Pelita Padang: Building Tolerance in an Era of Polarization

InAsia

Insights and Analysis

Pelita Padang: Building Tolerance in an Era of Polarization

October 11, 2023

By A. Jamet Hamidi 

Chap Goh Mei, the annual Lantern Festival of the Chinese-Indonesian community, which was banned under the Suharto regime. (Photo: Rudolf Klavert / The Asia Foundation)

One of the world’s most diverse countries, with thousands of ethnic groups and multiple state-sanctioned religions, Indonesia’s path to democracy since the end of the authoritarian Suharto regime in 1998 has held out the promise of fundamental rights for all citizens. Yet key tenets of democracy—freedom of expression, association, and political participation—have not always protected the rights of disfavored minorities, and instead have been exploited by conservative groups to dictate social values and to decree what is acceptable in the religious, political, and private spheres.

The government of Indonesia and civil society actors concerned with religious freedom have grown increasingly alarmed by the spread of radical religious views that promote discrimination against groups and individuals considered “unacceptable,” including both followers of minority religions and nonconformists of accepted faiths. Steadily growing reports of violence against minority religions have tracked the gradual spread of these radical ideas, dramatically escalating levels of religious conflict across the country.

Tolerance and intolerance in Indonesia

Two national laws allow discrimination against minority religions: the Blasphemy Law of 1965 and the Religious Harmony Regulation, adopted under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2006. The latter strengthened the Blasphemy Law and added weight to many of its oppressive regulations. The SETARA Institute for Democracy and Peace, an Indonesian nonprofit, has found that from 2007 to 2022 there were 573 episodes of religious intolerance directed towards places of worship, from refusal of permission to worship and refusal to grant permits for places of worship, to intimidation of minority believers and other forms of intolerance.

New laws and regulations by themselves cannot effectively address this problem of radicalization and intolerance. What is needed, rather, is the reinforcement of social values and practices that are known to reduce intolerance, while working with communities and various government agencies and officials to create a supportive environment for minorities.

The rise of identity politics

In late 2016 and early 2017, many observers were shocked to see that a conservative strain of “muscular” Islam that had largely been confined to the fringes was beginning to dominate public debate. Several studies found that these radical views were being propagated through schools, universities, and mosques in addition to online and social media.

Indonesian elections have witnessed a corresponding rise of religious identity politics. Without strong support from the political grassroots, politicians are instead invoking religious allegiances, exploiting radical and exclusionary religious views as they work with conservative groups. This, in turn, is affecting the way different communities relate to each other.

To identify with a group is part of human nature. Once people connect with a group, their identities can become powerfully bound to it. When such a group feels threatened, they can become deeply defensive, and when the unity of an identity group is based on the existence of a perceived enemy, identity politics can create deep and even violent social polarization. By tapping into this powerful element of human nature, the discourse of religious intolerance threatens democracy with a zero-sum logic of us-versus-them. The health of Indonesia’s hard-won democracy requires an antidote to the rising fever of religion-fueled identity politics. Defusing the antagonism between religious identity groups is the only way to deal with Indonesia’s deepening polarization and religious division.

Fostering interfaith dialogue: the Pelita Padang story

In the city of Padang, the capital of West Sumatra, which the Setara Institute ranked third from the bottom in tolerance out of 94 Indonesian cities in 2022, two young women, Angelique Maria Cuaca and Silmi Novita, set out to bridge the chasm between young people from different religious backgrounds. They created an interfaith youth organization called Pelita Padang, in 2019, to promote dialogue across religious communities.

A meeting of PELITA Padang. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

Pelita Padang is a group of young people with an aspiration to break free from the entanglements of past religious conflicts. It was born from the anxiety they felt over the increasing problem of intolerance in Indonesia, especially in West Sumatra. Informal meetings are held regularly and include speakers to discuss various topics such as Indonesians’ constitutional right to worship and the root causes of religious conflict and cultural clashes.

With support from The Asia Foundation, Pelita Padang often holds interfaith dialogues, film discussions, and writing competitions, mainly focusing on religious diversity. It also works actively on issues with other organizations. When Covid-19 hit, Pelita Padang collaborated with one of the oldest Chinese associations in Padang to organize a mass vaccination event. Together with a local community group, they also supported Chap Goh Mei, the annual Lantern Festival of the Chinese-Indonesian community, which was banned under the Suharto “New Order” regime.

PELITA Padang activists posing with The Asia Foundation’s Democracy and Governance team after a workshop on advocacy for freedom of religion and belief. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

Community support and participation can help people heal from the trauma of discrimination. Pelita Padang believes intergroup communication can be achieved in these smaller dialogues where people can set aside biases and embrace differences with compassion and understanding on a more personal level.

Pelita Padang aims to increase youth awareness and participation in freedom of religion and belief issues in West Sumatra. We hope active youth participation can help build a tolerant community more appreciative of differences in faith and culture.

— Angelique Maria Cuaca of Pelita Padang

The idea is to create friendships across faiths to break down barriers and stigma. This will ultimately lead to tolerance and inclusivity. Religious tolerance is the underlying theme of Indonesian democracy, and a more tolerant future for the world’s third-largest democracy depends on its ability to build inclusive communities.

A. Jamet Hamidi is a program officer in The Asia Foundation’s Democracy and Governance program in Indonesia. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Indonesia
Related programs: Good Governance

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

Contact

For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

The Latest Across Asia

Spark creativity, joy, and a love of reading

The Asia Foundation Partners with Mastercard to Launch Program Aiming to Reach 100,000 Entrepreneurs by 2025

The Asia Foundation Partners with Mastercard to Launch Program Aiming to Reach 100,000 Entrepreneurs by 2025

Kuala Lumpur, June 26, 2023 — Today, Mastercard announced Mastercard Strive Malaysia to support Malaysia’s growth and digitalization priorities. In collaboration with The Asia Foundation, the program aims to digitalize and support the growth of 100,000 micro-and small enterprises (MSEs), focusing on women-owned and women-led businesses. The program strives to meet the evolving needs of Malaysian small businesses by providing them access to essential tools, networks, and resources while cultivating a more supportive business ecosystem. 

