents were called to pick her up. When Ali was a teen, boys and girls would gather in the gardens or the beach where the police wouldn’t see them. They would sometimes drink alcohol, although that’s illegal too. There’s no dance clubs, no bars. The guitar, chess and playing pool used to be illegal and playing cards still are outlawed. He said in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait they make a big deal out of prohibiting alcohol, although people manage to consume it, as they did during Prohibition in the US.

Women are a majority of university students, but leaders are discussing plans to segregate classes there too. I asked him why more women are in universities. He said they want independence or a good husband so they study harder. He added that it’s difficult for poor women and men to go to university because there are no student loans and it’s hard to get scholarships.

Since women led some of the Green Revolution protests against election fraud in 2009, this female activism is called “the lipstick revolution.”[xii] Women’s rights groups also organized the One Million Signatures Campaign in 2006 to change discriminatory laws against women, such as only husbands have the right to initiate divorce and have custody of their children. Men can be polygamous and have “temporary” marriages to have sex.[xiii] Dozens of women involved in the effort have been harassed, jailed or executed by the government.[xiv] When Neda Aga-Saltan was killed by a sniper on the street while demonstrating against the unfair elections of June 2009, she became a worldwide symbol of resistance. The video of her death went viral. Other women wore Neda masks and carried signs saying “I am Neda,” as shown in a documentary about her.[xv] The regime made a DVD of their version of her death to try to counter its power.

Islamic extremists continue their restrictions on women. In Iran, since the Islamic revolution in 1979, the law mandates that women cover their hair and wear long coats in public. Patrols search the streets of Tehran looking for “loose morality,” meaning signs of modernism like loose-fitting veils, short coats, or being too suntanned. The Interior Minister developed a “chastity plan” to promote the proper covering from kindergarten on up. An expatriated Iranian writes graphic novels about growing up under the extremists: You can view some of her drawings on YouTube.[xvi]

All the characters in the film Ten (2002) are women, except for the seven-year-old-son of the main character, who one after the other converse with the driver of a car. It shows male control in the way the boy tells his mother want to do and is rude to her. The mother/driver says the only way she could get out of an unfulfilling marriage to the boy’s father who wanted to “own me,” is by lying to the divorce court, saying he was a drug addict. A prostitute tells the driver that married women sell sex wholesale, while women of the street sell it retail, however the driver took action to divorce and marry a man who is a good friend. She repeats that you must love yourself before you love someone else, but the film ends with her son telling her where to go (to his grandmother’s home) and she complies.

 

Egypt

Nawal El Saadawi was born in village near Cairo in 1931 when the British ruled Egypt, as she explains in her two autobiographies about a woman who breaks with tradition. She later joined other girls in her high school to break down the metal door to their boarding school to join a protest march against the British. Big landowners owned most of the agricultural land, not the peasants who took their young girls out of school to help work around the house. Although her relatives were disappointed about the birth of a girl, her parents were loving and supportive of her and her education, as her father was an educator and she was a bright student.

Early on her parents bowed to family pressure from her aunts and uncles and grandmother to search for a husband for her, starting when she was only 10. She found ways to scare off the suitors, like blackening her teeth and smiling to show them off to one unappealing man whose coffee she spilled in his lap while tripping on new high heels. This tactic earned her a “sound trashing” but kept her single. She later picked her own husbands, three of them over time, with two divorces. Starting at age 11, she was no longer allowed to go out of the house to play with other children in the fields, kept inside to safely do domestic tasks. Her parents did allow her to go to live with her aunt to go to school in Cairo.

Her parents struggled to find funds to send five sisters and three brothers to private schools (the government schools were crowded and the teachers not well educated). Because her mother insisted, Nawal continuing going to school rather than marrying. She went on to medical school where boys and girls were not supposed to have friendships—even conversations, and sex or circumcision practices weren’t mentioned in class. Students memorized information, but didn’t practice doing surgeries. She went on to become one of the few women doctors, receiving her degree in 1955, and then to be director of public health education for the government.

While working as a rural doctor, she saw the hardships women suffered from male relatives, like the girl married off at age nine to a man 50 years older. He literally drove her crazy by having painful anal intercourse while she was bent over in prayer. She thought Allah was hurting her. Dr. El Saadawi knew girls who burned themselves or drowned themselves in the Nile to escape this kind of cruelty, as did the girl mentioned previously. Her feminist writings led to her dismissal as director, and later to jail and exile where she taught university students and wrote autobiographies and novels.

