I spent four months in South East Asia; two and a half were spent working in Vietnam, but I also got to go to Thailand, Laos, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Although it has been the longest time I’ve been away from the UK, it would be impossible and presumptuous for me to generalise the arts in the whole of South East Asia, or even just one country. Instead, this will be a reflection on the things I experienced whilst travelling.
Trigger warnings: Female Genital Mutilation, Islamophobia, Homophobia, Torture
How does Islam actually fare in terms of human rights, and is it really any different from any other religion? The “religion of peace” has been getting a poor reputation in Western media over the issue for decades, with human rights abuses in Muslim countries often stretching from the major to the mundane.
Female genital mutilation, the stoning of homosexuals to death, the subjugation of women – the list goes on and on. Apostasy is frequently met with the death sentence in conservative states such as Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, individual liberties in these countries, such as speaking up against the state, are frequently curtailed on the pretext of actually insulting the religion itself. Just ask Raif Badawi, the Saudi activist and blogger who dared to criticize the Saudi regime and was sentenced up to 1,000 lashes from the theocratic state for his troubles.
Disclaimer: mentions suicide, depression, physical and mental abuse
Tackling the stigma against mental illness is arguably gaining ground among Western students and in Western society in general. However, the task of helping to achieve widespread understanding and acceptance of mental health still remains highly stigmatized in Asian cultures, regardless of which region of the world they’re in.
There may be increasing discourse on the human rights of the mentally-unwell, as well as the demand for their social inclusion and the need for resources to tackle mental health, but the issue remains seriously ignored in the developing world, or even among diasporic Asian communities in the West. In fact, what the dialogue really needs to address is the larger issue at hand that mental health-related problems are still exceptionally stigmatised in Asian society.
‘I don’t care if I go to hell as long as the people I serve will live in paradise.’
Disclaimer: mentions rape
Rodrigo Duterte’s personal politics is defined by a confusing blend of liberal and authoritarian beliefs. His politics have certainly elicited a wide variety of reactions, capturing the imagination of even the Western media outlets through racist depictions of international politics — or not. Even more varied and stranger are his supporters, ranging from religious leaders to the LGBT community, to sex workers and farmers. So how exactly did the new president of the Philippines, dubbed ‘The Punisher’, manage to enthrall the masses?
Over the past century women have made great strides towards gender equality in the Western world. From the Suffragette movement of the late 19th and early 20th century in Britain to the commonplace election of female MPs today, women’s rights in the West are increasingly becoming the norm. Feminism has even played a role in the world of science fiction, with prominent authors such as Margaret Atwood and Ursula LeGuin imagining hypothetical future societies in which gender barriers, and in some cases gender itself, have been removed completely for the betterment of the human race.
The words “democracy” and “Asia” aren’t always known for going together. But with the proliferation of the Internet and social media, Asia appears to be learning a few lessons from other developing nations when it comes to democratic reform. The Arab Spring, the online democratic movement which eventually culminated in protests in Tunisia and Egypt, is surely a recent example that could be learned from.
The Internet has certainly had a liberating effect on this region, previously known for being conservative in terms of political expression and dissent. The Japanese political sphere, for example, is usually not renowned for being politically active or outspoken. But that’s slowly starting to change.
Although Asia as a whole will always be making great strides economically, much more remains to be seen in the way of democracy and human rights. There has always been the myth that Asian values and democracy are incompatible — a well-known fact in Asia, especially in the more developing countries — but in the Internet and social media age, there appears to be a renewed demand for freedom, especially when people’s livelihood and most basic rights are in jeopardy.
However, despite these assumptions, a more thorough analysis shows that Asian history is actually rich in philosophies and traditions that are well-steeped in democratic ideals.
The question of implementing human rights always seems to be a tricky one in countries outside of the Western world. While human rights and freedom always seem universally-agreeable on paper, the West’s history of colonisation often renders it unfavourable in some countries, as it would be interpreted as an extension of colonialism and therefore the Western way of life itself.
This often creates a Catch 22-like scenario in countries which are now in dire need of freedom and democracy in the face of political oppression. Arguably, some countries consider human rights a luxury rather than a ‘need’ but in others, many of their citizens now feel their own livelihood is being jeopardised. In some cases, there is even a possible danger of nations going bankrupt altogether. In the 21st century and the Internet Age, one of the more prominent regions grappling with the contestable issue of human rights, is Southeast Asia.