BANGKOK, Thailand — Gender in Southeast Asia is the deciding factor concerning independence, ability to work and even health. Southeast Asian countries, such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, are culturally diverse. However, the women of this region all share the experience of gender discrimination.
The inferior position of women in Southeast Asia impacts women’s health in Southeast Asia. The Official Journal of The World Psychiatric Association (WPA) examined the psychological toll of gender discrimination on the women of the entire region, including specific studies on women in India, Nepal and Pakistan. The study report explains that Southeast Asia “faces enormous social, economic and health challenges, including pervasive inequality, violence, political instability and high burden of disease,” partially due to the fact that the population is high while the income in low.
Traditional gender roles dominate the region. Women take on the role of child bearing, while men are the breadwinners. These ideas produce discriminative behaviors among people. The births of males are celebrated, while the births of females are mourned. Sometimes, the WPA explains, “Women are forced to abort a female fetus.” This practice is most common in India.
Religion is also a major factor in the treatment of women. In Pakistan and India, Muslim girls are sometimes subjected to honor killings, arranged marriages and female circumcision, among other harsh practices.
The behavior of men in Southeast Asia contributes to the subservient role of women, as husbands often go unpunished for physical and sexual assault. Additionally, due to the economic climate in the region, “many women and young children are trafficked and forced into prostitution, undesired marriages and bonded labor.”
The WPA reports overwhelmingly higher prevalence of psychological issues in women than in men. In Bangladesh, twice as many women suffered from mental disorders, and three times as many women committed suicide. The WPA also states that in Pakistan, women suffering from depressive disorders stated that they were due to “marital conflict, conflict with in-laws, financial dependency, lack of meaningful job and stress of responsibilities at home and at work.”
In addition to mental health issues, women also suffer from increased risk of physical health problems in Southeast Asia. The World Health Organization reports “women and girls face increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.”
According to an AVERT report on HIV/AIDS prevalence in Southeast Asia, the majority of cases in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia were concentrated among injecting drug users and sex workers. However, the number of overall cases has fallen, “mainly due to increased condom use by men and a reduction in their use of brothels.”
In order to change the prevalence of physical and psychological health issues among females in Southeast Asia, the mentality toward women must change. While the WPA states that while women now have “comparatively more opportunities for education, employment and enjoyment of civil rights within society…the de-stereotyping of the gender roles which have been traditionally assigned by our society is still far away.”
Creating changes in the diverse cultural norms of Southeast Asia would require tackling religious, social and economic issues, which undoubtedly poses a challenge to the progress of women’s rights.