NEWS

Working Together For
Women's Empowerment.

Updated: Feb 19

February 12, 2021 - WomEnpowered international held our fourth biannual panel discussion: My body, My Choice, centred around the topic of reproductive rights. Reflecting on the latest developments in Poland and Japan, the event focused on the shifts in political standards and social perspectives regarding reproductive rights through the experiences of three expat women living in Japan. Our panellists Ola, Bonnie and Clara shed light on the political, legal and social landscape of reproductive rights through their personal involvement in the topic.


The conversation began with Ola’s introduction of the currently urgent


q




uestion for Poland: access to abortion. While she positioned the topic in a complex historical and cultural context, she highlighted, the issue is multifaceted: it is not just the right of abortion but indeed safe, accessible, not shameful abortion. Religion plays an important role in Poland




. It is used as a powerful tool for resisting legal abortion and in that way serves conservative politics


claiming to defend traditional values.



Although not related to religion, in Japan too, defending traditional values has a large influence on the continued resistance to allowing over-the-counter access to emergency contraception. The emergency contraceptive can be accessed in Japan after a doctor's prescription. Becoming an over-the-counter product, Bonnie revealed, would challenge the established gender order. Her research and work on the topic have shown her that it is often male-only panels making decisions guided by preconceived gender stereotypes, in some instances even doubting women’s ability to make appropriate decisions about taking the contraceptive. Moving the conversation forward would require some level of social acceptance which can be achieved through education about the need and use of the emergency pill as part of the wider topic of sexuality, sex education and safe sexual practices. Japanese NPOs have been taking an important role in raising voices and opening up a space for discussion. It is expected that this year the emergency contraceptive will be available over the counter. Clara connected both cultural contexts and their complexity by noting that it is still a global struggle to have policy truly translated into reality. She emphasized the power of women as agents of change, as educators and as allies by sharing solidarity. Especially in times of this global pandemic which has disproportionately affected women, it is crucial that safe spaces and health coverage for women are considered fundamental and are prioritised. For this, it is crucial to have women in decision-making positions, especially when the policy would affect women’s bodies and lives. Women should also have access to reliable information from a young age to be able to make informed decisions.



Key Insights from Panelists:

  • Culture and background matter

From family background to wider community norms, culture can determine how women are informed about their reproductive rights, how women perceive their own bodies, what women believe is shameful or right, what is legally and practically available. Different backgrounds can result in opposite dynamics. For example, although in the USA abortion has been stigmatized, over the counter emergency contraceptives are available. In Japan, there is less stigma around abortion but significant hurdles to allow easy access to the emergency contraceptive.

  • It is a web of issues, not an individual case

Our panelists stories showed that under the umbrella of reproductive rights, from contraceptives to abortion rights, there is a web of interrelated issues. For example, the lack of freedom of the press in Poland poses a significant obstacle to disseminating accurate information about reproductive rights and can misinterpret the motivation behind the protests against the abortion ban. The web of issues stretches to class, sexuality and other inequalities.

  • Personal autonomy - rewriting the internalized narratives

Shaming women for their sexual activity or choice combined with lack of sex education and stigmatization of topics such as menstruation and sexuality, contribute to women internalizing unhealthy narratives about their own bodies. It is important to question the element of taboo and shame that obscures our inner conversation and become aware of what guides our choices.


Calls to action:

  • Your voice matters. Advocate. Support women-led organization and self-organizing local networks. This is powerful. A bottom-up approach is important.

  • Your voice matters even if you are abroad. Amplify the voices of those who are fighting. Put pressure. Support international organizations.

  • Consider the topic from different perspectives: political, cultural but also health-care systems. Rethink your own values on bodily autonomy and access to health care services. How can health systems and delivery of such service be aligned with what different women need (in the complexity of their class, race, identity)?


We were pleased to see great interest in this event and hear illuminating comments from the audience. We hope you will continue to join us throughout our upcoming events! Watch for updates on our Facebook Page or website!





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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 to you Mahi Patki, who is majoring in environmental science at the University of Tokyo.

Born in Pune, India. lived in China and England for the 12 years, Mahi found her passion for environmental issues in high school. Read what initiatives she's working on for empowering women from her experience!



1.Tell us about yourself. What is the background you grew up in?


My name is Mahi Patki. I was born in Pune, India. I lived in China and England before coming to Japan where I spent the past 12 years of my life. I am currently majoring in environmental science in the undergraduate PEAK program, at the University of Tokyo. Looking back, I think that I grew up in a bubble, going from one international community to the other, and was oblivious to gender inequality. Perhaps that was just because it is so deeply institutionalized that people no longer realize that we have huge gender disparity. After entering high school, I became a lot more aware, my perspective changed, and I started gaining more interest in feminism.