Her name was on a fundamentalist death list, so it wasn’t safe to stay in Egypt, and she left in 1993. One threatening letter to her said,

 

             You are a heretic, an enemy of Islam, an instrument of the Devil. You are the woman who caused Adam to be chased out of Paradise, and brought death and destruction with her.. . . The slogan of your immoral association, “unveiling of the mind,” is heresy. [She founded the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association and it’s magazine Noon.] Do you not know that Allah commends all Muslim women to wear the veil? The veil is sacred and you are inciting women to disobey Allah. Women like you deserve only death.[xvii]

 

The most striking theme of Dr. El Saadawi’s autobiographies is the cruelty with which girls and women are treated, by both sexes. The custom in her village was that a bridegroom should beat his bride with a stick before she ate any of his food to make the point he ruled over her on earth, just as Allah rules from Heaven. The Korean teaches “to the male a share equal to two females,” so her grandmother gave the boys twice as much as the girls. Love was also haram, sinful, forbidden, despite all the love songs on the radio that didn’t mention marriage. But boys had a saying, “Nothing shames a man but his pocket,” since not having money is the only thing to cause shame.[xviii] She writes about her aunt and others like her, “It was the cruelty that had grown in them through suppression, the steam held back under pressure until their bodies were filled with it to bursting point.”[xix]

She is critical of Islam, as when she points out men are promised 72 perpetual virgins for eternity. Reading the sayings of the Prophet, she was surprised to learn that sexual pleasure was confined to men whose virgins would say to him, “In Paradise, there is nothing better than you, nothing that I like more than being with you.” She explained, “Everything in a woman’s life was seen as shameful, even her face.”[xx] Women are the daughters of Eve, responsible for sin, impure during menstruation when they’re not to be touched and not to mention Allah’s name in prayer. When she was six, without warning, a midwife grabbed her and cut off her impure clitoris with a razor, saying it was God’s will.

A Muslim teen in Pakistan, Hassan gives his perspective on women in Islam:

 

In the dark ages, when Arabs were so lost that they’d bury their newborn daughters, it was hard for them to groom up as a moral person. With Islam, new laws were imposed on the people. It says that women can’t leave their houses without proper covering, that is needed, and in addition, they are not equal to men. It’s also, realistically, hard for them to make it to mosques on daily basis. At the grand union of Muslims in Saudi Arabia every year, called HAJJ, men and women pray together and there is no discrimination. They even stand together. There are also mosques in Muslim countries where there’s a separate space for women to pray. So there isn’t as such a restriction. Men are guided to go since it’s convenient. Women can’t since it doesn’t fit in the society. And as we know human nature, when a man and woman interact, the third person around is the Devil so it leads to destruction in the society.

 

After the Youth Revolution of 2011, she founded the Egyptian Union for Women (EUW) in March.[xxi] A staff member, Sally Ali El-haak, age 18, emailed:

 

I knew Nawal from her writings, my parents are totally against her and that caused many problems in home! They were against me because I’m so rebel and upset from this sick society! I met Nawal for the 1st time on October 2010, we were some youth gathering at her place to discus political issues and secularism and her books. It’s a monthly forum she tried to fund it 20 years ago and after the revolution, Moubarak and his regime won’t obstacle her again. So, Me, Omar Ahmed, and Dina Amiri are her assistants in the EUW.

 

Another EUW staff person who calls himself a feminist, Omar Ahmed has done a lot for a 21-year-old. Social media officer for Sony Ericsson in Cairo since he was a teenager, he studies foreign trade at Helwan University, participated in the Tahrir Square revolution in 2011, and is the only male staff member for the organization committee at the new Egyptian Union for Women. He believes he only has one life so he invests in it fully. His parents are liberal, although his mother wears hijab, since she considers it her duty as a Muslim woman. Omar adds that most young women who also wear hagib couldn’t recite verses from the Koran that require veiling. His feminist beliefs started when he was a boy and his nanny read to him, as about Qasim Amin, a 19th century writer. Amin wrote, “The inferior position of Muslim women is the greatest obstacle that prevents us from advancing toward what is beneficial for us.” Amin opposed veils for women as a symbol of slavery.

Omar comments more on the ups and downs of women’s rights in Egyptian history, stating that under King Farouk women had the right to vote and go to school, but when he was overthrown by army officers in 1952, women lost ground. President Sadat’s rule in the 1970s brought Islamic fundamentalism to the fore, influenced by Saudi Arabian traditions. It lives on in the Muslim Brotherhood, whose older members view women as the gateway to hell because of Eve’s sin, not fully human. The younger Muslim Brotherhood members are talking about breaking away and forming their own organization advocating a secular government.