Mastercard Strive Malaysia is part of a portfolio of philanthropic programs – supported by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth – aimed at helping small businesses worldwide thrive in the digital economy. Additional Strive programs include those in the U.S., the U.K., Mexico, Czechia, and Indonesia. Collectively, they aim to support more than 10 million small businesses. In the Southeast Asia region, Malaysia is the second country to launch the Strive program.   

Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin, Minister of Higher Education for Malaysia: Strive Malaysia is a timely offer that will bolster our MSEs. The Ministry is delighted to partner with Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and The Asia Foundation to open the doors of our 105-strong network of community colleges to reach Strive digital tools and resources to MSMEs at their doorstep and in their local communities. 

Addressing Roadblocks to Digitalization 

Strive Malaysia launches on International Micro-, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises Day, a nod to the critical role of small enterprises in driving the country’s growth. 

Datuk Ewon Benedick, Minister of Entrepreneur and Cooperatives Development, Malaysia: “The Ministry of Entrepreneur and Cooperatives Development is pleased to support any private sector effort that contributes to strengthening a conducive entrepreneurial ecosystem. I strongly believe that Strive Malaysia can serve as a platform to provide entrepreneurs, especially women, with the essential support to participate in the digital economy 

The backbone of the Malaysian economy, MSEs, account for 97.2 percent of businesses in the country, employing over seven million people and generating over half of the national gross domestic product (GDP). With the government’s efforts and investments to increase participation in the digital economy, the past decades have witnessed the growth of small enterprises in Malaysia.  

Despite this, a survey of local MSEs reveals that many still struggle to identify available support and which programs can best meet their needs. According to World Bank, only 54 percent of Malaysian MSEs utilize digital solutions, and only 58 percent have digitized payment systems. Further, women-led businesses face additional barriers, including access to technology and financing, that result in lower levels of digitalization and growth.  

Safdar Khan, Division President, Southeast Asia at Mastercard said, “Mastercard is committed to supporting inclusive economic growth in Malaysia by enabling MSEs to address the roadblocks to digitalization and access the tools, skills, and resources they need to become an engine of this growth.” 

Enabling Women-led MSEs to Thrive 

The International Labor Organization reports that women entrepreneurs in Malaysia have less access to banks and financial institutions, which often leads to constrained growth and a relatively low share of women-owned businesses in the country, with only one in five MSEs led by women.   

“Strive Malaysia will work to unleash the resilience and growth of Malaysian small businesses, enabling women entrepreneurs to break through systemic barriers so they can benefit from the digital economy,” said Subhashini Chandran, vice president of Social Impact, Asia Pacific at the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. 

Enabling women entrepreneurs to access and scale their businesses in the digital economy contributes to economic growth. Research shows that by addressing the entrepreneurship gender gap and providing targeted support to more women entrepreneurs, Malaysia has the potential to increase its GDP per capita by up to six percent.  

Strive Malaysia will work to understand the gaps experienced by women entrepreneurs in their digitalization journeys and provide tailored solutions, including access to the right tools, networks, and resources to help them grow their businesses online.  

Mastercard and The Asia Foundation will work with government and private partners to provide support services to the identified MSEs in Malaysia. This initiative contributes to the government’s vision to build an inclusive digital society. 

Robin Bush, the country representative for The Asia Foundation in Malaysia, said, “The Foundation seeks to support Malaysia’s transition to high-income status and recognizes that enabling women entrepreneurs to thrive in the digital economy is a key component. We are very happy to partner with the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth to provide women entrepreneurs with a personalized digital upskilling strategy with tools, resources, and mentors to encourage growth.” 

Mastercard is a global technology company in the payments industry. Their mission is to connect and power an inclusive, digital economy that benefits everyone, everywhere, by making transactions safe, simple, smart, and accessible. Using secure data and networks, partnerships, and passion, our innovations and solutions help individuals, financial institutions, governments, and businesses realize their greatest potential. With connections across more than 210 countries and territories, we are building a sustainable world that unlocks priceless possibilities for all.  

The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth advances equitable and sustainable economic growth and financial inclusion around the world. The center leverages the company’s core assets and competencies, including data insights, expertise, and technology, while administering the philanthropic Mastercard Impact Fund, to produce independent research, scale global programs, and empower a community of thinkers, leaders, and doers on the front lines of inclusive growth.  

The Asia Foundation is a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives and expanding opportunities across Asia and the Pacific. Informed by decades of experience and deep local expertise, our work across the region is focused on good governance, women’s empowerment and gender equality, inclusive economic growth, environment and climate action, and regional and international relations.

Read more about the Foundation’s work.

For media inquiries, please visit our News Room. Engage with us on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Instagram.

Read our latest news, or insights from our blog.

Media contact

Eelynn Sim, Director, Media & Strategy
[email protected]
415-743-3318

Flawless: Lessons from the Capital of K-Beauty

InAsia

Insights and Analysis

Flawless: Lessons from the Capital of K-Beauty

May 17, 2023

By John Rieger and Tracie Yang

Seoul’s stylish Gangnam District, where the pursuit of perfect beauty draws an international clientele to “Plastic Surgery Street.” (Photo: Kellerna – Own Work / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Part of the global Korean cultural wave known as Hallyu, the Korean beauty industry—K-beauty—has captured imaginations around the world. K-Pop stars have become the ambassadors for a particularly Korean vision of flawless beauty. Exports of Korean skincare and makeup products now exceed Korean smartphone exports. Seoul is the cosmetic surgery capital of the world, studied by visiting surgeons from the United States and Brazil.

But there is a darker side to this explosion of Korean soft power: complex questions about a system in which chasing and achieving the reigning standard of beauty becomes an inescapable social norm and a gatekeeper for personal and professional success.

Joining us today to talk about the Korean beauty industry is Elise Hu, NPR host-at-large and the host of TED Talks Daily. She’s the author of the new book Flawless: Lessons in Looks and Culture from the K-Beauty Capital. Inspired by her four years as NPR’s first bureau chief in Seoul, the book a deeply reported, and deeply reflective, account of the sometimes amazing, and sometimes disturbing, Korean beauty industry.

