Icons of gender justice

Read about the lives of the women who paved the way for women’s rights in Asia in this graphic novel anthology.

As Women's Month comes to a close, we’d like to once more take the opportunity to reflect on the progress made towards gender justice and the work that still needs to be done. It is important to acknowledge the contributions of women in all areas of society and to recommit to the struggle for gender equality, because despite some progress, gender gaps continue to be a pervasive issue that affects individuals, communities, and societies as a whole.

Gender gaps refer to differences or inequalities between men and women in terms of their access to and enjoyment of resources, opportunities, and benefits in society. These gaps can exist in various domains such as education, employment, income, political representation, health outcomes, and social and cultural norms. They are often the result of deep-rooted gender biases and discrimination, which can limit women's potential and perpetuate social and economic inequality. The following are some areas where gender inequality exists today:

Addressing gender gaps is of paramount importance for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, these gaps are a fundamental form of inequality, resulting in social exclusion and limited access to resources for women and other marginalized genders. This exclusion perpetuates a cycle of poverty and disadvantage, hindering social and economic development. Secondly, gender gaps limit the potential of entire societies by restricting the participation of women and other marginalized genders in various sectors such as education, politics, and the workforce, leading to a loss of diverse perspectives, talents, and ideas. Thirdly, gender gaps also have significant economic implications, as the undervaluation of women's labor and contributions to the economy leads to a lower Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and limits the growth potential of businesses and economies. Therefore, addressing gender gaps is not only a matter of social justice and equality but also a crucial component for sustainable and inclusive development.

The labour force participation of women in Asia remains low in many countries. The majority of women work in the informal economy, often under harsh conditions without proper social protection. And while women have found opportunities opening up in labour-intense export industries and digitalized service sectors, the digital divide is shaping the future of many women and girls. Women in Asia also spend four times as much time on unpaid care work than men, often connected to a lack of public services. Far too often, the experience of gender-based violence is a part of women’s and girls’ day-to-day life. Yet, they are leading many inspiring initiatives, questioning the discriminatory gender roles and norms that are deeply embedded in social structures and cultural practices. While challenging societal norms may feel difficult and sometimes impossible, it’s important to bear in mind that change is attainable.

History is full of extraordinary women that have proven this to be true. Unfortunately, their stories are seldomly told. In Asia as elsewhere, the icons of political and social struggles that are discussed in school or media are overwhelmingly male. Nonetheless, there are also many women who accomplished outstanding achievements and made great sacrifices for their beliefs, often against high odds. In many cases these women inspired others and made a long-lasting impact on their societies.

Therefore, the team of the FES Gender Justice Hub Asia (GEHA), together with the regional communications team, and the gender coordinators of the FES offices in the region, set out to identify and tell the stories of some of these Asian icons of gender justice. With this anthology of graphic short stories, we want to share their inspiring messages beyond the borders of the countries we work in and show how manifold the roots of feminism and gender equality are in the Asia and Pacific region.

The icons come from diverse backgrounds. Some used their privileged position in society to drive change towards social justice, while others had to fight hard to create space for themselves. But they all have one thing in common: determination to change the lives of women and girls for the better, and with this, they paved the way for women’s rights in Asia.

Icons of Gender Justice

Icons of Gender Justice

Discover the stories of 12 remarkable women from across the Asia region who paved the way for women's rights in Asia. From social justice advocates to those who fought for their own rights, their stories inspire and pave the way for women's rights in Asia. Read on to learn about their diverse experiences and how they made a difference. More

Kang Ju-ryong (South Korea)

Kang Ju-ryong was a female worker who led the first high-altitude sit-in protest in Korea in 1931, fighting for the liberation of women and labor rights. Her courageous act was the starting point for Korean female workers to begin their own fight against exploitation and contributed as one of the key actors for the independence movements in the long run. Her work has had lasting impact on Korean history and the ongoing struggle for gender equality in the workplace.

Deng Yingchao (China)

A pioneer of the 20th-century women's movement, Deng Yingchao was born in Nanning, southern China in 1904. At 20 years old, she founded the country's first newspaper dedicated to women's issues. During the Second World War, she organized women to resist Japanese occupation and helped lead the women's movement in the newly established government after the founding of the People's Republic of China. As vice chairwoman of the National Women's Federation, Deng also participated in international women's exchanges and established deep friendships with women leaders from all over the world.

Karina Constantino-David (Philippines)

Born on 19 March 1946, Karina Constantino-David was a feminist and activist who dedicated her life to the fight for freedom and democracy. Educated at the University of the Philippines, she later taught at the university and mentored a generation of feminist community organizers and development workers. She formed the folk-duo ‘Inang Laya’ (Mother Freedom) in the 1980s, bravely performing protest songs during rallies to expose injustices and rally people. Karina put her feminism into practice through various NGOs and government agencies, and founded Tindig Pilipinas (Take A Stand, Philippines).

