Junko Kuninobu

In Asia and the south Pacific, as elsewhere, there is an increase in activities concerned with gender justice, gender mainstreaming, etc. ASPBAE has a constitution which enshrines gender justice. Despite this progress, the reality is very different. There are still few women in top positions. In East Asia, in particular, the number of women who cannot read or write is appreciably higher than that of men, to say nothing of violence against women, sex tourism, etc. Junko Koninubo calls for new visions. She is an ASPBAE Executive Committee Member and Professor at Aichi Shukutoku University, Japan.

International Cooperation, Women’s Education
and Gender Justice

ASPBAE has been working on gender justice in lifelong learning since 1990 when the First General Assembly was held at Tagaytay, the Philippines. The participants met together to organize women’s education for empowerment and decided to mainstream the policy to the whole ASPBAE organization. The first step was to strengthen the thematic program and activities on women’s education for empowerment. Literacy education for women, women’s leadership training and violence against women were one of the major programs related to gender mainstreaming. Organizationally, a gender steering committee (GSC) was organized. Based on the proposal by GSC the organizational changed was launched.

The organizational and policy changes were as follows:

  1.  ASPBAE executive committee members had to be 50% men and 50% women.

  2. Financial allocations to programs had to consider the gender balance.

  3. Any program planning had to take into consideration the gender balance of planner and participants.

Based on the policy, the gender mainstreaming program was launched in 1991. The major purpose, at the time, was to have training and workshops in women's empowerment education in the area of:

  1. Literacy education

  2. Migrant workers

  3. Environment and health issues

  4. Workers program: unions, networking of workers

  5. Income-generating work for women

  6. Violence against women

The seminars on these topics were held actively all over Asia and the South Pacific region. ASPBAE allocated a higher level of financial support than before to gender issues.

The UN Conference on Women was another impetus for ASPBAE gender mainstreaming intra-organizational efforts. The program and research were focused to produce advocacy for the UN Conference on Women in 1995 at Beijing. The ASPBAE female members supporting gender mainstreaming and women’s education for empowerment were working closely and actively to produce the monitoring report on the voice of Asia and South Pacific women. The morale of ASPBAE members was boosted by the international movement of women preparing the UN Conference on Women.

In 1994, the project members of women’s education for empowerment and also the members of the steering committee of gender mainstreaming started to produce a report on our activities for the United Nations Fourth International Conference on Women in Beijing.

In 1995, 25 female ASPBAE members participated in the UN International Conference on Women in Beijing.As the output of the largest UN international conference, the Beijing Declaration and Plan of Action were announced and all the participating country governments agreed to and signed the document. It is the guideline for 21st century gender equality for women and men in the world. The action plan is based on the Convention for Elimination of All Kinds of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which was agreed and signed by more than 150 UN Member States. ASPBAE women's education for empowerment and gender mainstreaming policy are based on the global standards that were agreed upon by the UN, CSW (Committee for Status of Women) and UNESCO in various documents such as the Cairo Declaration, the Copenhagen Social and Development Conference Document and many other international agreements. Since 1995, every document is required to include reference to gender equality.

In 1996, ASPBAE held its second general assembly at Darwin, Australia. At the time we decided to change the bylaws of ASPBAE to be gender balanced in all aspects. Now we have one of the most gender equal sets of bylaws. It clearly states that women and men should be half and half at every level of organization. The organizational gender balance and equality are not only in the membership structure but are also identified in financial allocations and in the regions. The second general assembly reaffirmed its belief in the transformative potential of adult education and articulated values that would guide its future direction. The new aspect of ASPBAE basic policy was launched at the second general assembly of ASPBAE in Darwin. We, the members of ASPBAE, aspire to achieve gender equality and equity in all aspects of work, education and family life. And we strive to promote gender aware policies among partners. These will be policies which are not implicitly premised on the notion of male actors but which recognize that women and men suffer constraints in different unequal ways and often have differing conflicting priorities. In Asia and the South Pacific region are two thirds of the world’s illiterates and millions of out of school children, of whom more that 50% are women and girls.

These facts are described in the ASPBAE document called “A Framework for Mainstreaming Gender” which was produced after the Darwin general assembly.

We ask ourselves and all of you to re-examine and analyse those aspects of “tradition” and “culture” which have led to unequal power relationships and to arrive at interpretations of “tradition” and “culture” which would strengthen and empower the community and serve the civil society.

It is not only for women, but also for men, that the quality of life is improved by gender equality. Effective participatory democracy is only truly implemented through the equal participation of women and men.

Apart from ASPBAE, I would like to introduce a bit of East Asian networking on gender equality and the gender mainstreaming. Wom- en's education in East Asia has different issues From ASPBAE as a whole. Many of the East Asian countries have rather high literacy rates for women and girls. Secondary level education is now more that 80% in many East Asian countries. In 1993, the East Asian Women's Forum was organized for the preparation of the UN International Conference on Women. The first EAWF was held in Japan to discuss East Asian Women’s issues. This was the first NGO and feminist activist conference held by non-governmental organizations in this region. More than 1000 women gathered for this conference in Tokyo and Yokohama. I was working as one of contact persons for EAWF. The issues were mainly education, gender, vocational opportunity gap, sexual exploitation, migrant workers, family relations, the marriage system and female participation in political decision making.

War crimes against women, such as the comfort women issue, was another hot issue.

EAWF has been held every 2–3 years now and the coming forum is in Hong Kong this July.

In academe, women’s studies and men’s studies are increasing in popularity among young people, especially men’s studies focused recently on questioning traditional masculinity. College students are now familiar with gender issues as increasing courses and classes open for students in high schools and universities on gender issues and gender equality. Not only women’s and men’s studies, gender studies are another area of study dealing with gender difference and the variety of femininity and masculinity. Also the discussion on biological sex difference and socially structured gender were introduced in college level education and adult education. Diversity of sexual orientation is also a social issue now in many East Asian countries.

Education for HIV/Aids is going to be regarded as important as people are increasingly concerned with HIV/AIDS internationally, for the tourism industry is expanding, people have more frequent exposure to this issue and they are becoming more willing to talk about issues of sexuality.

Although the educational opportunities for gender and women’s studies are increasing, political participation is limited for women and the wage gap is still large between women and men in all of Asia and the South Pacific. In the case of Japan, these last few years, female politicians are increasing but still only 11% of diet members are female. With the economic stagnation, more of a wage gap is seen between men and women. The fear of international terrorism, and the power of right wing groups, are recently expanding in many countries.

For the future vision of women's education and gender equality we have several training and learning structures in ASPBAE. These are:

  1. Women’s Education for Empowerment Program Focused on women’s literacy, income-generating opportunity development, leadership training, women’s health and HIV/Aids

  2. More active role of Steering Committee for Gender Mainstreaming: at the decision-making level of ASPBAE including men and women

  3. All projects of ASPBAE include the perspective of gender equality in all areas of issuess. The President and Secretary General of ASPBAE are powerful women now

  4. Production of reports and advocacy to the United Nations and international organizations to make our voice and existence visible and meaningful

The problems we have are:

  1. Dedicated younger generation for women's education for empowerment

  2. Financial shrinkage in programs. Fund raising a heavy task

  3. Internet communication is becoming popular but less opportunity to have face to face discussion: less personal, human touch

  4. Americanization in every area of Asia and the South Pacific through mass media such as TV, Video and ICT especially after Iraq vs. US tension

  5. Through ICT, more violence, more over-consumption, and more pornographic information violating women’s and girls' rights

How can we work out the new stage of adult education? I would like to share your experience and create a new vision through this international seminar.

Adult Education and Development


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