Report: Participation in the International Conference "Women's Health, Well-Being between Culture and the Law"

CGS Steering Committee Member, ICU Associate Professor

【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the thirteenth issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

  An international conference entitled "Women's Health,Well-Being between Culture and the Law" was held on January 28th and 29th, 2010, in the Thai capital city of Bangkok. This conference was set up and run primarily by Asian researchers and NGO members who have long been active in the field of Women's Studies. One of these core members was Professor Chalidaporn Songsamphan of Thammasat University, Thailand, who was a visiting professor at ICU during the 2009 Spring semester. It was through Professor Chalidaporn that I fortuitously learnt of this conference.

  The participants, from eight countries in Asia, had a diverse range of expertise. It was a meaningful experience for me as a beginning researcher. I learned about the trajectory of research fields and activities, which also helped me to consider where and how my research was situated upon the map of that development. One purpose of the conference was to strengthen the network of research cooperation for a more multi-faceted approach to the examination of women's health and well-being. In fact, the steering committee recently played a central role in the establishment of an organization called the Asian Association of Women's Studies. I felt that this conference helped establish a strong basis for bringing together the past and the future of the field overall.
What most impressed me about this conference was the co-existence of diversity and unity. The participants were of diverse academic backgrounds, vocational expertise, and
sexual orientation, but that diversity was transcended by a sense of unity, a sense of us." Interestingly, the diversity was evident even in the choice between saying, "SHE is ..." or "HE is..." in simple conversations (I'm not sure if this happened because we were in Thailand or because of the conference theme). In any case, I was forced to consider, "Is this person really a 'HE' or a 'SHE,' and does this person want to be called 'HE' or 'SHE'?" Soon after arriving at the conference hall, I abandoned the dichotomous thought pattern of "he or she" and came to look upon the situation as a "gradation." I found it refreshing to be placed in a situation where people had to consider how to use the idiomatic concept of "he/she."
At the session in which I presented my research, presenters from a wide range of fields, including cultural anthropologists, philosophers, women's rights activists, and spiritualists concerned with sexuality and Buddhism, debated topics on the relationships between
women's health and well-being from their respective standpoints. The conference prompted us to think about how our wellbeing is affected by something called "culture" that surely exists but is often intangible. On the surface, the scholarly origins of the
participants in the session were so varied that it seemed arduous to find even a common language. But it turned out to be a fruitful session as participants had no problem understanding the underlying "meaning" and "intention" of each other's presentations. It was an interesting shared experience, which I have rarely experienced at other academic conferences.
Finally, this international conference was founded upon the unshakable "convictions" of its organizers, and I felt it was significant that people from various positions came together in agreement, in some form or other, with these convictions.
Furthermore, this conference included both new and old generations spanning more than half a century, from those who were finally retreating from the front lines to students who were preparing to join the field. Thus, I think that it provided a good opportunity for the participants to seek their roles and situate themselves in their respective fields. I feel that this can also serve as a good reference in considering the style and significance of the large number and variety of international conferences being heldin various locations today.