If you’d like to hear more, we invite you to join The Asia Foundation on Thursday, June 1, from six to eight p.m., at DPR Construction in San Francisco, as we host Elise Hu and our own senior director for Women’s Empowerment Jane Sloane for a conversation moderated by KQED’s Mina Kim. You can learn more about this event here.

Related locations: Korea

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

Contact

For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

South Korea: The Paradox on the Han River

InAsia

Insights and Analysis

South Korea: The Paradox on the Han River

August 31, 2022

By Kwang Kim

 

A spreading malaise

 

Seoul, South Korea (photo: shutterstock.com / stock for you)

It’s been called “the miracle on the Han River,” South Korea’s meteoric rise from one of the world’s poorest countries in the 1950s to one of the world’s richest today. In a single generation, Korea became a leader in manufacturing and technological innovation, with global brands such as Samsung going head-to-head with Apple and other major companies. From the television survival drama Squid Game to the chart-topping girl group Blackpink, Korean popular culture is breaking new ground and reaping international awards. Its global cultural influence has spread to India, a nation of 1.4 billion people (compared to Korea’s 50 million), where Korean is the fastest-growing language and is taught in secondary schools. Despite tensions with its northern neighbor, for much of the world, South Korea has become cool.

But many young Koreans find this global admiration puzzling next to the painful realities at home. The stories and songs that have propelled Korea’s recent fame—such as Squid Game, “No More Dream” by the boy band BTS, and the Oscar-winning film Parasite—are actually cries of protest against the social injustices and barriers to social mobility in Korean society. Surveys since 2015 have shown that many young adults want to emigrate; they liken the present to the feudal class system of the Joseon period before 1910; they call their country “hell.”

A whole generation in their 20s and 30s were wryly labeled the sampo or “three-abandoning” generation for giving up on courtship, marriage, and children that they could not afford. Now they’re the N-po generation, despairing of N number of life’s milestones, from meaningful employment to owning a home. Korea now has the lowest fertility rate in the world. Annual births reached a new low of 272,000 in 2021, compared to one million in the 1970s, and at the time of this writing it has shattered its own record once again. In sharp contrast to the optimism and hope of previous generations, data from the World Values Survey shows that Koreans’ belief that they have “freedom of choice and control over their lives” has been declining since 1990. Paradoxically, Korea’s world-conquering filmmakers and artists are portraying a crisis of hopelessness in significant segments of society.

There is no simple explanation for this “paradox on the Han River,” but what the country will do about it is an increasingly urgent question, especially for the next generation. Perhaps Korea will attempt to just muddle through until it reaches a boiling point. History has not been kind in such circumstances; the French Revolution and the Arab Spring come to mind. Or perhaps Korean society will choose a proactive path. The nation’s future depends on how it responds to this existential challenge, whether it finds a road to shared prosperity for the next generation or tragically fails to resolve its social divisions.

The global reach of Korean culture: official posters for Bong Joon-ho’s Palme d’Or–winning masterpiece, “Parasite,” from (clockwise from top left) the United States, Vietnam, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Russia, and Greece (original poster by Kim Sang-man)

In The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, Harvard economist Ben Friedman observes that economically growing societies view the future with positive outlooks such as hope and optimism. Vietnam, for example, is relatively poor, but anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City today, amidst an economy that is growing at rates similar to South Korea in the ’70s and ’80s, can sense the vibrancy and hope, in contrast to Seoul with its visible material wealth but flattening growth and growing despair among the young.

After four decades of annual growth at a spectacular rate of 6–9 percent, Korea’s annual economic growth has plateaued at 2–3 percent or less since 2012. While slower growth is common in advanced economies, South Korea also has structural vulnerabilities: it relies substantially on one main export product (semiconductors), manufactured by one or two major companies (e.g., Samsung), dependent on a single major market (China), and reliant for critical raw materials on a country with which it is still in a trade war (Japan). Low growth rates also reflect South Korea’s demographic malaise, for which there are few good answers absent major changes in birthrates.

One ray of hope might come from new areas of economic vitality and interest among younger Koreans to which foreign talent can also be attracted. Although I am of Korean descent, I lived much of my life in other countries before landing in Seoul in 2018. What most surprised me was the vibrancy of Seongsu-dong—the “Brooklyn of Seoul”— and Pangyo Valley, the home of Korea’s high-tech startups and social entrepreneurs. The innovation and creativity in these places were infectious, almost as if they were part of a different Korea. They broke the stereotype that Koreans, due to Confucian social norms, are most successful in hierarchical corporate structures like the chaebol.

A vibrant, innovation-based, startup economy could be a game-changing source of growth for South Korea. The country needs more players like Naver, Korea’s Google, which made the list of the nation’s top 10 companies for the first time in 2020. But stories like Naver are few and far between. Entrenched barriers to startup culture, such as Korean society’s generally low tolerance for risk, still hinder Korean innovation and entrepreneurial energy.

Moreover, there is evidence of policy distortions, including fiscal policies and government aid, that create negative incentives for smaller firms to grow, according to studies by the KDI School of Public Policy and Management and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Finally, common practices of large companies, such as squeezing short-term profits from smaller suppliers at the expense of long-term investment in the supply chain, create substantial impediments to small-business growth. There are some important current initiatives to address this challenge, such as promoting mutuality in the Korean and Asian corporate value chain, but more is needed, especially from Korean corporate leaders.

If such barriers were removed, South Korea could become a world-class startup and investment destination, attracting a new generation of global business and entrepreneurial talent, complementing its growing reputation as a global cultural hub. 

The international-chart-topping girl group Blackpink, in a PUBG Mobile promotional video in March 2021. As K-Pop has conquered the world, many of its stars are singing about despair (photo: PUBG MOBILE:絕地求生M / CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons).

How will South Korea choose to respond to internal social conflicts and inequality?

Two decades of development work around the world, including with the World Bank, have taught me that economic growth is necessary but insufficient to create an inclusive society with prospects for upward mobility. Shared prosperity is essential to a society’s long-term flourishing.