In summer 2020, when the Japanese government was giving out masks to each household, the students at the dorms I live in also received care packages with disposable and cloth masks. After comparing with my friends, I realized that all the male students had received plain black or white cloth masks, while the female students were given floral patterned masks in different colors. Although I appreciated receiving free masks during a pandemic, I was baffled by the need to make this distinction. It may seem insignificant, but small instances like this remind me that we have a long way to go to achieve gender equality.





2. What was your motivation to join WE Int.?


In 2020, I interviewed some of the founding members of WE Int. and the project lead for the En Tendedero Project, to write an article for Komaba Times (a student-led English-language magazine at the University of Tokyo). I was inspired by the stories they shared, and I knew that I just had to be part of this community. I am a work-in-progress feminist, and there is so much to learn about gender-related issues. WE Int. hosts such a variety of events that can help me navigate through and make sense of the plethora of gender equality issues. Even more than that, I feel supported and believe that by joining WE Int. there are so many inspiring women that I can reach out to and learn from.


3. What is gender equality to you? What is your passion towards gender equality?


Gender equality is at a fundamental level is when everyone is treated equally irrespective of their gender. It is a basic human right and essential for the optimum functioning of society. My passion for gender equality comes from this ‘grrr’ feeling I get inside me when something is not fair. I want to understand this feeling by studying and taking informed actions to create change. Gender-related discrimination has been going on for so long that sometimes even women do not see it. I want to continue to challenge my own perceptions, as well as norms and cultural traditions that make it so difficult for gender equality to be achieved.



4. What would you like to achieve through WE Int.? Why do you think it’s important to promote it?


My passion for environmental issues sparked in high school when I started an environmental team to tackle the issue of excessive plastic waste generated by students in my school. This project inspired me to attempt to reduce my own single-use waste and highlighted the alarming amount of waste that came from the pads that I used on my period. Upon investigation, I came across a more sustainable alternative: reusable cloth pads, and started using them. Although they generated less plastic waste I found them uncomfortable and mendokusai to clean. I finally bought a menstrual cup and am currently getting the hang of using it. Menstruation adds an extra struggle to the already complicated lives of women. The taboo surrounding menstruation makes it even more difficult for women to learn from each other's experiences.


Therefore, I wanted to start an open conversation to create a space where we can acquire an accurate understanding of menstruation. I hope that this will empower us to make informed decisions about our bodies and reproductive health. Period Rediscovered is a 6-month online discussion series about menstruation being launched in March. Moreover, through the series, we will also introduce the history, culture, and feminist struggle related to menstruation. Together we can understand the gender dynamics in promoting women’s health and destigmatizing menstruation. Let’s explore what it is that we need to make our lives more comfortable!




#BeWomenpowered

#SheInspires


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On Monday 16th November WomEnpowered International held a pilot event for a mentorship program with the Women’s Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.


The session began with personal introductions and general questions to enable all participants to get to know each other. It was a very engaging hour and a half as we shared and listened to the mentors’ professional experiences in different industries and the current projects, aspirations and challenges of our WE Int. mentees. From psychology professionals, to former consultants and directors, we were very honoured to have the insight, guidance and encouragement of some very inspiring women from the ACCJ Women’s Committee.


One of the highlights was also hearing the personal stories and challenges faced by our mentors as they were starting their careers and forging their professional direction. We very much appreciated their candid reflections and valuable mentorship. At the end of the event we discussed what we would like to see in the next ACCJ mentorship meeting. The next meeting will be held at 7pm on January 21st 2021. We highly recommend any WE Int. member interested in connecting with a mentor to sign up! Please register here if you are interested: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdI68ZpkbiF4jztbkqaW-zdb8y0-FMnJvjbCqZlIV5T4IhMpw/viewform?usp=sf_link


“Meeting and exchanging with WeInt women was truly inspiring, and I know I can learn a lot from both mentors and mentees. Despite not being in Japan at the moment I am very pleased to be a part of this community. I look forward to our next sessions!”

- Ava Drai.


“Joining the workshop, I got to listen to stories and learn things I have not anticipated before joining. Being able to join a program where all participants are unique and in different stages of their life and career, it allowed me to not only get my own questions answered but also think beyond. I am excited to continue building this mentorship through the workshops.”

- JaeKyoung Jade Hwang.



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