Omar believes these traditionalists have the majority support in the villages. The Egyptian education system teaches obedience to parents, teacher, and boss. Around six TV channels are Islamic. The Brotherhood had 88 members of Parliament under President Mubarak, officially labeled independents since religious parties were outlawed. Omar fears that Muslim Brotherhood majorities in the new Parliament would create a new constitution like Iran’s. However, he thinks that now as a legal party their hidden funding sources will be monitored and that will be helpful, like germs die in the sunlight. Although out of 80 million Egyptians, only 6 to 7 million are on Facebook, it’s expanding to the villages where Omar thinks it will gradually counter the influence of fundamentalists. Facebook members have doubled since the revolution.

The February revolution didn’t have a plan or a unified leadership, it’s main goal being to get Mubarak out. Omar participate because he felt it was his duty to be there with his friends to achieve freedom. He’d been to a few demonstrations before the revolution, but wasn’t a member of a political party or movement. Since the protests started on January 25 women were represented and sometimes the majority. They were the first to bring blankets to sleep in the square. They were attacked by the police and threw stones when the camel drivers entered the square to attack the protestors, just like the men. It was like one big family of 5 to 6 million. No one brought up religion, gender, or age as everyone had the same goal. Will Dr. El Saadawi’s Egyptian Union for Women make a dent in feminist reform?

 

Somalia

            Somali writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali described her evolution away from her Muslim beliefs in her book Infidel.[xxii] She tells us Mohammad consummated his marriage with his young wife Ayisha when she was only nine and playing with dolls, although some Muslims say she was older.[xxiii] Ayaan was raised in her early childhood in tribal society in Somalia where her illiterate grandmother was a nomad, married against her will at age 13. The family would pack their mats onto camels and move to another place every month or so to find more water and pasture. They believed not only in Allah, but also the influence of Djinns (spirits) and ancestors. Loyalty to one’s clan was all-important. Later, in Kenya, she observed increasing reliance on tribal affiliation and religious tradition as the government fell apart due to corruption.

Her grandmother insisted she and her sister suffer genital cutting and the resulting pain of their future husbands breaking through scar tissue on the wedding night without foreplay or any sex education from parents. Otherwise girls would be considered dirty, not pure and unmarriageable. A woman is supposed to be baarri, a pious slave who submits to her father, then her husband. Submission is the message girls and women get. They can’t go outside without their father’s permission and are taken from school and married off when they’re girls. Her father was a political leader who moved the family to Saudi Arabia where Ms. Ali saw her first toy at age eight. She heard the word haram—forbidden–every day. Boys and girls playing together was haram, as was taking a bus with men, or having a headscarf fall off even with no males around. The Saudi boys were in charge at home, telling their mothers and sisters what to do. One tactic was to blacken her teeth when meeting a suitor who came to her parents’ home to look her over.)

(To update haram, in 2010, Saudi religious police tried to punish three young people who appeared on an MTV show for “openly declaring sin.” On the show, one of the youths said,  “We are not free to live as we like.” The episode showed how Aziz tries to meet his girlfriend for a date, unacceptable in the kingdom. “I feel great solace when I talk to her,” he said in his declaration of sin. In the same year, four women and 11 men were sentenced to flogging and prison terms for mingling at a party in the northern town of Ha’il.)

Ms. Ali’s family moved to Nairobi in 1980. Her Muslim Girls’ School followed the British system with O level exams at the end of year 11 and A levels in year 13. Some of the teachers hit the students when they made mistakes. A devout teacher warned them to beware of Western decadence, “the corrupt, licentious, perverted, idolatrous, money-grubbing, soulless countries of Europe.” However, once she learned to read English, she started reading western novels she got from the library, where girls and boys were more equal, as in Harlequin romance novels, European fairy tales, Nancy Drew detective stories, the adventures of Enid Blighton, the Secret Seven, and the Famous Five. In literature class they read novels including 1984, Huckleberry Finn, The Thirty-Nine Steps, and Cry, the Beloved Country.

The novels countered the traditional belief that love and sex were lowly and that love marriages were a stupid mistake that forfeited your clan’s protection if your husband left you. Without a clan protector, a girl could be raped and left to die without honor. Another example of western culture was her brother listened to “devil music” tapes of Michael Jackson until his mother threw out them out the window. When they visited family back in Mogadishu, Somalia, they watched Indian movies and Arab soap operas on TV.

After Nairobi, she ended up in living in the Netherlands. Her father decided to marry her to a Canadian Somali without consulting her, just as he took another wife without telling her mother. When her plane landed in Frankfort she decided not to continue her flight to Canada to join her new fiancé. She took the train to the Netherlands and applied for refugee status. She worked as a translator, got into an excellent university to study political science, and was elected to parliament. She was critical of funding Muslim schools where children weren’t encouraged to ask questions and told not to be friends with unbelievers. Although she considers herself Dutch, she and her guards are now in the US because of extremist Muslim immigrants’ threats to her life due to her criticism of the Islamic treatment of women and children. Her partner in a film about this topic, Submission, was killed by a Muslim extremist so Dutch authorities took threats to kill her seriously. (As an update, in the Dutch election of 2010, the anti-Islam party called the Freedom Party did its best finish with 24 seats out of 150 parliamentary seats. The winning VVD party (The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) continued a European shift to the political right by advocating cuts in government spending and limiting immigration.)