While Korea benefitted from decades of rapid economic growth, the results have been uneven. Smaller businesses are squeezed by large corporations, which capture most of the profits and talent, resulting in one of the largest wage differentials by firm size among OECD countries. Skyrocketing real estate prices, fueled by speculators and distorting policies, have narrowed a key entry point for wealth-building and social mobility for younger generations. There is a growing sense of limited social mobility among the young and the disadvantaged and a general perception that many are being left behind.

Here, it is worth mentioning the concept of “public intermediaries,” agents, drawn from many facets of society, who seek the common good, from social workers, human rights advocates, artists, and religious groups with a history of serving the marginalized, to responsible leaders in the corporate sector. The country is at a crossroads: the rise of corporate responsibility in South Korea—particularly the explosive growth of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) awareness—could either become a massive greenwashing exercise or provide a once-in-a generation opportunity to channel capital and expertise for social benefit. One recent example is a working group of public, private, and civil society leaders who came together to develop ESG policy reforms for the South Korean government.

A new Korean social contract is needed. What model of economic growth and shared prosperity will balance people, profits, and planet? What future can the country offer to the many different voices in Korea today? Put simply: what is the Korean ideal of a good society? How South Korea responds to these questions will determine whether the “paradox on the Han River” can be solved, and the next generation’s right to a future secured.

Kwang W. Kim is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Korea. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation. This essay appeared previously, in slightly different form, in the Korea Herald

Related locations: Korea

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

Contact

For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

Financial Times ‘Digital Divide’ Panel Features Sofia Shakil

Financial Times ‘Digital Divide’ Panel Features Sofia Shakil

July 27, 2021 — The Asia Foundation’s Director for Economic Programs, Sofia Shakil, spoke at a July 22nd virtual webinar, “Strategies for Addressing the Asia-Pacific Digital Divide – Increasing Connectivity to Drive Economic Recovery,” organized by Financial Times. Examining the role of digital access strategies to reduce social inequality and drive post-pandemic economic growth, the session included panelists from Huawei, Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at Singapore University of Technology and Design, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Sofia highlighted the Go Digital ASEAN 10-country regional initiative and other Foundation projects, including research on Women-in-STEM networks, technology-upskilling Rebound program in Malaysia, and Women in Tek Network in Cambodia. Watch the recording.

Screenshot of the Financial Times live panel

Excerpt of media coverage from Dhaka Tribune and Malaysian Business:

Sofia Shakil, Director of the Economic Programs, Asia Foundation, addressed the negative impact of the pandemic on women unemployment and the urgency to invest in skills building.

 

Cross sectors collaboration is needed to lower the costs of rural area connectivity and improve digital literacy, which will help to close the digital divide and drive economic recovery during the pandemic, experts opined at a webinar…

Read our latest news, or insights from our blog.

Media contact

Eelynn Sim, Director, Media & Strategy
[email protected]
415-743-3318

Pandemic Dramatically Alters Path of Migrant Workers

InAsia

Insights and Analysis

Pandemic Dramatically Alters Path of Migrant Workers

May 12, 2021

By Suswopna Rimal

Labor migration often reflects such basic human motivations as the desire for a decent life and physical and financial security. Throughout Asia, however, Covid-19 has put labor migration into reverse. As economies went into crisis in 2020 amid pandemic containment measures and mobility restrictions, Asia’s overseas migrant workers were among the first to lose their jobs. Millions returned home, while thousands more found themselves unemployed and stranded abroad. These migrant workers have been dramatically affected by the pandemic in ways that are often underestimated.

Migrant workers wait in line to apply for Nepali passports before the pandemic

Migrant workers applying for Nepali passports before the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands are now coming home. (Photo: Conor Ashleigh / The Asia Foundation)

Nepali migrant workers have been no exception. We spoke to Chantin (not her real name), from Nepal’s Kavre District, in December 2020. After working for two years as a hospital cleaner in Dubai, she told us, she was laid off due to the pandemic in March 2020 and faced a very difficult return. There were no flights to Nepal, so the company provided her and other former employees with shelter. After five months, with help from the Nepalese Embassy, she was able to fly to Kathmandu, where she received support from a local civil society organization during her quarantine period. Chantin says she doesn’t intend to work overseas again after the pandemic; instead, she hopes to find start-up capital for a business of her own.

Over the course of 2020 and into 2021, employment in jobs typically held by Nepali migrants declined by 30 percent in the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia and 20 percent in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Due to their overrepresentation in the domestic and hospitality sectors, female migrant workers have been especially vulnerable to unemployment during the pandemic.

Over the course of 2020 and into 2021, employment in jobs typically held by Nepali migrants declined by 30 percent in the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia and 20 percent in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Migrant workers who managed to keep their jobs often faced reduced work hours, deferred wages, unpaid leave, and insufficient access to basic services. Documented migrants sometimes benefit from host or home country protections, but undocumented and domestic workers usually do not, and therefore face a greater risk of discrimination, workplace abuse, and forced labor.

These factors have contributed to the decision of many Nepali migrant workers to return home. Recruitment agencies in Nepal estimate that as many as 500,000 Nepali workers will do so as a result of the pandemic.

The return of migrant workers worldwide requires not just the safe evacuation of millions of people, but also the reintegration of returnees into national labor markets and the provision of support services to combat pandemic-related financial and social adversity. Measures to do this rely heavily on the support of both home and host countries. Unfortunately, Nepal’s current support services for migrant workers returning during the pandemic have been largely insufficient.

Unfortunately, Nepal’s current support services for migrant workers returning during the pandemic have been largely insufficient.

Fearing that they would add to the spread of Covid-19, the government initially barred migrant workers from returning to Nepal altogether, ignoring the grave human security implications of their plight, despite the fact that, by law, the government must protect the human and labor rights of migrant workers and provide for the smooth socioeconomic reintegration of returnees, especially during emergencies. In early June, however, under an order from the Supreme Court, Nepal helped some stranded workers by bearing the cost of air tickets, health checkups, and other expenses. This repatriation scheme eventually brought home 103,807 Nepalis, including some migrant workers.

