Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Boycott Sochi? From Russia with Not-So-Much Love

Now is a good time to believe in equal rights for LGBT people.  We are seeing massive progress in Western Europe with the passing of Equal Marriage in France, England and Wales and 83% of the British public saying they'd be 'comfortable' with the newly born royal baby ending up gay, not to mention the overturning of Prop 8 and DOMA in the United States.

It's a cruel irony that we live in a world where these great strides in equal rights are being made where a couple of thousand miles to the East in Russia human rights are being stripped away from the gay community.

Earlier this month the President Putin signed a law banning the adoption of Russian-born children not only to gay couples but also to any couple or single parent living in any country where marriage equality exists in any form. Earlier he had also deemed it legal to arrest any foreigner or tourist who was suspected of being either gay or lesbian or a gay rights supporter. Thirdly, earlier in June he passed yet another anti-gay bill branding 'homosexual propoganda' as pornography. It seems possible that under this third, broad law any parent, teacher or public official who suggests that homosexuality is normal could be charged.

Just to drive the nature of this hostile environment home, Buzzfeed showed the chaos that erupted around gay-rights protests across Russia. Blood, violence and rainbow flags.
The difference is that Russia is soon going to be under the world's gaze as host of the two largest sporting events in the world: next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, happening in just under 6 months and also as host of the Fifa Football World Cup in 2018.

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine implied on Twitter that sporting contests should not be used as a political mouthpiece for progressive, liberal countries' values. I would tend to agree with this statement, but sport has always been tied in with global politics. From the propaganda of the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany to the exclusion of South Africa from the Games for 28 years due to its apartheid policies, global sporting events have been used as vessels used for political ends. If gay rights is an issue that Western Europe and North America take seriously, then why should these events be overlooked?

It is not just the fact that Russia's principles clash so much with those of more progressive countries. Under their new laws any athletes, spectators or journalists entering Russia to take part in the Games or the World Cup who are gay, suspected of being gay or accused of being gay can be jailed, fined and/ or deported. 

It should be mentioned that the International Olympic Committee has issued a statement saying that they would 'work to ensure' no discrimination against LGBT people. Although how that would be enforced is unclear. Their official statement read:

In the past I have had a torn attitude towards the fight for equal rights in other countries. I am rather anti-interventionalist when it comes to the internal affairs of other countries. I believe that imposing (often Western) ideals upon a country with a different history and culture can often do more harm than good. Disapproval can be expressed in exclusion from international organisations or trade embargoes to show principle. You aren't going to change a foreign nation's psyche overnight. 

"The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation... [The organisation will make sure] the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media."

In terms of diplomacy I don't believe that there is going to be much action on this issue. Iceland is so far the only nation to have altered its diplomatic status, with cultural and political ties being cut between Reykjavík and Moscow. Russia is just too damn big and important for anyone to shake that bear's cage.

There is a petition you can sign here and a boycott you can join here if you want your voice to be heard. I personally will be writing to MPs to give this issue more awareness. 

With the chances of a boycott being effective low we can only hope that the large amount of media attention that the country will face while hosting these sporting events will improve awareness and understanding of these issues. Like with China's human rights record in the run up to the 2008 Olympics, nothing can avoid the floodlit glare of media scrutiny. 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

In Defence of Taiwanese Women

There is an article on the Taiwanese web that has been making quite a ripple on Chinese social media. To date the article has been shared over 220 000 times on Facebook; mainly amongst Chinese speakers. You can read the article in both Chinese and English here. It’s a long and convoluted article – but read it until you want to punch the screen and you’ll have probably gotten the gist of the content.

For those of you not up for the essay, here is an exert:

“I find TW women to be utterly selfish, insecure, and self centered. As I have seen with many couples and unfortunate friends, when they age it's even more nonstop bitching and moaning. The focus just becomes on more money, more eating, more competition to show off to family and friends. You can forget about an exciting sex life. Lately I look at them with a mild disgust, despite some of their physical beauty.”

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first; this article is disgusting and its writer is a sexist and a bigot. As a British guy who has lived in Taiwan and Mainland China for a large portion of my adult life, I feel like I have to apologise on behalf of all the foreigners in Asia with half a brain cell. Let’s just thank God this is a blog and not an article with merit.

Furthermore, this piece demonstrates a colonial attitude towards non-western cultures that should have been left behind in the ages of world wars and empires. Taiwan is an economic and cultural hub of East Asia, which politically and socially stands tall in a region of high-performing nations. But according to this American-born Chinese (ABC) writer, that doesn’t matter because the women are shallow.

Sadly, these are sweeping statements and blinkered views that I have come across all too often among western expats. One’s invitation to enter a country in order to teach, study or work does not include a licence to become the nation’s critique.

In the west we are encouraged to believe that the way we do things: culturally, socially and politically, are all superior to the methods implemented in other parts of the world. We are taught little of the histories and cultures of other parts of the world, and maybe this reinforces this blinkered view. If you pass through the UK’s education system you’d almost be forgiven for thinking that the only culturally significant points of world history were the Romans, Queen Victoria’s reign and the two World Wars.

This may explain this Western arrogance towards the rest of the world but by no means excuses it.

An Asian visiting the USA may also find some pretty atrocious social phenomena. A country in the midst of an obesity epidemic with no social healthcare and a political system paralyzed through extreme ideology.

Perhaps I am reading too much into our ABC friend’s blog, as he focuses almost exclusively on relationships and expectations of love in Taiwanese culture, calling them shallow, self centred and materialistic. But statistics would argue that Taiwan is a better place to be in love than the US. Although divorce rates are rising, they currently stand at around 25% in Taiwan. This is one of the highest rates in Asia (second only to South Korea) but still pales in comparison to the astonishingly high proportion of divorce rates in the USA and the EU, 53% and 44% respectively.

Perhaps people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

I would also suggest that one's experiences abroad are only as positive as the people your surround yourself with. I was lucky enough to be studying in Taiwan as part of a postgraduate course with local students as my peers. The women I had the privilege of knowing were intelligent, considerate and interesting individuals, albeit a little obsessed with Hello Kitty.

If you hang out in the places where bitches and douchebags go, then you are only going to come across bitches and douchebags. If this is his only experience of Taiwanese women, then it suggests to me that he hasn’t bothered to look very far. Get out of Luxy and Babe 18 [the two major clubs in the centre of Taipei] and broaden your horizons, my blogger friend. It sounds like you’re a long way from being an authority on how Taiwanese women should be conducting themselves.