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The 11 countries of Southeast Asia include over million people. Despite great linguistic and cultural diversity, the region is characterized by the relatively favorable position of women in comparison with neighboring East or South Asia. Over time, however, the rise of centralized states and the spread of imported philosophies and religions Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity increasingly privileged males and stressed female subordination.
Although such influences were most noticeable among the elite, the strength of local traditions was always a moderating force. By the s the Asian female talent region except for Siam Thailand was under European control. In some areas women were recruited as cheap wage labor on plantations tea, sugar, tobacco, rubber and in processing factories. Similar trends can be found in Siam, the only non-colonized country, where legal codification strengthened patrilineality. These developments encouraged a preference for sons rather than Asian female talent.
Nonetheless, women were still influential in community life, at times even leading anti-colonial rebellions. Increasing female literacy especially in the Philippines and exposure to Western feminism encouraged elite women to confront issues of gender inequality. From the late nineteenth century nationalist movements developed across Southeast Asia. Male leaders focused on political independence, but educated women were equally concerned with polygamy, divorce, domestic abuse and the financial responsibilities of fathers.
Yet despite active involvement in anti-colonial movements, sometimes as fighters, but more often as strike organizers, journalists, couriers and clandestine agents, women were viewed as auxiliaries rather than partners. Such attitudes were still evident in the independence movements that exploded after the surrender of the Japanese, who occupied most of Southeast Asia between and Theoretically, the independent states that emerged over the next 15 years were committed to gender equality, but this has rarely been translated into reality.
In recent years the of women holding public office has increased, especially in local government, but only in the Philippines has female representation in national government risen above 10 per cent.
The few individuals who have attained the highest political offices such as President in the Philippines and Indonesia have done so because they are the daughter or wife of a famous man. Gender stereotypes that favor males over females are often reinforced in school textbooks Asian female talent are sometimes encouraged by religious teachings.
For example, Buddhists still believe that rebirth as a woman rather than a man indicates that less merit was accrued in past lives. Although all Southeast Asian countries except Laos and Vietnam have ed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and have made advances promoting gender equality, it is difficult to change the preference for sons, especially in Vietnam with its strong Confucian heritage. It is not easy to generalize about the economic position of Southeast Asian women because of the gap in development between Timor Lorosae, Cambodia and Laos among the poorest countries in the worldand prosperous Singapore and Brunei Darussalam.
Nonetheless, the continuing acceptance of the idea that a woman can generate and control her own income is still evident, although women receive less pay than men for the same work and the options for unskilled workers are limited. In poorer countries and impoverished regions this is apparent in the prevalence of prostitution and the disturbing trafficking of women. From the mid s, however, as Southeast Asian countries gradually shifted to export-oriented economies, lower-paid women have become essential to factory work.
In consequence, women have been more active in labor movements. As overseas domestic workers, they have also been increasingly important to national economies, remitting large amounts of money to their families.
Because of world-wide shortages, qualified women can find employment abroad in skilled occupations such as nursing. Obtaining vocational skills and academic qualifications is far more possible than hitherto as Southeast Asian women gain greater access to education. With the exception of Cambodia and Laos, the s of women progressing to post-secondary training is also rising, and in Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines there are more female graduates than males; the rates for Vietnam and Indonesia are almost equal.
The expansion in education has contributed to the blossoming of female-oriented Non-Governmental Organizations NGOs since the s, which have given the knowledge and organization skills that equip them to argue for issues. The heritage of relatively favorable gender relations and the resilience and pragmatism of local societies indicate that Southeast Asian women can look towards a promising future.
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