As a signatory to the Global Compact on Migration, Nepal is also obligated to reintegrate returnees into community life by providing them with equal access to social protection, employment opportunities, and “skills recognition”—identifying new skills acquired overseas and matching them with the domestic labor market. The government has taken steps in this direction with nationwide entrepreneurship development programs, and it has launched a comprehensive reintegration plan that includes financial literacy and vocational training, psychosocial support, shelter, and direct grants to individuals.

As a signatory to the Global Compact on Migration, Nepal is also obligated to reintegrate returnees into community life by providing them with equal access to social protection, employment opportunities, and skills recognition.

Yet these services are only available to migrants with labor permits, excluding thousands of undocumented workers, who are also ineligible for other facilities such as Nepal’s Foreign Employment Welfare Fund, which provides compensation in case of death, injury, or serious illness. Even when they return to Nepal, irregular migrant workers are not eligible for the government’s reintegration plan, soft loans, or other support.

Government programs that focus on undocumented migrant workers—such as those who migrate to India for work—are painfully insufficient. Moreover, addressing only the immediate repatriation of migrant workers will not support their reintegration into communities over the long term. Returnees often face health challenges, social dislocation, joblessness, and depression when they return to their families with little or no savings. They also face demoralizing stigma and discrimination as suspected “virus carriers.”

As the number of migrant workers from Asia’s lower-middle-income countries grows, governments would do well to support them, valuing the ways they contribute to their home countries with their courage and aspirations as well as their remittances. Governments should dedicate more resources to consular services that support migrant workers in foreign countries, and put systems in place to effectively repatriate and reintegrate returning migrants—documented and undocumented, male and female. Addressing these challenges requires a multilateral effort: home and host governments must work together to improve labor laws and social protections for migrant workers. Doing so will bolster the economic and social welfare of migrant workers and their communities, both at home and abroad.

The latest Asia Foundation GovAsia quarterly report, “More than the Sum of Their Remittances: Can Asia Realize the Potential of Returned Migrant Workers during Covid and Beyond?,” explores these challenges and the potential for a better approach to migration governance.

Suswopna Rimal is a senior program officer for The Asia Foundation in Nepal. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.

This post is part of a collaborative series with the DevPolicy Blog.

Related locations: Nepal
Related topics: Covid-19

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

Contact

For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

A Road to Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

InAsia

Insights and Analysis

A Road to Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

March 17, 2021

By Celina Cramer

Sri Lanka’s bitter, 30-year civil war continues to cast shadows of grief, loss, and sectarian tension over an ethnically diverse population of Sinhalese Buddhists, Tamil Hindus, Muslims, and Catholics. As the country attempts to navigate the post-conflict period, there is no more urgent task than restoring inclusiveness and social cohesion to public life. The schools are a key to meeting this challenge, and it has been a mandate of governments past and present to reform the education system to foster greater tolerance and ensure that intercommunal conflict and violence do not recur.

The introduction of classroom subjects on civic education in 2008 seemed promising, but it has not resulted in any meaningful improvement in intercommunal relations, and values education generally has been perceived as a matter of spiritual well-being related to religious affiliation. The absence of a values-based approach, and the need for a secular space in which to engage it, inspired The Asia Foundation to launch Promoting Shared Values in Sri Lanka, a project to improve intercommunal relations in the country. The project has introduced its own values curriculum to youth leaders and activists in the districts of Kalutara, Kurunegala, Ampara, Trincomalee, Mannar, and Vavuniya, as well as more broadly via social media.

 

Group of students take notes during a brainstorming session.

Mind-mapping activities during a values curriculum rollout in Trincomalee. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

 

The values curriculum was developed by the Foundation in 2012, and is also available as an Android mobile application and through its own website. It seeks to cultivate values in children and youth that support a pluralist and tolerant approach to issues and problems that arise with other communities and within their own. These include core humanistic values such as peace, respect, tolerance, compassion, honesty and sincerity, active listening, and cooperation.

Two important studies conducted by the project underscore the need to institutionalize values-based education, and they provide some interesting insights into how to pursue the endeavor. One, a survey conducted from May to August last year, was a follow-up to 2018 research into youth perceptions of intercommunal, ethno-religious relations. The second, from May to September last year, was a qualitative assessment of the impact of values curriculum training on participating youth.

 

Students gather in a circle for discussion

Reflection sessions during a values curriculum rollout. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

 

Key findings from the follow-up survey include some hopeful trends since 2018 in perceptions of peace and of ethnic and religious groups in the country, and insights into how youth perceptions continue to be shaped by the internet and social media, by their level of activism, and by the communities they live in.

Almost all respondents (94 percent) continued to believe that peace education should be embedded in the school curriculum. Respondents were equally likely in 2018 and 2020 to identify honesty (72 percent), peace (68 percent) and respect (64 percent) as the most important values to foster in children, but the proportion mentioning open-mindedness and coexistence increased. Eighty-five percent of the young people polled felt that children from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds had opportunities to interact in school. Of those, 70 percent mentioned the classroom, 40 percent cited sports activities, and others mentioned extracurricular activities, clubs, and associations as places where these interactions could occur. However, the survey also captured a significant level of acceptance of verbal aggression (53 percent) and physical violence (51 percent), especially when defending one’s religion.

Youth activism is attracting growing interest across the country and is considered an avenue for greater interaction among ethno-religious communities. Eighty-one percent in 2018 and 78 percent in 2020 said that youth clubs and associations have improved their views of people from other ethno-religious backgrounds. Interestingly, there was no change in perceptions of parents and teachers as key influences, while the media was surpassed in influence by religious leaders between 2018 and 2020.

The influence of local television has increased in parallel to internet usage, and social media is perceived as contributing to an increase in online hate speech. The study also shows that youth are more responsible and circumspect in their use of social media. Seventy-three percent of respondents agreed that making offensive statements about other religions and ethnicities is not acceptable on social media, and 68 percent called such posts unreliable. However, more respondents in 2020 experienced offensive online responses (27 percent), cyber-violence (17 percent) and hate speech (31 percent) due to their religious and ethnic backgrounds than in the 2018 baseline survey.

