Gender and Contemporary Nationalism in Asia: From Scholarship to Leadership
What is the role of women in contemporary nationalism in Asia? How does women’s involvement in nationalists movement impact their participation in public life more generally? In his celebrated work on nationalism, Ben Anderson took nationalism beyond arguments of his peers, notably Ernest Gellner, Tom Nairn, Elie Kedourie, Anthony Smith and Eric Hobsbawm whose works have defined this field of studies. Anderson noted that these men were based in the United Kingdom and were mostly from the same cultural background. However, history is replete with examples of women whose leadership have stirred nationalist sentiments in particular in Asia. These include Indira Gandhi of India, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and Aung Sang Suu Kyi of Myanmar who served as nationalist and democracy icons. Others such as Park Guen-hye of South Korea, Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, while being leaders succumbed to or struggled in their domestic political context.
Women’s involvement in nationalists movements has reportedly emboldened the participation in public life of women in general, with nationalism serving “as a vehicle” for women to engage in public activities. Over the years women have faced many barriers to participating in public life and despite ongoing struggles some progress has been made, albeit still slow. The latest data from the UN show that the number of female state leaders has dropped from 19 to 17 since 2015. In Asia, 11% of the ministerial positions have been assigned to women. Globally the number of women in national parliaments rose only 0.7% in 2016 since the previous year.
With the spirit of Anderson’s intellectual curiosity in mind, Asia Centre’s 2018 Ben Anderson Memorial Roundtable seeks to carry forward the discussion on gender and nationalism by highlighting and interrogating the role of women in nationalism, both in scholarship and in practice. Questions that may be asked include: has scholarship by women adhered to the arguments developed by their male counterparts or have they sought to re-frame the field form a gendered perspective? In addition, what have been the leadership contributions of women to nationalism, notably in Asia?