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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Protecting Women

Values must go hand-in-hand with the law

RAPE IS A CRIME whose horror does not end with the act itself. The emotional scars remain, and the victim may be "raped" again and again by police indifference, the community's derision, even by the condemnation of her own clan. And in fighting back, she must often do so not only against the rapist but also a public that views her as tainted as her attacker. A tough new law in the Philippines has redefined rape as a public rather than a private crime, allowing the authorities, in addition to the victim, to press charges. That is a welcome step, as it will help change attitudes toward both rapists and those they assault.

But while the new law may facilitate the prosecution of suspected attackers, it will not prevent the crime from being committed in the first place. That depends more on values, essentially on men accepting, at the very least, that women are not simply sexual objects or possessions subject to male power. As Asian nations grow economically and local cultures assimilate more outside influences, many people are lamenting the erosion of traditional values -- including those that respect and protect women. Arguments over a return to such ethics have been multiplying, and often seem to bog down in the minutiae of family roles and dress codes. The recent arrest of three Malay Muslim women in Malaysia's Selangor state for taking part in a beauty contest caught many by surprise, including Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. The move was widely condemned as being out of touch with modern Malaysian sensibilities.

The virtues of traditional versus Westernized dress may be a legitimate topic of debate, though it is probably one best left to individuals and their families. What becomes dangerous is when longstanding values not only lose touch with contemporary realities but also perpetuate bleak traditional practices by a male-dominated society that does not take women seriously. This happens when women are passed over for promotion in Japan, female fetuses are aborted in India or rape victims are blamed for somehow having invited their own violation.

Yet traditional Asian values, whether Confucian or Buddhist or Islamic, also ask every individual to show benevolence, respect and responsibility toward other individuals. The injunction applies to both sexes, as well as to society as a whole. That should not mean merely trying to cloister women away from worldly dangers, as the Taliban in Afghanistan are doing in extreme fashion. Instead, it ought to imply treating each woman benevolently, respectfully and responsibly at all times, whether she is a village peasant or a business executive. Such values should go a long way not only toward combating any feared intrusion of a range of undesirable foreign mores, but also strengthening the underlying fabric of a society.

The high incidence of crimes against women even in developed countries is a stark reminder that laws alone, however progressive, will never by themselves provide adequate protection. The inculcation and nurture of the proper ethics are also essential. Values, of course, must never be used to rationalize or justify the control and degradation of women. Rather, they should help foster a genuine respect for women. That, ultimately, would do more than anything else to mitigate all manner of crimes against them.

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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