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Skipping Stones

Table of Contents
Volume 13, #1
(January-February, 2001)

Women on the Move

Women have come a long way over time, but their journey to finding freedom and equality has been a constant struggle throughout history. We have been denied the power to vote, pursue higher education and a career, or even choose a spouse. We have been oppressed in countless instances, in different societies.

In the last several decades, almost every country has taken steps to remove boundaries that limit opportunities for women. Every part of the world is unique, however, and changes in women's roles reflect the diversity of cultures. For example, in many cultures, although a woman's job is traditionally to raise children, this isn't seen as inferior as it is in some Western cultures but rather as a job of equal or greater value. Many women choose to stay at home.

As an Iranian-American born in the U.S., I've been exposed to both the traditional Iranian viewpoints as well as Western outlooks. Recognizing that we often see issues from only our own perspectives, I asked five women from five different regions of the world to share their views on women's issues in their communities. Happy International Women's Day (8 March).

-- Beata Mostafavi, 20, is our journalism intern from the Univ. of Oregon

Hisae Nakai, Japan, freshman early childhood education major at the University of Oregon. She has lived in the U.S. for six months:

"The traditional idea in Japan is that men are superior to women, but things are changing. I worked in a restaurant in Japan before I came here, and women were given much more respect compared to older times. My boss was a woman; women are now more prominent in the workplace.

"Now the number of single women in Japan is much higher than 10 years ago. Many are also traveling abroad more, like myself, to study or work. Although traditionally the woman is supposed to get married and stay at home, our generation has the attitude of, 'No, I don't want to do that.' Partly because of the media, which shows successful women in other countries, women in Japan are striving for independence more and more. It is more accepted today than before.

"However, women are definitely not equal to men, just closer. There are still inequalities as far as our Japanese culture goes. For example, my mother is divorced, and she would never re-marry because that is looked down upon. No one wants to marry a divorced woman because society sees the divorce as being the woman's fault, as in 'she must have done something wrong to have been left.' But these are things that will take a long time to change."

Martha Isabel El'as, business administrator, married, mother of two, from Bogota, Colombia:

"Women's roles have changed. Before, men's role was to work, and women's was to take care of the children, but now there are equal opportunities for men and women.

"In Colombia, women hadn't had equal opportunities to study and work, and about 50 years ago, they weren't allowed to vote or to participate in government, but this situation has changed. Women work in offices, and men share chores at home. Nevertheless, women earn less money than men when they have the same job.

"Almost always women can decide what is most important in their lives. For example, many women have decided to stay at home and raise children, but others have gone to work because they need the money or want to grow professionally. Women feel the need to work because of the difficult economic conditions of my country, and they look for better quality of life. Roles have changed, but the new generation has accepted the change more easily than the older people.

"Colombian women are looking for the equality between men and women and are trying to protect the rights of women like a fair salary, less work hours for the pregnant, legal abortion and no discrimination for lesbians. I believe that together men and women could make a better world. They are different but can walk together complementing each other."

Viraj Ghate, 41, Maharashtra, India, is a mother of two teen-age daughters and finance manager in a multinational electronics company:

"Women certainly have found a more prominent role in society, and they are more aware of their rights. An Indian urban woman is more confident today, and the society around her accepts her newfound confidence, although the rural women are slightly slower in their progress in this regard.

"There are still some social issues, which are a part of old tradition and culture, which make it very difficult for women to escape from the role expected of them. There are ongoing efforts to educate women and make them financially independent through government and NGO [non-governmental organization] programs, but given the size of the population, the progress is rather slow.

"Women know that an ideal blend of tradition and the modern is what makes a society balanced and healthy. Despite being an independent and 'space conscious' woman, I am interested in a whole lot of so called 'womanly' things, and hence, my role models are those women who have been able to strike a balance in their family life and career without compromising or demanding undue attention. I think Western women have too much pressure to live under, trying to prove themselves for the rights they demand. The freedom movement has also caused some distortions in society, such as an increase in divorce and the breaking of family structures, leading to a lot of trauma to Western society. However, their struggle for equality and recognition has helped developing countries progress also.

