Friday, March 25, 2011


This is the most intense term yet! I had 2 short essays (1000 words) and 3 long essays (3000 words) to do and I had planned to finish them before conference on 18 March, but I only managed the short ones though. Since I had an exam 2 days ago, that left me with 2 days to do 2 long essays - 1 essay a day.

Happily it turned out strategically productive, because the first long essay I did came out as a question for the exam, and these 2 long essays I'm doing now are based on my RP topic - I'm hope I don't get sick of writing about how to write about domestic workers, haha.

Back to wingin' it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

4 views of gender relations in Islam.

Something interesting I dug out from my reading archives. A Norwegian researcher studied how first-generation immigrant women from Pakistan and Morocco use Islam to explain their labour market participation, family life, amongst other things. The author starts by giving a framework of 4 types of views on gender relations amongst these women:

1. Sameness-oriented modernists
Sameness-oriented modernists are oriented toward participation in both home and society. They believe that Islam gives individual women and men equal rights and equal value and that gender roles are fully interchangeable. Women and men have the same duty to work and to take care of the household and the family. Women can work in all possible roles outside the home, and there is no visible gender segregation.

Education is equally important for both genders. Sameness-oriented women frequent the mosque. They believe that Islam does not require the use of hijab. Islam is generally viewed as a flexible religion that can be adapted to contemporary society.

Critique: Dichotomy of traditional/modern. What comes later in a linear chronology is not necessarily better.

2. Society-oriented Islamists
Society-oriented Islamists are also oriented toward participation in home and society. They believe that Islam assigns women special rights and that individual women and men have equal value. They see gender roles as somewhat interchangeable, and their support for gender segregation is weak to medium. A man's duty is to generate family income. A woman's duty is first to take care of family and children and second to participate in generating family income. Women work in designated sectors, such as education and medicine.

Education is equally important for women and men, but women are encouraged to specialize in certain fields. The women participate in mosque activities and wear hijab because they think Islam requires them to do so.
They believe that contemporary society should adapt to Islamic values.

Critique: The concept of 'Islamism' is often used interchangeably with 'political Islam', 'fundamentalism', and 'Islamic activism'.

3. Family-oriented Islamists
Family-oriented Islamists are oriented toward home and family. In agreement with society-oriented Islamists, they believe that Islam assigns women special rights and that individual women and men have equal value.
An important difference, however, is that family-oriented Islamists see gender roles as fundamentally non-interchangeable. Gender segregation is strong. A woman's duty is to take care of home and family, while a man's duty is to work outside the home.

Secular education is most important for men, while women are encouraged to receive religious instruction. The women do not attend the mosque. They wear hijab because they think Islam requires them to do so.
Family-oriented Islamists believe that contemporary society should adapt to Islamic values and uphold societal ideals from the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

Critique: No significant role for women in public sphere, limited to family.

4. Culture-oriented traditionalists
Culture-oriented traditionalists are also oriented toward home and family. They believe that Islam gives women some rights and that women have less value than men. The emphasis is not on women's individual rights but on women's role as part of the larger family group. Gender roles are non-interchangeable and gender segregation is strong. A woman's duty is to take care of home and family, while a man must secure the family's income.

Neither secular nor religious education for women is encouraged. Women use hijab when they leave the home, and they do this because it is culturally endorsed more than as a result of Islam. The emphasis is on Islam as culture and tradition more than as normative religious ideals.

Critique: 'Traditional' should be understood as ideology and not a historical past. Privileges ethnic/national/cultural identity v. identities based on education and work.

Which one do you believe in?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dear heterosexual, educated men,

You are often not aware of how much the prevailing social structure privileges you.

You can enter mosques in a tight T-shirt without anyone so much as batting an eyelid.

Your first worry after getting a job is not necessarily about childcare.

You can earn more for said job.

You can walk anywhere without having to think about the time of day and what you're wearing.

You can catch anyone's eye without having to feel necessarily threatened.

Why do you resist women's demands for equality?

William Goode says that "we must never underestimate either the cunning or the staying power of those in charge," because men "view small losses of deference, or advantages or opportunities as large threats".

Bare feet.

Last week it was warm enough to contemplate an afternoon at the beach.

In winter, this was all covered in snow!

I took off my shoes and ran in the sea!