 

Young students review a brochure

Values curriculum youth facilitators during a joint workshop in Kurunegala in 2019. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

 

The qualitative assessment was based on a series of focus-group discussions with 165 participants, 90 of them trained youth facilitators and the rest one-day participants. These discussions sought to determine how the rollout of the curriculum, from August 2019 to May 2020, contributed to shared values among youth. A key indicator was the improvement in attitudes and behavior toward peers from other ethno-religious communities. Case studies collected through this assessment show that the experiences of facilitators over the year significantly affected their personal growth, in particular by improving their ability to resolve conflicts among peers and by increasing their empathy for other communities. However, while the one-day participants shared similar experiences of personal growth and improved relationships with peers and family, they were unable, unlike their peer facilitators, to identify any significant long-term benefit from the program, due to their limited exposure to the project.

 

A group photo of students in Colombo.

A group of values curriculum core facilitators in Colombo in 2018. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

 

More than a decade after the end of the war, Sri Lanka is at a turning point where it must begin to address issues of national reconciliation. Current efforts to renew the nation’s social cohesion are commendable, but they lack foundational support from a reformed education system. These findings show that values education, based on a values curriculum, can be one of the steppingstones to a more tolerant, inclusive, and cohesive society in Sri Lanka.

 

Celina Cramer is a program officer in The Asia Foundation’s Peacebuilding and Community Dialogue program in Sri Lanka. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.

 

Related locations: Sri Lanka

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

Contact

For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

China’s Domestic Violence Law Turns Four

InAsia

Insights and Analysis

China’s Domestic Violence Law Turns Four

April 1, 2020

By Hao Yang

On November 25, 2019—International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women—a famous Chinese beauty vlogger named Yuya bravely faced the camera and told her story of abuse by her former partner. In a 12-minute documentary-style video on Weibo, China’s social media platform, Yuya is seen lying on the floor of an elevator, desperately struggling and crying out as a man drags her forcibly from the lift. The hashtag she created, #NoLongerSilentFacedWithDV, quickly went viral, drawing 810,000 user messages about domestic violence.

On March 1, China’s Domestic Violence Law turned four years old. It’s a mixed bag for victims. The law’s definition of domestic violence (DV) covers both physical and psychological violence, but it does not explicitly include sexual violence such as marital rape, or economic control such as being deprived of financial resources, which are equally prevalent and internationally recognized forms of DV. The law covers married couples, cohabitating partners, and other family members, but it does not include violence against former spouses or intimate partners who do not live together, and it leaves some ambiguity when it comes to same-sex partners.

Police station of Ping Wu County, MianYang City, China. On March 1, China’s Domestic Violence Law turned four years old. (Photo: Dailin / Shutterstock)

The DV law establishes special protections for victims who are underage, elderly, disabled, pregnant or lactating, or seriously ill (Article 5). It stipulates that public security agencies must issue warning letters to minor offenders (Article 16), and, to date, eight provincial governments have developed standards and procedures for doing so, and police in most provinces have issued written warnings to DV perpetrators. It also allows victims of threats or violence to seek protection orders from the people’s courts (Article 23). By December 2019, the courts in China had issued 5,749 protection orders for DV victims, and the number of protection orders has increased, year by year, from 687 in 2016 to 2,004 in 2019. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, some 5,134 people were prosecuted for DV crimes in 2016. The latest data from the Ministry of Public Security shows that the police stopped or prevented more than six million incidents of DV in the past four years.

The influence of the DV law has spread steadily since its adoption four years ago.

The influence of the DV law has spread steadily since its adoption. Several agencies at the national level, including the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme People’s Court, have handed down regulations and policies on DV, addressing child protection, legal assistance, and protection orders, and sorting out interlocking jurisdictions. By November 2019, the various levels of governments in 24 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions had issued directives on aspects of the DV Law, including guidelines for warning letters, protection orders, and mandatory reporting. As of March 2020, the People’s Congress in the four provinces of Shandong, Hunan, Hubei, and Guizhou had enacted their own provincial-level anti-DV regulations.

Despite the considerable progress since 2016, however, there are many challenges still ahead.

Despite the considerable progress since 2016, however, there are many challenges still ahead. There are still no comprehensive national implementation guidelines or judicial interpretations for the DV law, urgently needed to address uncertainties in defining and recognizing DV and to standardize procedures for protecting victims.

The DV law requires educational, medical, and social-welfare institutions to report to the public security departments when people who are unable to care for themselves become victims (Articles 14 and 35), but the reporting mechanisms are still unclear, and the mandate has been applied mostly to left-behind children or children in difficult circumstances, instead of covering all minors and other vulnerable groups like people with mental disabilities.

Protection orders and warning letters are also underutilized. Data on the number of warning letters issued in each province and their effectiveness is fragmented and incomplete, and the courts granted motions for protection orders just 63 percent of the time in 2018. An analysis of 560 written judgements found that DV victims often have difficulty meeting the court’s evidentiary requirements, and that judges don’t fully understand this important legal tool.

This points to another big challenge—the lack of awareness and capacity among frontline anti-DV service providers. Police officers without specialized training, for example, often regard DV as a “minor issue.” Police training programs offer limited guidance on DV case management. Existing DV shelters are chronically underused due to a shortage of trained counsellors and legal staff.

The DV law encourages a coordinated effort by multiple stakeholders to tackle DV. It acknowledges civil society organizations (CSOs) as key players in raising public awareness, providing direct services to DV victims, and monitoring and evaluating law enforcement. But a 2018 mapping study by The Asia Foundation and the Wo Qi Foundation found that most anti-DV CSOs are located in urban areas in eastern and central China. Only 17 CSOs, just 23 percent of those surveyed, could provide services to victims in rural areas in the underdeveloped western provinces. Anti-DV CSOs were found to serve primarily women and children, and little support was available for other vulnerable groups. Standard procedures and best practices for DV case management were too often lacking.

