Asia-Pacific women fight foreign exploitation


MANILA – The tight grip of imperialism is still being felt in the Asia-Pacific region, especially among marginalized sectors like women.

Asia-Pacific has been the flashpoint of tensions between imperialist countries which are competing over the region’s abundant natural resources.

According to the primer ‘Militarism, Women, and Resistance’, Asia-Pacific has most of the world’s largest reserves of minerals, oil, and gasses, as well as vast forests and fertile farmlands.

Decades of colonialism armed by neoliberal policies resulted in the region becoming a large pool of labor sources with low wages and lenient work regulations. These make the Asia-Pacific more attractive for foreign investors who wish to exhaust the countries’ labor and natural resources.

In the Philippines alone, local leaders have been restless in courting foreigners to take an interest in the country. Lawmakers are recently reviving the push for charter change, citing the supposed restrictive economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution. But the data says otherwise.

Read: Landlessness looms if charter change happens

According to the Council for People’s Development and Governance, the Philippines is actually among the most open economies in Southeast Asia.

For Ibon Foundation, as foreign direct investments (FDI) increased in the country, the trade deficit worsened, with Filipino industrialization taking a hit.

The think-tank adds that laws have already been passed to bypass the 40% cap on foreign ownership. These prove that nothing is left now for the easing of the Constitution’s supposedly restrictive provisions.

However, imperialists do not stop at neoliberal economic policies. They eventually resort to militarism and harassment to secure their interests.

The impacts of militarization are particularly worse for women – intensifying existing gender inequality, discrimination, and oppression.

Gendered impacts of militarism

Women representatives from Asia-Pacific nations recount their shared experiences in the forum #WomenResist: Asia Pacific women fight back against militarism last March 13.

April Dyan Gumanao, a union organizer and coordinator of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) in Region 7, shared her firsthand experience under the hands of Philippine state forces.

In January 2023, Gumanao and her partner Armand Dayoha were abducted by men who introduced themselves as police officers at the Cebu City port. They surfaced five days later after their abductors left them in a private resort.

Read: Missing Cebu-based activists found; parents mulling to file charges

Gumanao lamented how defenders of human rights in the country continue to face the same, and even worse, attacks.

“When we form unions to forward our rights, instead of the government addressing our concerns, they pass laws to stop people from voicing their demands. They have been legitimizing fascism through measures such as the Anti-Terror Law which was created to stifle dissent,” Gumanao said.

Gumanao added how the country, through various administrations, has adopted counter-insurgency programs patterned by those in the U.S.

Read: Yearender 2023: Anti-Terror Act as state’s weapon against dissent

“Imperialist countries have been providing the Philippine military forces with war weapons. Imperialism, tyranny, and fascism really go hand in hand,” Gumano added.

South Koreans are also bearing the brunt of imperialism.

Minyeong Kim Han, an action research manager at the South Korean youth-led organization Peacemomo, said that Korea has remained a divided nation for over 70 years.

High-level of militarism can be seen in both North and South Korea – as the two countries continue to grapple for power.

Minyeong added that South Korea, throughout the years, has utilized more of the country’s resources for military use. In 2022 alone, South Korea ranked ninth in the world’s top military spenders with a $48.3 billion defense expenditure.

“The South Korean government allocates much of our resources in defense, and this limits opportunities to invest in the country’s basic social services including education as well as environmental protection,” Minyeong said.

Minyeong added that the South Korean government is slowly becoming one of the imperialist powers in Northeast Asia and the world. The country also targets to become the world’s largest arms supplier in the coming years.

The situation of women in West Papua is not so different.

Melan Sorabut of the regional movement Young Solwara Pacific said that imperialism has a big role in the island’s history of suffering.

Intensified hostilities have plagued West Papua for years as the Indonesian government aims to suppress the growing Papuan independence sentiment.

This is evident in Indonesia’s intensified counter-insurgency policies aimed at reducing Indigenous discontent and armed movements.

Citing an Al Jazeera report, West Papua, or the western half of the island of New Guinea and Indonesia’s easternmost region, has barely enjoyed stability since becoming part of Indonesia through a widely criticized referendum called the Act of Free Choice in 1969.

The report adds that the Indonesian government settled hundreds of thousands of people from other parts of the country in West Papua through its transmigration program, which resulted in numerous killings and massive displacement.

According to the UN Refugee Agency data, a total of 9.2 million people are currently fleeing wars, violence, conflict, or persecution across Asia and the Pacific – 50% of whom are women.

Sorabut said the intensified militarization severely affected women and children.

“Indigenous women are being raped while children are struggling from malnutrition in refugee camps. Access to food, healthcare, and education also remains far from reach,” Sorabut said.

Meanwhile, women and child rights advocate Renuka Kad noted that her country, India, has also experienced imperialism for at least five decades now.

She also shared how ‘defective’ the Indian military system is including having double jeopardy, no bail provision, and no right to appeal.

She added that women from minority religions suffer more from harassment.

However, despite the alarming situation and multiple burdens on women, they remain at the forefront of the resistance against imperialism and structural violence.

Women resisting militarism

“We have no other choice but to fight in order to survive,” Gumanao said.

In Myanmar, women take a frontline role in the protest movement that emerged after army chief Min Aung Hlaing seized power.

According to an Al Jazeera report, women have waved flags made of sarongs, and knickers, and used sanitary pads across streets to mock and humiliate security forces and stop them in their tracks.

Read: Question Everything | War and resistance in Myanmar and the Philippines

Meanwhile, women across India also led massive protests in 2022 after a state in the southern Indian region of Karnataka banned students from wearing Islamic headscarves or hijab.

These are just among the many stories of women leading the resistance against any kind of oppression not just against women but also those that affect the other sectors.

Sorabut said that women resist because of their sense of connection with other people.

“It is a powerful strength of women to have a sense of connection with one another. This is our land and I have an obligation to look after it. If not me, who else will do it? If I don’t do it now, what will happen to my children and my land?” Sorabut said.

For Gumanao, women’s participation is also necessary to dismantle the current militaristic and oppressive system.

Read: Study: 1 in 3 women across the world experience gender-based abuse
Read: Women writers in detention continue to fight for freedom

She said that women should not be closeted in a certain role and can even step up their resistance. This is evident as many women are now joining the armed struggle across the Asia-Pacific.

“We have a lot of platforms where we can show our defiance and our strength. The moment women chose to take the path of armed struggle, they already defied the macho-feudal imperialist system that says that only men can topple the system or become part of the revolutionary army,” Gumanao said. She added that for social movements to blossom, there must be solidarity.

“The moment we become immersed with other classes and sectors, we defy the concept of individualism which the capitalist and imperialist culture is trying to inculcate, especially among the young ones,” she said.

“We have to build and strengthen our platforms and solidarity. It’s not a joke that our enemies are imperialists that control power. They have resources and they have power right now, but the long history of women’s struggle shows that women in solidarity will become triumphant in the end. We should continue this kind of solidarity and strengthen our ranks to topple the system that continues to chain us from this imperialist and militarist control,” Gumanao added. (RTS, DAA)   (

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