"Traditionally Indian culture doesn't allow as much liberty to women as their Western counterparts. Urban women in India have the great responsibility of getting themselves educated, acquiring skills for a career and catering to the family needs. Men opting to look after children and the house is almost unheard of in India because, traditionally, it is still the man who is a provider and a family head. Women who opt to have a career are well respected, but if they choose their career above their family, they are not looked at in a positive light. What Indian women are seeking today is probably more respect for their great contribution to making a sound society, which gives their nation an identity, recognition and confidence.

"I believe that the society that treats their women with dignity and respect can elevate itself from many social, economical and emotional problems. Increasing awareness about women's potential, rights, equality and dignity, which they were denied, is making women today reach out and take advantage of opportunities that will make a world of a difference to them and the people around them."

Amanda Marusich, 17, American, a senior at South Eugene High School, Oregon:

"I think America's view of women has undergone some major changes. Back in the 50's, a stereotypical woman was expected to be a 'domestic housewife,' whose primary concerns were the children, the house and what to feed her husband for dinner. But now society is much more willing to allow women to take control of their lives, encouraging them to further their education and supporting them as they strive for success in their desired career.

"Our country has come a long way, and as a female, I feel fortunate to live here. But there are still some areas where women encounter discrimination. Men still outnumber women in upper-level jobs, and in cases where men and women are employed in equivalent positions, men receive higher wages. I think sexism and gender bias still exist in the U.S., and though it is much more subtle than elsewhere, it is every bit as pernicious.

"In regard to the American view on family life, I think it is generally more acceptable for women to stay home with the children while their husbands work instead of vice-versa. But all of these roles, and the American concept of 'family' itself, are continually shifting, with more single, working-parent families and such. So, potentially, this double standard could flip completely around. However, I am hopeful that we will eventually end up with a culture where both men and women share equal responsibility for raising their children and supporting their household as well as enjoying equal rights and opportunities in all other areas of their lives."

Haydeh Kiani came to the U.S. with her husband prior to the 1979 Iranian revolution. She is a mother and vice president of a bank in Oregon. She recently visted Iran:

"When I was a student in college, women had more social rights than now. They could wear whatever they wanted, and relationships with boys were accepted in big cities. But it was still hard for parents to give girls freedom. If boys were late coming home it was okay, but for girls it was important to know where they were, who they were with and what they were doing.

"Today, because of new laws that came after the revolution, women have to wear a scarf to cover themselves. Women also can't work in many jobs unless they are very educated. That's why many families try their hardest, under their own authority, to give their daughters as much freedom and education as they can. If they can afford it, they put more effort and money into college for their daughters.

"Nowadays, because of all the restrictions, the only things girls can do with a high school diploma is stay at home with their parents or get married. College is very competitive in Iran, and out of about 1 million students, only 130,000 are accepted. The percentage of women getting accepted is much higher because they focus so much more on studies. When I went to college, it was more for fun, but now for women it's a matter of life. College is their door to finding a husband of choice, a good job, good friends and a social life. Without it they feel trapped.

"Even though it appears that women are more restricted, families try to give their daughters a lot of opportunity and try to tell them, 'Even though you have to cover yourself and have less rights than your brother, you are not less than he is.' Because there weren't as many restrictions on women when I lived in Iran, more women didn't mind staying at home because they had that choice. But now I see girls are really trying to prove themselves despite government restrictions.

"Every year there is a budget for sending talented students abroad to study. This year Congress debated sending women as well, but they decided not to because women would become 'corrupt' if sent to another country.

"The government does allow women to participate in some things. The prime minister of Iran is a woman, and many women are in government positions. But religious leaders insist that based on Islamic law, a woman has half the rights of a man. So it's harder for a woman to initiate a divorce, and it takes two women to witness a crime for them to be valid witnesses. I think these leaders interpret the religion wrong.

"It's harder for women to fight for their rights in Iran because religious people say, 'Well, this is what the books say, and if you're really Muslim you should respect that.' They also show Western advertisements that objectify women and say, 'See, even with all the rights they have, women are still used and beaten there. Is that how you want to be?'

"No matter if you're Japanese, American or Iranian, it's a human wish not to be pushed away because of your gender. We all want to at least have the opportunity to do what we want. Every woman wants that much.

Japanese Children's Games

You play badminton; we play hanetsuki.
You play jacks; we play otedama.
You play marbles; we play biidama.
You play Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey; we play fukuwarai.
You play Go Fish; we play Irohagaruta.

In the United States, there are a lot of games that you play with another person or in teams. In Japan, the team games are sports like baseball, but there are many games you can play by yourself.

