IWS2006 Full Report

Etsuko KATO
IWS 2006 Coordinator, Assistant Professor, ICU
【Full article not available. The summary below is the same as the article that appears in the seventh issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

CGS co-hosted its third international workshop with COE, "Body Knowledge and Gender in Asia," at ICU from October 6 to 8, 2006. This year, our aim was to explore the possibility of a gender perspective from the viewpoint of "natural science," following the previous two workshop series on social science (2004) and humanities (2005) perspectives. The workshop brought together a broad range of practical and theoretical "body knowledge" professionals, including sex-education advisors, midwives, researchers of midwifery, medical anthropologists, medical sociologists, scientific historians, and scientific philosophers from Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, India, and Japan.

We, however, did not use the phrase "in Asia" based on the assumption of an uncritical natural science perspective stemming from the West in the modern age. On the contrary, our aim was to discuss how natural science is positioned both in conflict and in co-existence with local knowledge/techniques of childbirth, pregnancy and birth control in Asia. We allocated the same amount of time for free discussion as for presentations to discuss the above issues.

Over the two-and-a-half-days of presentations and active discussions, it became apparent that there were significant differences between countries that have many modern Western-style medical facilities and those that do not-modern Western medicine has brought both blessings and annoyances to men and women across Asia, although there are differences among regions in each nation. For instance, modern infertility treatment causes Taiwanese men to battle with their patriarchy-based pride, while family-planning education causes conflicts with Thai highland minority people's agricultural practice and customs of ancestor worship. Medical technology for pregnancy, childbirth or organ transplants gives rise to feelings of exclusion in the subjects of the body, that is humans, especially women. Under such conditions, for example, how can native Japanese midwifery skills be beneficial for women to regain personal control and independence over their bodies in Vietnam or in Japan? Furthermore, how can we utilize modern medical knowledge in order to overcome the many challenges involved, such as sex education for diverse people including homosexuals in India or for Japanese men? The interaction of many professionals of different nationalities and specializations, many of whom would never have met otherwise, led us to discover new connections between topics and highlighted new isssues.

Just like previous workshops, this workshop provided an occasion for the creation of networks among gender-related professionals in Asia. However, we must continue to ask if, how, and to what extent, the so-called "Asian" framework may be effective. This was the task that we "assigned" ourselves in the final session. This workshop series adopted the category of "Asia" in order to critique the Western-centric knowledge system of gender studies. But the series should not lead to the verification of such naive hypotheses as "There should be a definite entity of Asia" or "There must be a common philosophy/ thought system in Asia" (not to mention "Japan should be the leader in the pursuit of such ideas").

The outcomes of this workshop series will be integrated and considered next year at our fourth International Workshop. Our objective will be not only to integrate the social science, humanities, and natural science perspectives. But also to question the effectiveness of the "Asian" framework itself. What fruits will (or won't) we have by not only integrating social science, humanities, and natural science perspectives but also by critically introducing the category of "Asia"?