The Asian Association of Women Studies 4th Congress Concept Note: Engendering Citizenship in Asia
For centuries the concept of citizenship has been a tied up with the concept of the nation. For most people, a nation is often defined as an entity that has clearly demarcated borders which distinguishes it from another nation, as well as an organized form of sovereignty that allows it effective control over the people inside the delineated territory. Such an organization must also have the capacity to protect its sovereignty from other nations. Thus, a central element of any of “nation” is a functioning “state” such that the term “nation-state” is often used interchangeably with the term “nation”.
The concept of a nation also assumes that those who live within its borders share certain things in common such as a common ethnicity and a common culture. There is also an assumed homogeneity of interests among the population, at least in terms of such values as common economic development and non-hostility towards other citizens of the nation state.
In relation therefore to the nation state, “citizenship” is an identity that is both “natural” and “conferred”. Citizenship seems to be a naturalized identity in terms of ethnicity, a common culture and often a common history with others in the nation state. But because modern nation states also provide protections and services and require allegiance, it is also an identity that needs to be recognized and confirmed by the state.
Feminists have from the beginning troubled this conception of the nation state. They have questioned the homogeneity of national interests because the state has often failed to recognize women as full citizens despite their having all the identity markers for citizenship such as ethnicity, a common culture and a shared history. Thus, women’s struggle for the right to vote has been a common theme in feminist history as well as a trope in the birth of most modern nation states.
Since these beginnings, feminists have waged a continuous challenge to the nation state in that they continue to struggle in many locations for their full citizenship rights, including contemporary struggles against gender-based violence and for sexual and reproductive rights. Such struggles are marked by great specificity yet they also, as in the early suffragist struggles, cross national borders in various webs of solidarity. Such solidarity has in fact evoked a backlash at the international level, for example in the UN, where women’s sexual and reproductive rights remain continually contested by patriarchal governments.
Additional challenges to old notions of citizenship are posed by increasing globalization.
Labor migration has led to large numbers of people, increasingly women, taking up long-term residency in another country. Women from sending countries in Asia form cultural communities of long standing in other countries. Such communities contribute to the development and cultural life of the receiving community. Women migrants have often had to struggle for equal rights and protections. These struggles are almost contextualized in a context where, the migrant worker is not considered worthy of the full set of rights and privileges of the citizen. Stripped of the full protections of citizenship they are indeed subject to violence, abuse and other forms of discrimination. Within migrant communities as well, the failure to access full citizenship rights has often aggravated their disempowerment by patriarchal customs and hierarchies.
Globalization also has loosened the boundaries between nations such that we are seeing increasing integration of economies through trading blocks and alliances such as the rise of the ASEAN in Southeast Asia. However, the consolidation of regional blocks has proceeded far more within the framework of financial and economic integration instead of the integration of regimes of human rights under common human rights standards.
This has allowed a situation where the peoples of a nation can be brought into the inequalities of global financial and economic systems without the necessary social protections and human rights standards. More often, the supposedly sovereign state cannot protect its citizens from these global onslaughts. It does however, continue to jealously guard its sovereignty against the imposition of international human rights standards.
This is particularly difficult for women and other groups who continue to be repressed by the state in areas such as sexual and reproductive rights even as the state begins to abnegate on its social protection and social welfare duties as a result of globalization.
However, globalization is a two-sided phenomenon. While it has allowed the increasing subjection of the world’s population to the logic of profit and the market, it has also allowed increasing cross-movement and cross border solidarities.
Other marginalized groups are in a similar situation to women. Indigenous peoples, LGBT peoples, religious and other minorities have always been recognized by the state as citizens within the sovereign territory but have also not been granted full rights.
As globalization begins to challenge the meaning of the nation and therefore citizenship, marginalized groups within nations are therefore presented unique challenges and opportunities.
Certainly there is a need to redefine citizenship as global structures of economic control emerge. Such struggles continue to be about global regimes of social protection and human rights, setting the stage for new concepts of global citizenship.
The 4th AAWS Congress wishes to explore the emergence of a national and global citizenship that fully integrates the rights of all to full social protections, welfare and self determination.