Sorghaghtani Beki (Mongolia)

Empress Sorghaghtani was the wife of Genghis Khan’s youngest son and heir, Tolui. After her husband's death, she became an influential advisor to Tolui’s successor and brother Ugudei, recognizing the value of education for governing the far-flung state and supporting the establishment of schools and libraries throughout the Mongol Empire. Sorghaghtani ensured each of her sons, who all became heirs to Chinggis Khan’s throne, learned a foreign language. Her religious tolerance and dedication to growing cultural and commercial ties paved the way for an era of prosperity in the Mongol Empire.

Lian Gogali (Indonesia)

Lian Gogali is the founder of Mosintuwu Institute in Indonesia, an alternative women’s school that empowers women and communities in a conflict-torn region. After researching women and children post-conflict in Poso, Lian returned to run a Women's School, but saw the need for a better program. In 2010, she founded Mosintuwu Institute and ran the first batch of Women School with a curriculum that empowers women politically, culturally, and economically. Her localized approach and progressive curriculum have successfully empowered over 500 women from different ethnicities, villages, and religions in Poso, and her work has received national and international recognition. It is the first foundation in the Poso region to unite women from different social, religious, and ethnic backgrounds to learn, listen, cooperate, and develop a healthy, just society together and build communication and trust among different communities.

Trung Trac (Vietnam)

Trung Trac was the daughter of a Vietnamese military chief who fought against the Han Dynasty's cruel exploitation of the people. After her husband was killed by Governor To Dinh, she led a rebellion alongside her sister and captured the capital, declaring herself king and becoming the first woman to lead a Vietnamese uprising. Although the rebellion lasted less than three years, Trung Trac remains a symbol of patriotism and women's leadership in Vietnam. Her story is an example of the tenacity and determination of the Vietnamese people in their fight for independence.

Angkhana Neelaphaijit (Thailand)

Angkhana Neelaphaijit, a prominent human rights defender in Thailand, founded the Justice for Peace Foundation and worked to strengthen non-violent efforts to protect human rights, promote access to justice and end impunity in Southern Thailand. She has received international recognition for her work on human rights, including women's rights, and helped different groups of vulnerable women. Despite the lack of laws to protect women in Thailand, Angkhana worked on the Gender Equality Act and believes that implementation is key to success. She hopes to inspire the younger generation to continue the struggle for better laws and practices for women and girls.

Rokeya Sakhawat (Bangladesh)

Rokeya Sakhawat was a pioneering feminist ahead of her time. Born in British India in 1880, Rokeya was driven by a strong sense of gender justice and a desire to improve the condition of women. Despite facing economic hindrances, social barriers and religious criticism, she established schools and literary programs, formed a Muslim Women's Association and wrote a fictional revenge tale in which women rule and men are confined. Rokeya's contributions to Bangladeshi women's empowerment, human rights and transformative leadership continue to inspire and resonate today.

Yogmaya Neupane (Nepal)

Born into a traditional Nepali family that adhered to patriarchal culture and the caste system, Yogmaya Neupane grew into a staunch opponent of these norms. She challenged not only the customs in her immediate environment but also addressed injustices with the authoritarian Rana regime through her poetry and social activism. Yogmaya ultimately sacrificed her life to draw attention to gender inequalities and the rights of the poor and marginalized, and her story is a testament to the power of individual determination in the face of systemic oppression.

Sonal Shukla (India)

Sonal Shukla was a feminist activist whose unique approach transformed the lives of adolescent girls in Mumbai's slums. From her early interactions with indigenous communities and Dalits in nearby settlements, to her role in founding Mumbai's first autonomous feminist group, Forum Against Rape, Sonal consistently lived the feminist slogan "the personal is political." Through her work with Vacha, a feminist group that offers life skills and community work to girls from deprived backgrounds, Sonal made a tangible difference in the lives of countless young women.

Asma Jahangir (Pakistan)

Asma Jahangir, a fearless Supreme Court lawyer and human rights activist, fought for justice for the most vulnerable in her country. Despite facing threats, assault, and attacks on her family and home, Asma dedicated her life to securing basic political rights and dignity for women, children, religious minorities, and the poor. Her outstanding achievements in the legal sphere and as an intrepid activist earned her widespread love and respect within Pakistan and internationally.

Soraya Tarzi (Afghanistan)

Soraya Tarzi, daughter of Afghan progressive thinker Mahmud Beg Tarzi, grew up under Ottoman rule in Syria. In 1905, her family returned to Afghanistan where she married Prince Amanullah Khan and became queen. Soraya played a key role in improving women's status in Afghanistan and established the country's first women's rights movement. She accompanied the king on a tour of Europe and upon their return, attempted to bring progressive changes to Afghanistan's conservative society. Forced to abdicate and leave the country, Soraya died in exile in Rome at age 68, leaving a lasting feminist legacy.

FES is committed towards working with its partners to advance gender equality in Asia-Pacific. Learn more about work work in the region.


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