The Asia Foundation has responded to these challenges with several projects since 2018 to improve implementation of the DV law and protect the rights of victims, including the most marginalized groups, by building the capacity of Chinese CSOs, developing anti-DV technical tools, and advocating for a better policy environment.

By September 2019, the Foundation and its local partners had conducted training workshops for 246 participants from 98 CSOs, and 18 webinar sessions that reached 3,955 CSO practitioners across China. The training covered gender equality, victim-centered interventions, DV among marginalized groups, DV case management, and other topics.

The Foundation also worked with local partners to propose implementation guidelines for the DV law and supported the development of an intimate-partner danger-assessment tool for governments and CSOs to screen for DV and better serve victims.

The Foundation is currently supporting 12 CSOs, whose work includes DV issues for women with disabilities, migrant women, children, and LGBT groups, and we are building an online resource center for CSOs and professionals to exchange knowledge and resources and build their fundraising capacity.

Yuya’s ex-partner got 20 days in administrative detention for his threats and violence. The local court in Chongqing also granted Yuya a protection order. While some observers were disappointed by the lenient punishment, due to insufficient evidence of severe physical injury, Yuya’s brave public testimony called the public’s attention to the dark shadow of DV, and more survivors are speaking up. Her story also shines a light on the obstacles that DV victims face and the important issues that China still must grapple with to protect the victims of domestic violence.

Yang Hao is a program officer for The Asia Foundation’s Gender Equality Program in China. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related topics: Civic Spaces

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

Contact

For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

For Universal Healthcare, the Philippines Tries “Sin Taxes”

InAsia

Insights and Analysis

For Universal Healthcare, the Philippines Tries “Sin Taxes”

March 4, 2020

By Jestine Mendoza

Quality healthcare is a universal right, yet in the Philippines, citizens often cannot afford even regular checkups, and it is not uncommon for Filipinos to seek help from relatives and friends when confronted by large medical bills. At the heart of the problem is inadequate public investment. According to the World Bank, public expenditures on healthcare in the Philippines were just 4.4 percent of GDP in 2016—measurably lower than its ASEAN neighbors Myanmar (5.1 percent), Vietnam (5.7 percent), and Cambodia (6.1 percent) and significantly lower than developed countries like Canada (10.5 percent).

These low public expenditures have led to poor conditions in Philippine public hospitals, while expensive drugs and medical procedures keep many treatments out of reach for most people.

Doctors and nurses are in short supply, especially in public hospitals and rural areas, as they leave for higher paying jobs overseas or in the private sector. National Department of Health statistics show approximately three doctors for every 10,000 patients in the Philippines, an impossible caseload even for the best of doctors, and a lot of stress for caregivers and the sick. In addition, most are concentrated in urban areas like Metro Manila, leaving other parts of the country without access to adequate care.

Finally, data shows that Filipinos are more likely to visit specialists than primary-care providers, a decision that is more costly to patients and to the system.

Improving public investment in healthcare is a start, but how?

Coalitions for Change (CfC), a partnership between the Australian Embassy in Manila and The Asia Foundation, has worked on three major laws to increase resources for healthcare. These are (1) the Universal Health Care Act (UHC), which expands healthcare coverage by automatically enrolling all Filipinos in the National Health Insurance Program and requires a more robust system of primary-care providers; (2) the Tobacco Tax Law 2019; and (3) Republic Act 11467, which raised excise taxes on alcohol and e-cigarettes. These new “sin taxes” provide essential funds for UHC implementation. It is also hoped that they will make unhealthy habits less attractive, resulting in health benefits overall.

The Universal Health Care Act: Origins and Key Provisions 

Over the past 30 years, several administrations have tried and failed to reform the Philippine healthcare system. To achieve the reforms that had previous advocates, CfC partnered with Action for Economic Reforms (AER), a Philippine NGO with extensive experience in tax and fiscal policy, which worked closely with legislators, executive agencies (the Department of Health and the Department of Finance), healthcare professionals, and other key stakeholders.

Community groups and health advocates call for the swift approval of alcohol and e-cigarette taxes (photo: Bawas Bisyo / Youth for Sin Tax Movement)

The road to the UHC actually began in 2012, with Republic Act 10351, the so-called “sin tax law,” which restructured taxes on alcohol and tobacco products. AER assembled a coalition of healthcare reformers to campaign for the law’s passage and to ensure that the revenues from the new sin taxes would go to healthcare. 

From 2012 to 2014, AER worked on the law’s effective implementation. In 2015, while studying the costs of expanding the Primary Care Benefit offered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, AER spearheaded the Primary Care Coalition, a group of civil society organizations, medical professionals, and other stakeholders that would be a decisive resource in the fight for the UHC that began in 2017.

After a long legislative process in the Philippine Congress, the UHC was finally signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte in February 2019. AER also contributed to the drafting of the law’s implementing rules and regulations, which were issued in October 2019. 

Establishing the Relationship between Sin Taxes and the UHC 

The 2012 sin tax law generated enough new revenue to triple the Department of Health’s budget, demonstrating that sin taxes could underwrite public healthcare. Advocates of the sin taxes say they also help reduce smoking rates, which have continued to fall in the Philippines from 25 percent of the population in 2013 to 23 percent in 2015 and 21 percent in 2018.

Based on their own research, the AER team decided to push for still higher excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol. Even with the 2012 sin taxes, cigarettes in the Philippines were still among the cheapest in the world, and smoking rates remained high. Alcohol consumption was also very high. A 2018 study found that 60 percent of adult Filipinos were binge drinkers.

A Series of Tax Proposals on “Sin Products” 

So, the team focused on alcohol, tobacco, and a new product, tobacco alternatives like e-cigarettes. In June 2019, after a complex journey through the legislative process, the Tobacco Tax Law 2019 was adopted by the 17th Congress. The new law raised the cigarette tax per pack to PHP 45.00 (USD 0.88) in 2020, with an annual increase of PHP 5.00 until it reaches PHP 60.00 per pack (USD 1.30) in 2023, and a 5 percent annual increase thereafter. 

