It was agreed that the broad focus of the Dialogue would be on the politics of sexuality: the political processes, actors and outcomes that have shaped sexuality and sexuality-related issues in the region. But this would go beyond being a descriptive/analytical exercise. The Dialogue would seek to identify ‘tipping points’ for policy interventions, and come up with recommendations for policy change.
Towards this end, the themes identified in the framing paper – the institutions and processes of state and religion, economic development and science, that play crucial roles in shaping sexuality and related issues in the region – would be used as conceptual tools to broadly guide the dialogue. The Dialogue itself would be structured around specific areas of sexuality, the examination of which in different sessions, could help shed light on the working of the above-mentioned institutions and processes in Asia. Such an exercise would serve two purposes. It would help identify issues that could become important in the near future in one of the fastest changing regions in the world, and thus concretize the “tipping points” for future action. Simultaneously, it would set the stage for weaving together the interplay and overlap among the macro institutions and processes in the region, thus enriching the conceptual tools themselves.
On the basis of this discussion, Task Force members propose four themes for the Dialogue, with the summaries presented below.
I) Four themes of the Asia Regional Dialogue
Theme 1: Negotiating Multiple Identities
This session would aim to peel away the layers of meaning that exist between the personal and political. It would cover religion, culture, class, sexualities, gender and various other permutations of the word ‘identity’, and the way in which people negotiate these multiple identities and, in the process, interact with the state and other socio-economic structures. It would seek to describe the effects that these ‘manipulating’ identities have: how they influence actions, choices, access, and how these identities in turn impact upon each other when there is a confluence of multiple identities. It would look at how individuals create spaces within which they can organize or exist in their ‘multiplicity’, how they exert their agency within these spaces, or interpret, affirm and eventually access their rights [the multiple layers of rights related to these multiple identities]. Finally, the session would also look at the fluidity between identities, transitions from one identity to another, and the practical things people do in order to negotiate the realization of their aspirations within these identities.
Theme 2: “Condom versus Viagra”
The juxtaposition of “Condom” and “Viagra” in the title of the proposed session is to indicate that there are different perceptions and values centering on the various types of sex-related products in the market. Whereas there is still a great hesitancy in Asia to discuss openly and promote condoms for safe sex, Viagra has been aggressively promoted in the media and marketed widely in the region, for objectives well-beyond its prescribed purposes, without facing any ‘moral’ or political objection. How can this difference in societal acceptance be explained, considering that both products focus on male sexuality, and could thus be considered equally ‘sensitive’ (or not ‘sensitive’)? Is protection somehow less important, in the eyes of policy makers and the public, than pleasure? And, if so, for what reason? This session aims to probe these and related issues, provoking thinking on the way gender and sexual values affect the production of sex-related technologies. Attention will be given to the way in which industry develops its products around societal and cultural definitions of pleasure, and those who are supposedly entitled to it, taking into account genderized ideas of pleasure and prevention. Concepts of masculinity, femininity, and non-heterosexuality constructed around Viagra, condoms, and other sex-related products will be dissected in an effort to discern patriarchal structures and politics in the production, marketing and use of these products. The role of other actors in setting norms in the bio-medicalization of sexualities and genders, and in the attribution to different sexes of specific responsibilities in the prevention of HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies, among others, will be emphasized. How products are tested, and the ways in which women’s bodies often become a laboratory for not-always-justified experiments, will receive special attention. By doing so within the context of the Asian region, the session will broaden the ongoing discussion on medicalization of sexuality to include an analysis of the gender biases marring such processes.
Theme 3: Sexuality in the Tech-Era
Recent statistics show that almost 40 per cent of internet users in the world are living in Asia. For many Asians, the rapid expansion of networking technologies, including internet and cell phones, has transformed many aspects of their lives, including sexuality. To cite just a few examples, sexual jokes, images and ring tones are spreading over millions of cells phones; an increasing number of homosexually active men and women are logging onto web-based chat rooms where they can explore opportunities to find partners, and to play out their sexuality in most intimate, and yet anonymous, ways; and sex tourism has been made much easier, with web-based sites where clients can search for information and make appointments well in advance. It would be hard for internet users – mostly young people – not to get carried away by stereotypical images of how to be men or women, of how certain population groups and countries conduct their gender and sexual lives, and of how certain ways of living out one’s sexual life may be preferable to others. Young people in tightly controlled societies and cultures are now finding the internet to be their most important escape for their innermost desires, including those that are sexual in nature. And, reactive responses from governments throughout the region, seeking to strengthen their grip on the spaces created by the very technologies that they have sanctioned, are not new. This session will pay attention to these and other major developments in order to address such questions as: What possibilities and constraints do technologies bring to people in the region with regard to their sexual lives? What are the underlying power dynamics that shape the ways in which people use different technologies to explore their sexualities? How do these power dynamics also shape the inequalities, dependencies and exploitation that characterize the ways in which various groups in the region have access to and make use of technology to explore their sexualities? By addressing these questions, the session will aim to explore how the rapid expansion of networking technologies may be shaping the sexual lives of individuals and communities throughout the region, and even raise the question of how we might make use of the transformative aspects of technology for achieving sexual rights and sexual justice.
Theme 4: Migrant labor and sexual politics
Asia, with its high-income countries and rapidly industrializing centers rising in the midst of widespread poverty and regional inequalities, is a primary source and locus of international migration of, often, low-skilled workers from within the region and beyond. As Asian states struggle to cope with these growing fluxes, policies have attempted to deal with migrants’ sexuality and reproduction in a number of diverse ways. In HIV/AIDS prevention programs, migrants have been portrayed as a source of disease because of their “risky” sexual behavior, whereas other mobile groups — such as businessmen, tourists, and students — have been ignored. In contract labor policies and bilateral agreements, migrants’ bodies have been viewed as asexual, and migrants, consequently, considered to be not in need of family and sexual interaction. And, in anti-trafficking programs, migrants who engage in prostitution are denied their agency and regarded as passive victims of their circumstances, in no position to make their own choices. This session will take a closer look at these different policies, examine consistencies and inconsistencies among them, and analyze the ways in which they impact on migrants’ rights and well-being. Presentations will challenge nationalist governments’ fears of “contamination” from sexually active migrants, as well as States’ efforts to keep them sexless. Issues of citizenship and labor rights will be examined, and questions posed as to the links, or missing links, between human rights and labor rights with sexual rights. This session on migration also deliberately misses a reference to “trafficking” as, in our view, migration is probably a better point of entry to tackle the controversies/conflation on/of sex work and trafficking.
The above summaries are not meant to be exhaustive of the issues that could fall under the rubric of the four themes listed above. In fact, the Task Force members expect that other issues will be brought up by key speakers and other contributors/participants at the sessions. The Task Force also expects that discussion along these themes will help shed light on the particularities in the context of Asia, of the four focal topics of political processes, economic processes, religion and science, and thus help construct comparative perspectives for the other two regional meetings.