How glorious summer will be (:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

International Women's Day

IWD was on 8 March, but it's not too late to take a look at some pictures from the celebrations at school.

Colourful diagrams of female and male genitalia, for the uninformed among us. Notice the flowers and stars!

Because marital rape is not recognised in Singapore.

Because you can't be an ostrich forever.

Applicable to all religions?

'Corrective rape' is the rape of lesbian women to 'fix' them. Here the article describes incidents in South Africa.

Love the body that you are in!


Men from 4 continents (Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America) cook and serve food, to break gender stereotypes, and also to allow male students who may not cook usually (and there are a lot that survive on pre-cooked meals from Albert Heijn) to learn how to in a 'non-threatening' environment (dramatic description is my own).

I was quick enough to get pictures only of the European stamppot - a savoury one with potato, andijvie (escarole), boiled eggs, soya 'sausage' and a sweet one with sweet potato, shallots and apples. Yum!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Conference - a photo an hour

The conference went well, alhamdulillah. I have a lot to say but because a picture says a thousand words, I'm bringing you a photo taken every hour of the conference.

09h00 Registration. Guests come on time, because here 09h30 does not mean 10h00.

10h00 We'd got 140 tulips (lucky day for the florist!) for 7 bouquets in half orange half purple, the colours of Timor Worldwide.

11h00 Panicked call from Febri - the speaker from Canada's MKO hasn't arrived. I call all possible phone numbers from the office, thinking that maybe I forgot to mention to come to The Hague before taking the bus to ISS, and he finally calls the office to say he's in front of the Hilton Hotel. Crisis averted!

12h00 Speakers from Australia, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands speak on different case studies of indigenous communities and their water.

14h00 After lunch, participants break into working groups discuss policy recommendations on international maritime law, indigenous fishing rights and mobilising fishermen into a collective with one voice.

15h30 End of working group sessions. Summed up in three words - Law, Government, and Empowerment.

16h30 I go check on the reception preparation. Ibu Asnat and Ibu Doreen are always working hard behind the scenes to make sure everyone eats and drinks well.

17h30 Conference ends. I need to sit down.

18h30 Reception in the ISS cafeteria. I meet some people with interesting lives.

19h00 Dinner at the office with speakers and volunteers. I discuss with Dan, the speaker from Australia about Madurese fishermen and Singapore's Changi area. He really likes boats!

20h00 Speaking of boats, here is Febri with a kapal pecah (broken ship) of our office behind her. 

21h30 Thank you everyone, the conference was a success!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On arranging flowers.

This internship has been the most intense on-site job training ever! And I am loving every minute of it, for the few more weeks or months it's going to last. I started out creating and heading an entire fund-raising effort, including a film screening; now I get to do all the logistical preparations for a conference: press releases, media communication, phone calls to embassies, preparing gifts (bouquets of tulips!) for speakers, and liaising with ISS for the venue and catering.

We'll also be networking with academics and practitioners before the conference, in a small informal dinner, at a monastery where some of the overseas speakers will be staying. The amazing part about this project is how it's being achieved with the many kindnesses of people and institutions, on an almost non-existent budget - truly by the grace of God.

Yes, I'm going to teach myself how to arrange flowers like I learnt how to write press releases! I'm planning orange-purple bouquets, in the same colours as Timor Worldwide (:

Friday, March 11, 2011

The F-word

What do I think is feminism?

I see feminism as gender justice. For example, if a woman wants to work then there must be support for the reproductive work (or the care economy) that goes on at home like giving birth, and taking care of children and family members. Practically, this translates to maternity leave with pay, child care facilities or allowances, and fair share of domestic labour between family members.

This equally applies on the other side. If a man wants to stay at home then there must be support in the labour market in terms of women receiving equivalent wage pay for the same work that men do, no glass ceiling so women are also in high (paying) positions like CEOs of companies. Attitudes should also be more positive towards men who wish to stay home and do care work.

In Singapore, a lot of the discourse (especially religious) is that yes, we highly value the work of women. Being a mother and taking care of children is the best thing that a woman can do. This is great because it shows the value that Malay/Muslim society places on care work.

But, sometimes what happens is that a woman in such a situation has no material backup. If something happens like divorce or the death of the husband, suddenly she has to depend on someone else to survive because although her work is culturally valued, there is no material value in it.