The beginning of the 18th Congress in July 2019 opened the door to another round of tax proposals. AER and its coalition continued to work with their legislative champions, Representative Joey Salceda and Senator Pia Cayetano, to push for higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco alternatives. As a result, Republic Act 11467, raising taxes on alcohol and e-cigarettes, was signed into law in January 2020.

Doctors for Raising the Tobacco Tax (photo: Bawas Bisyo / Youth for Sin Tax Movement)

The government estimates that the UHC will require PHP 257 billion (USD 5 billion) in its first year of implementation. Funds from the Tobacco Tax Law 2019 are projected at around PHP 16 billion (USD 0.3 billion), while the excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco alternatives are expected to generate around PHP 25 billion (USD 0.5 billion).

Changing the Landscape of Philippine Healthcare

In the eight years since the 2012 sin tax law, the Universal Health Care Act and the two excise tax bills have changed the landscape of Philippine healthcare. Thanks to the UHC, ordinary Filipinos now have access to much-needed primary care, and rising revenues from the excise tax measures will continue to provide a solid foundation for essential healthcare services. The adoption of these laws is a triumph, not just for healthcare advocates and proponents in government but for the Filipino people, and a significant feat for a developing country that has struggled to reform its healthcare system for decades.

Jestine Mendoza is a program officer in The Asia Foundation’s Economic Reform and Development Entrepreneurship Program in the Philippines. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Philippines
Related topics: Coalitions for Change

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

Contact

For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

China: Tackling Domestic Violence and Its Effects in the Workplace

InAsia

Insights and Analysis

China: Tackling Domestic Violence and Its Effects in the Workplace

January 22, 2020

By Yang Hao

The scourge of domestic violence, particularly violence against women, obeys no national boundaries, and its repercussions reach far beyond the individual victim and the walls of the home. Studies have shown that women with a history of domestic violence (DV) have more erratic work histories, have lower personal incomes, change jobs more frequently, and are more likely to rely on casual and part-time work than other women. Estimates in some developing countries have put the cost of DV in lost productivity at 1.2 to 1.4 percent of GDP.

The Third Wave Survey on the Social Status of Women in China, jointly conducted by the All-China Women’s Federation and National Bureau of Statistics in 2011 and repeated every 10 years, found that 24.7 percent of married Chinese women had suffered some form of domestic violence from their husbands. Keeping DV survivors employed is critical to their economic independence, which is a key pathway to escape and recovery from violent relationships.

Keeping DV survivors employed is critical to their economic independence, which is a key pathway to escape and recovery from violent relationships.

China’s national Anti–Domestic Violence Law, which came into effect in March 2016 after more than a decade of advocacy, defines domestic violence as “the inflicting of physical, psychological, or other harm by a family member on another by beating, trussing, injury, restraint and forcible limits on personal freedom, recurring verbal abuse, threats, and other means.” The DV law identifies employers as key actors in combating DV, along with government, the judiciary, women’s federations, medical institutions, and others (article 4). Its provisions require employers to discipline and educate DV perpetrators among their employees (article 11) and to provide support for DV victims (article 13). The DV law also requires trade unions to conduct anti-DV awareness programs and provide psychological counseling to both victims and perpetrators (articles 6 and 22).

In addition to the resulting legal liabilities, enterprises risk economic losses if they do not deal effectively with DV’s impact in the workplace. In China, The Asia Foundation and its local partner, SynTao Co., Ltd., published a study in 2017 on the workplace impact of DV. Based on an online survey of 488 employees and 60 human-resources managers, the study found that 13.3 percent of respondents had experienced DV in the preceding 12 months, and nearly half of these survivors had experienced DV from abusers who pursued them to the workplace. On one hand, the physical and emotional effects of DV on survivors affect their safety, productivity, and career development in the workplace. On the other hand, employers pay significant DV-related costs due to reduced productivity, absence from work, and employee turnover. The study estimated DV’s annual cost to employers at nearly 4 percent of wages.

Workplace interventions could help employers mitigate these costs, and a 2016 study from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work found that the cost of these interventions would be offset by reduced turnover, improved productivity, and other factors. The Asia Foundation’s study found, however, that employers had a very limited understanding of their legal obligations under the DV Law, and that they lacked the knowledge or ability to effectively raise awareness, establish workable grievance procedures for survivors, or admonish perpetrators. As a result, few employers had adopted policies to address the impact of DV in the workplace, and their awareness of possible solutions was quite low.

Training in DV case management for Employee Assistance Program consultants.

Since 2018, the Foundation has been working to change this situation. With our local partners, we have convened a series of workshops and events for enterprises, industry associations, chambers of commerce, women’s federations, and civil society organizations to raise awareness of DV’s impact on employees and employers and devise solutions. We have developed a simple-to-use workplace anti-DV toolkit, the first of its kind in China, for employers, HR managers, employees, and advocates that presents basic information about DV’s effects in the workplace and provides specific guidelines, tips, and resources for each of these four groups.

For example, the toolkit offers guidance to HR managers such as sample workplace policies to prevent and respond to DV, suggestions for anti-DV contact persons, workplace safety plans, strategies for dealing with perpetrators in the workplace, suggested solutions to specific scenarios, and a list of DV service providers across China. The project worked with anti-DV civil society organizations (CSOs) and the Employee Assistance Program, an independent provider of services to increase employee well-being, to build their capacity to provide anti-DV services in the workplace. Foundation programs also connected employers with anti-DV CSOs that offer technical support to help employers address DV more effectively.

Training for anti-DV CSOs to address DV in the workplace.

As stated in the International Labor Organization’s 2019 Violence and Harassment Convention (No. 190), “Domestic violence can affect employment, productivity, and health and safety, and…governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, and labor-market institutions can help, as part of other measures, to recognize, respond to, and address the impacts of domestic violence.” The Asia Foundation currently has pilot programs with enterprises in Beijing, Shanghai, Shandong, and Guangdong to develop policies and interventions to assist DV survivors and admonish perpetrators, and case studies will be forthcoming in 2020.

Yang Hao is a program officer in gender equality for The Asia Foundation’s China office. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

Contact

For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104