In Origami we fold paper to create animals, flowers, boxes -- just about anything you can imagine. A popular bird to make is the crane, tsuru. You take a square piece of paper and fold wings and the body, flip the neck and fold a head, and on the other side, flip the tail up. Then you turn it over and blow in the hole in the belly and make a wish while pulling out the wings. It's really easy to fold, and after you create a few, you string them together on thread for a colorful decoration. The crane is believed to live for 10,000 years, so it's a popular and lucky decoration at festivals, weddings and births.

Otedama is a juggling game much like jacks. In jacks you use small, metal-pronged toys. The object of jacks is to capture as many of them as you can, without dropping them, during the bounce of a small, rubber ball. In otedama, we use small bean-filled bags instead of metal jacks. In jacks, you bounce a ball and scoop up jacks with the same hand. In otedama, we sing a special juggling song while juggling bags in one hand. Biidama is marbles in Japanese, and it is the same as in Western countries. The rules are similar to billiards.

Fukuwarai is not a donkey, but a woman's face, and instead of pinning the tail on the donkey, you put together the woman's face by pinning on her eyes, nose and mouth while blindfolded.

There are three popular card games: Irohagaruta, Hanafuda and Hyakunin-isshu.

Irohaguarta has two sets of 46 cards. One set has a picture and the other set has 46 proverbs. The object of the game is to match the picture with the proverb. Hanafuda is a flower card game with each flower representing one of the 12 months of the year. This game is played like blackjack or 21. The third most popular card game in Japan is Hyakunin-isshu or "100 Famous Japanese Poems." This is a matching game. Often families play card games during the New Year celebration from January 1st through the 3rd.

Menko is an interesting card game as the object is to slap your thick card on the ground so that your opponent's card flips over, after which you get to keep his or her card. The game continues until someone has collected the most cards.

No matter where you go in this world, there is one thing that you will always find: children enjoy playing games. The games may be similar or completely different, but the sounds of laughter can always be heard no matter where you are.

-- Mrs. Tracy Kanno, mother of two Japanese American daughters, lives in Cranston, Rhode Island.

International Exchange Students

Meet five high school exchange students (two featured here) from Finland, Germany, Italy and Thailand. These young women left their homes and families to experience another culture. We asked them to share their experiences in the U.S. We also asked them who their heroes are, what is important to them and what inspires or motivates them.

My hero is my piano teacher. She is the most passionate and inspiring woman I know. She lives her life full of passion, with the deep belief that she won't regret anything because everything happens for a reason. She gives me the strength to know that things which seem impossible can be done, and that I can reach my goals if I only fight hard enough. She believes in the beauty and importance of art and gave me the appreciation and love I needed to become confident and to believe in my art skills.

I feel very strongly about honesty and respect. I believe that everybody deserves a certain amount of respect regardless of whether I really like them or not. Respect is the basis for a good community and society.

The most outstanding moments in my life happened this year. I can't pick out one or two because this transformation is constant. I've learned how much my family means to me because of the simple fact that I'm not with them now. I have seen how strong I can be because I'm on my own, making friends and finding my way. I have learned to be myself, to create my own character and to take criticism. When you are no longer in your familiar environment and everything is different, you find out who you really are.

I get a lot of energy from theater and art, but the main thing is my mind-set and the support of my friends. My environment is a supportive place; I can fall down, be caught and be brought back up again.

I have seen that when you believe in yourself you can make it. I think as long as we follow our hearts anything can be done. I see so many adults unhappy with their jobs and lives, but we are a new generation, and I'm sure we can make a difference and create an open, creative environment for everybody to express themselves without jealousy or disrespect.

--Tinka Standke lives in Hanover, Germany.

My hero is Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to land on the moon. He marked a turning point in space exploration. I have always had a great interest in that field; science is probably my second favorite subject, after English. I hope one day to be able to experience something as great as Armstrong did!

I believe honesty is one of the most important values because it shows the real face of a person. If you are not honest to your friends and to the people you love, you will fail in life. I also believe that to dream and to have goals for your future is important because it gives you hope. My high school in Italy was probably one of the biggest influences in my life. I learned to work hard, and I made great friendships that I hope will last forever. Of course, this exchange year is also going to be very important for the rest of my life. I learned so much about American culture and the big gap between Europe and the U.S.; I learned how to survive without family and friends; I learned to be more self-confident, independent and outgoing.