I promote women working not to ape liberal feminists 'from the West', but because you can't rely on someone all your life. Granted, women have not yet achieved wage parity in the labour market but at least do something to ensure your material safety.

I also have a big problem with the liberal feminist concepts of freedom and sexual liberty. It bothers me when professors say yes, you should be able to have sex with anyone at any time in any manner for 'bonding', and you have the right to do so safely and happily. It's funny though how despite how this seems permissive, it still speaks in the framework of monogamy. Polygamous arrangements are not part of their 'happy healthy sex' for bonding.

I live in a framework of Islam and my feminism has to be reconciled with that too.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Questions of Travel, by Elizabeth Bishop

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
--For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?

The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
--Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
--A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.

--Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr'dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
--Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
--And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians' speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

"Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one's room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?"

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Unhelpful people.

Not to generalise, but I've encountered a few Dutch working in the service sector who, when you ask them for help, speak to you like they don't actually want to help you. How does this work?

Case no. 1: HTM service counter in Rotterdam.
Context: My cousin and I are asking for the route to Kinderdijk, a well-known tourist attraction with lots of windmills, often visited in summertime.

Me: Hello, good morning, how do we get to Kinderdijk?
HTM man: -big sigh- It's very difficult to get there, you know.
Me: Er, yes, ok, but how do we get there?
HTM man: You have to take the metro to here, and then a bus from here - for one hour!- to get there.

I asked for the route, not an assessment of its difficulty.

Case no. 2: Office
Context: I've been chasing the secretary to an official in the municipality of The Hague for some weeks now to get an answer from her boss.

Me: Hello, I'm calling about Mrs de Jong, is she back from holiday yet?
Secretary: Sorry, what is this about?
Me: It's regarding our conference, has Mrs de Jong given you an answer yet?
Secretary: Sorry, I can't find your event on the agenda, and in any case I'm sure one of my colleagues or I have given you a reply by email. Mrs de Jong has cleaned out her inbox so I can't say for sure.
Me: No, I spoke to you last week and the last thing I heard was that Mrs de Jong is away on holiday.
Secretary: Sorry, but I can't remember, in any case we receive too many invitations a day!

Her negative reply is the only answer I'll take, thank you, not your lack of attention to your work.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Creative Food Art by Arts Committee

The Arts Committee organised a Creative Food Arts event (directed and hosted by my own roommate, Febri!) last night, to take the strain off some of our brains from essays, I presume.

The theme was 'Flora and Fauna', and the aim was to design edible food according to this theme. I worked with a group that was just brought together by fate, but we worked well together. So we thought hard of various ingredients to make the different elements needed for an aquarium.

Here you can see that the 'sand' is fried rice, the rest of the 'water' is plain rice, the 'fishes' are carrots, fried potatoes, and cucumber; the 'rocks' being cauliflower, and long beans and rocket leaves for 'seaweed'. The 'cat' is made out of pineapple, banana, strawberry and licorice. And of course, he gets a bowl of yoghurt 'cream', but he's still looking for fish to catch.

H gave a great political commentary on our piece - that the cat is actually the World Bank, that already has plenty of cream funds, but is still looking to prey upon the small and defenseless fish countries of the developing world, haha!

Another group made a sushi snake! Slithering among broccoli and cucumber plants and carrot flowers. Luckily it ignores the yummy fried bakwan 'rocks', so we can eat them.

Another group made kebab 'caterpillars', with sausage, bell peppers, leeks and onions, and peppercorns for eyes, resting calmly on a bed of rice and radish and tomato flowers. Adorable!

This was the most elaborate creation of the night. A nasi tumpeng 'volcano' with sambal 'lava', surrounded by a 'toxic lake' of garlic, yoghurt and paprika sauce; broccoli 'forest', and fried tempe 'rocks'. For the fauna, mutated 'hummingbirds' of mushroom and chilli padi fly around, while a mushroom 'bear' with ikan bilis in his mouth hides in the broccoli.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Whether the weather.

Since coming to Holland, there's one topic that we constantly talk about: the weather.

I came in September, at the end of summer and it was still delightfully warm. But I remember getting the unpleasant surprise of terrifically cold wind once the sun goes down.