In the US in 2007, Ms. Ali set up the AHA foundation to help protect and defend the rights of women in the West against militant Islam.[xxiv] She warns against excusing crimes in the name of tolerance of cultural differences:[xxv]
Feminists need to be wary of the celebration of “cultural diversity” unless they want to inadvertently celebrate polygamy, child-marriage, marital rape, honor killings, wife beating, selective abortion of female fetuses and other traditions that are now legitimized in the name of culture. . . Westerners run many aid programs in non-Western nations. Most of these programs are value-neutral, and pose no challenge to the cultures of recipient nations. That must change.

 

A hopeful note is a 2004 film, The Syrian Bride, about the complexities of life on the border between Israel and Syria. The sister of the bride is an Arab woman who lives in a traditional Druze village in the Golan Heights occupied by Israel. She had raised her children and wants to go to university to be a social worker.  Her husband doesn’t want her to go, telling her the villagers will say, “Your wife wears the pants. You’ll shame me, people will say I can’t control my wife.” At the end of the film she walks away from a family gathering for the wedding, on her own, implying that she will attend university.

In Lemon Tree, 2008, the same actress, Hiam Abbass, played a Palestinian widow who refuses to allow the Israeli government to cut down her lemon grove as a security measure when the Defense Minister moves next to her. The actress grew up in a village and reported that her own father doesn’t think acting is an acceptable profession for a woman, but she does it anyway. Some Muslim nations are changing: A Jordanian young woman with a master’s degree, Nebaal Mhade emailed me: “The old imperative that the girls stay at home, this thing was old, in the meantime, the girls compete with men in all areas of work and just the opposite, it is now becoming the pride of her family.”

A young Algerian activist tells about her rise to leadership:

 

I have been involved in political work since my adolescence–then an elected municipal councilor and member and spokesperson in several international bodies and committees. I am currently working for International NGOs in Maghreb Region, willing to see some progress made for women and within their daily lives.

            These past experiences and my day-to-day work as a political official and leader in Algeria have taught me numerous important lessons: As a woman in a male-dominated society I have to live under a double standard, constantly being forced to do better work than the other(s) (men) in order to defend my position, while being constantly discriminated against for what I think, say or do because I am a woman. This painful experience nevertheless has provided me with the necessary self-esteem and self-assertiveness that is crucial to possess in order to make a difference in society. Algeria must abandon its discriminatory Family Code, adopted in 1984, even though amended in 2004, which has relegated women to the status of legal minors. Kahina, ?, f, Algeria[xxvi]

Despite sex segregation and oppression, educated Muslim women are breaking tradition.

 


[i] “Survey of Young People in Egypt: Young People’s Attitudes Toward Gender Roles, “Population Council, 2009.

http://www.popcouncil.org/publications/serialsbriefs/2010SYPEFacts.asp

[iii] Jenna Krajeski, “Women Are a Substantial Part of Egyptian Protests,” Slate, January 27, 2011.

http://www.doublex.com/blog/xxfactor/women-are-substantial-part-egyptian-protests

[v] Robin Morgan, “Keys to the Kingdom,” Ms. Magazine, Summer, 2011.

[vi] Osama, 2003, is about a 12-year-old girl whose widowed mother disguises her as a boy so they can go outside—based on a true story, the first Afghan film after the fall of the Taliban. 2003 Divorce Iranian Style, 1998, was shot in a divorce court. Runaway, 2001, was filmed at a shelter for runaway girls and abused women in Tehran.

[ix] Joel Brinkley, “Afghanistan’s Dirty Secret: Pedophilia,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 29, 2010, p. E8.

http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-08-29/opinion/22949948_1_karzai-family-afghan-men-president-hamid-karzai

[xiv] www.sign4change.info/english/spip.php?article707

An exile in Sweden, Parvin Ardalan co-edits a website Change for Equality iran (http://we-change.org/english) Her website includes links to international news about women’s rights.

[xvii] Nawal El Saadawi. Walking Through the Fire. London, Zed Books, 2002.

[xviii] Ibid, p. 312.

[xix] Nawal El Saadawi. A Daughter of Isis. London: Zed Books, 1999, p 235.

[xx] Ibid., p 11.

[xxii] Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Infidel. Free Press, 2007. See also Fadumo Korn. Born in the Big Rains: A Memoir of Somalia and Survival. The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2006. She was also the victim of female genital mutilation.