I love watching TV and from that I always get an inspiration to go on. I always saw the U.S. as the place where I could fulfill my dreams, and that's why I decided to come here for my exchange year. I live every day as a new challenge. Every day is special for its own reason, and I try to make the best out of it!

I think everyone should experience travelling, perhaps as an exchange student because you can learn so much about yourself! I'd also advise everyone to laugh at their mistakes and learn from them. Enjoy life as much as possible, and listen to other people because everyone has a magnificent story to tell!

-- Barbara Fabri lives in Genova, Italy.

Step Into My Sistahood

Step into my sistahood,
where women strive for individuality.
Behold the ebony dames who
fancy true naked femininity.

Interpret our attitudes as
ambitions to succeed.
Careful not to mistake our
eagerness for greed.

Watch as we conquer dreams
that lie in distant stars.
Listen as we express our
innermost self to folk afar.

Learn that we won't cease to be
the sovereigns of a mighty nation.
Know that our hearts will forever
dwell in aspiration.

Why I'm a Nubian Queen

I'm the faults of society,
according to my history books.
I'm a girl by my genes.
My dawgs will tell you I'm a clown.
But by choice I am a Nubian queen.

-- Jennifer Trabi, is a high school senior and an aspiring writer in Iola, Kansas

PeaceBike Celebrates its First Birthday

Exactly one year ago I started out on my bike from Champoeg Park in Oregon. As I write this, I am in Quito, Ecuador, getting ready to head south again in a few days. As I was thinking about what to write in this article I started remembering all the kids (over 5000). I have visited on this Peacebike "edu-venture," and what kinds of questions they had for me.

They wanted to know things like:

Why is it called Peacebike? It is called Peacebike because this trip is about growing peace by riding a bike. The Peacebike Expedition Team (Frank Pollari and I) have visited with students so far in 11 countries. At each school we ask young people to join us in a friendship revolution. Hundreds of kids are now spreading peace and breaking down prejudice by becoming Peacebike Pen Pals or E-mail Pals. Thousands of other kids have pledged to be peacemakers in their families and communities. We also share our travels with thousands more people at www.peacebike.org, and they learn more about the good things people are doing in every country. That builds understanding and peace too!

Do I get scared? On this bike trip of more than 9000 kilometers there have been a few times I was scared, like in Mexico when a bull on the side of the road started chasing after me, but most of the time I don't have any reason to be scared. I have met hundreds of wonderful people on this trip, and they have helped me before things even get close to scary. For example, one time when I was getting pretty sick a doctor gave me a free exam because he wanted to help Peacebike. Another time, when I was riding through the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, and was almost out of water, some road construction workers gave me some of their bottled water to drink! I have learned to expect things to work out even if at first they look like they could be scary.

Do I get tired? Yes I do, every day. The most tired I got was in Belize when I had a fever and got stuck in a rainy downpour on a muddy road. My bags were about 15 pounds heavier when wet, and I had to carry my bike across thigh-high creeks that had washed over the road. That was tiring. Lots of people think that because I have traveled so far on a bike I must be half-superhero, but I am just a regular guy who started biking and kept on going. It is like many things in life--if you want to get somewhere you keep practicing and if you keep at it you will find, little by little, you really progress.

Where do I sleep? I have slept in a free five-star hotel, in a hotel with a cockroach convention in the bathroom, restaurants, a jail, a police fortress, inside a redwood tree, a classroom and with families. I have been welcomed into hundreds of homes--from that first couple on the Oregon coast, to a peace worker in Costa Rica. One family I stayed with didn't speak Spanish, only Mayan, and the grandma of the house was 120 years old!

How do I pay for it? I worked as a teacher before I went on this trip and saved a big chunk of change by not spending a lot of money during those years. Many friends, schools, kids, businesses and people along the way have given money so that the Peacebike adventure can go on. The whole trip isn't paid for, but I believe that as more people find out about what Peacebike is doing, they will keep supporting this adventure of about 40,000 kilometers.

Peacebike hopes that when governments start talking about going to war you will know your friends in other countries well enough to say, "No, we are not going to war. There must be another way because those people are my friends." While you work on making peace, we will too--pedal by pedal, around the world. Let's build peace together!

-- Tad Beckwith is now in Bolivia, South America

 

 

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