One night in winter after yoga, which was about 7.45pm, I stepped out of ISS and I remember smelling the air and thinking that it smelt just like my freezer at home! Someone told me it probably had something to do with the high level of humidity in the air. In any case, it was beautiful, how the streetlights were blurred in the fog.

And then of course, snow! Every other week in winter, before finally staying around for a few weeks before melting. Great fun while it lasted!

But now spring is finally coming, all the purple and yellow crocuses and white snowdrops are poking out from the ground, and I couldn't be happier. I won't take the sun we have in Singapore for granted again, promise!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Marriage laws in Singapore.

I did some research (in-depth in no way) on marriage laws in Singapore as part of celebrations of International Women's Day in school. I stumbled upon the ROMM (Registry of Muslim Marriages) website - which is ISO 9000 certified by the way, haha - and found some interesting facts.

According to the website, Muslim marriages were legislated under the neatly-Orientalist category of ‘Mohamedan Marriage Ordinances’ in the 1880s, when we were under colonial rule. Edward Said, in his 1978 work 'Orientalism', called the use of Mohamedan as Orientalist because Western observers of the Orient likened Prophet Muhammad as a key figure in Islam to Jesus (or Christ) as a key figure in Christianity.

Happily, in the newly-formed Singapore government in 1957, these 'ordinances' were renamed to the 'Muslims Ordinance Act'. Uncommonly, Singapore has two parallel systems of law for Muslims and non-Muslims for the realms of marriage, divorce and inheritance. (The only other country I can think of that has equally comprehensive laws for different groups is maybe Malaysia, and maybe India.)

The AMLA (Administration of Muslim Law Act) passed in 1966 meant that Muslim marriages and divorces are conducted under the Shari'ah Court. Now, since 1978, Muslim marriages and divorces are enacted under ROMM, which is separate from ROM.

Interestingly, the Women’s Charter that was passed in 1961 by the Singapore parliament to protect rights of women and girls does not cover Muslims. That means that the legal equality of husband and wife, and the ability for battered spouses to gain protection does not cover Muslims. However, I imagine that if Muslim marriages are also registered under civil law, these laws could also apply.

Film Screening of 'Troubled Waters'

The film screening of 'Troubled Waters' (directed by Ruth Balint) tonight in the Aula went smoothly, alhamdulilah. It was my first time being put completely in charge of an event, from its planning to the execution, and I was praying I wouldn't forget anything major like switching on the projector or something, haha.

We set up a food booth outside the Aula, behind the reception to raise funds for Timor Worldwide. A few Indonesian students came to help set up the stall, sell things, collect money, and be enthusiastic in general. A lady from Toko Solo, a small Indonesian warong provided a bento box of rice, chicken and tempe for us to sell (at a small markup), and we also had other people contribute chocolate cake, wajik, and of course we sold pineapple and star cookies! We raised about 300 euros.

zainab, me, febri, indri

The main aim of the film screening was to raise awareness. It tells the story of fishermen from the Indonesian island of Rote/Roti who have often unknowingly strayed into Australian waters (according to their maritime claims that extend into Indonesia) in their low-technology, basic wooden boats. Everyone on board is arrested (including some under 18) and their boat brought to Willie Creek in Northern Australia, where the fishermen are ordered to camp out until their trial; they sometimes wait up to a month.

They are told to get and pay for a lawyer - how does a fisherman from Indonesia find a lawyer in Australia and have enough money to pay him? They are then put in prison, and normally after serving a term of 18 months to 5 years they would be able to bring home their wages earned in prison, but a sudden change of law prevents them from even doing that now. According to the film, the Australian government spends about 7 million AUD arresting, detaining, and prosecuting these fishermen.

After the film someone asked, can you blame the Australian government? They're just doing their job, defending their maritime claims. Yes, I do blame them because as someone replied, defending anything means that defensive, not offensive measures are put in place. For example, vessels should be put along the maritime border to let passing boats know where the line is. Arrests or prosecution should only be done if fishermen consistently and purposefully trespass, which is not the case most of the time since they have no idea where lines on maps are out at sea.

A Rotenese fishermen, towards the end of the film, makes a plea to everyone in general and perhaps the Australian government in particular,

"Jangan buat perundangan yang terlalu membebankan kami, kami yang hanya mau cari makan untuk isteri anak."*

*Bahasa Indonesia: Don't make laws that are too harsh, because we are only looking to earn to support our family.


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