WE Int., committed to lifting up women and shedding light on their work, introduces its members as part of the series #SheInspires. In this article, we introduce you Airin Ri, an undergraduate student at Temple University Japan (TUJ), and aims to be a human rights lawyer in the future. Airin is currently the editor and chief of TUJ intersectional feminist club "UPRIZINE", which aims to create conversation and raise awareness surrounding social issues that are specific to Japan, through opinion pieces, creative writing, art, and informative journalism. Know about her and her initiative from our interview below.
Tell us about you
My name is Airin Ri, an undergraduate student at Temple University Japan (TUJ), majoring in Political Science. I was born in Japan, raised in both Japan and Canada, and have lived in California for a few years. I was originally a devout ballet dancer but upon an injury, I had to give up my dream to become a professional dancer. When I was trying to regain my purpose in life, I learned about the alarming issue of human trafficking that is prevalent here in Japan through volunteer work at Lighthouse: Center for Human Trafficking Victims. I came to realized that there are a plethora of marginalized people who are exposed to nefarious crimes in Japan, a country that is deemed to be one of the safest First World countries in the world. Because I am a fortunate minority who could afford a higher education of good quality, I wanted to utilize my privilege as an instrument to help those who are in the plight of human trafficking. If I could commit myself to my academic career as much as I did with ballet and hone my capacity as a human rights lawyer in the future, I thought I can relieve the affliction of many attend law school in the U.S. upon graduating from TUJ next year. My long-term goal is to become a human rights lawyer, specializing in the law related to human trafficking in Japan and elsewhere.
What was your motivation to WE Int.?
I am interested in WE Int. because the organization upholds and advocates for the same values of intersectional feminism and human rights as myself and Uprizine, a university publication club I have been leading since the summer of 2020. I believe many deleterious issues such as gender discrimination and rape culture cannot be mended without augmentation of voices, resources, and power of many individuals and groups because these problems are wide spread and deeply rooted within the social fabric of Japan. WE Int. is a crucial platform that not only sheds light on attention-deserving urgent issues but it also enables like-minded individuals and groups to cooperate, consolidate, and deliver the vision of what the society could be for the young generation in Japan. On a more personal note, the organization is an inspiration where I could be enlightened by other exceedingly talented members’ ideas and perceptions about society and the world at large.
What is gender equality for you? What’s your motivation?
To me, gender equality is an inalienable basic human right that facilitates individual human beings with just and prosperous societies within and between countries and the international community as a whole. Activism in promoting gender equality, on the other hand, starts with acknowledging the cultural norms and more institutionalized social systems and political apparatus that relegate women and the LGBTQ+ population to disadvantageous positions, in my opinion. It is about paying attention to equity – the fair opportunity for everyone – or the lack thereof, when assessing the problem of gender inequality in society. In addition, it is imperative to pro-actively take a stand for the rights of the oppressed gender to attenuate and eventually eradicate gender inequality. My motivation in advocating for gender equality is constantly being engaged in the current sociopolitical problems that arise from gender inequality. For instance, I am increasingly becoming aware of anachronistic Japanese cultural norm that discourage women from participating in the regular workforce or an issue of a disproportionate number of women being confined to the non-regular workforce without job benefits, fair wage, and mobility. When I am informed about these realities, it really motivates me to take actions.
Can you share the initiative you’re working on?
As the current leader of Uprizine, I am working on advancing a plan to hold a joint-zoom event with BGU about intersectional feminism, along with other members of the club. I have noticed that many university students and Japanese people, in general, are unfamiliar with the concept of intersectional feminism. The term is generally defined as intricate and accumulative ways in which different types of discrimination conjoin, overlap, or intersect and impact a certain group of people with a certain combination of identities. It is about recognizing the multiplicity of different prejudices that affect people’s lives in a sui generis manner. The word, feminism itself is all too often stigmatized and/or misunderstood as a belief system that promotes the exclusion and degradation of men in order to elevate women in society. In reality, this is far from what feminism and intersectional feminism mean. Indeed, both terms promote equality for all gender, including men and this is what I want people to know more about through the club’s upcoming event. I am also working on compiling articles and art pieces with other Uprizine members for the club Zine that will be published on January 25th. The theme of Zine is “discrimination” of all kinds (i.e. racism, sexism, xenophobia, transphobia, discrimination against people with disability, etc.) and our goal is to delineate the complicated inequitable treatment people encounter in Japan because of their identities. In fact, we are looking for like-minded people, willing to contribute their art pieces and/or articles pertaining to discrimination in Japan and beyond. Please contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in drawing or writing for us!
What do you want to achieve for gender equality?
There are so many things that need to be addressed from all levels of society to achieve gender equality in Japan. As a university student, I strive to raise awareness about gender inequality through Uprizine and WE Int. As a precursor to concrete sociopolitical and economic changes, I believe it is indispensable for people, especially the young generation, to be educated and informed about the importance of gender equality and the consequences that emerge from a society that lacks gender parity. I consider enlightening people about gender equality is equivalent to laying the groundwork for bigger changes. Eventually, however, I would love to see the enactment of laws and policies that allow women and LGBTQ+ individuals to effectively advance themselves to leadership positions in companies and the government. More specifically, I believe the general public and Japanese politicians must recognize the toxic masculinized corporate culture of Japan that is impertinent for women who are also expected to work within the domestic sphere.