Asian & Asian American Studies

Excellence in Scholarship and Learning


Women and Politics in Southeast Asia

Navigating a Man’s World

In the Series
Asian and Asian American Studies

Theresa W. Devasahayam is Foreign Expert at the Institute for Population and Social Research (IPSR) at Mahidol University, Thailand where she undertakes research on population ageing. She has also conducted extensive research and published widely on gender, migration, food security and women’s leadership and political participation. Since 2007, she has been Associate Faculty at Singapore University of Social Sciences where she taught courses on gender, health sociology, multiculturalism and diversity and Southeast Asian Studies..

This book aims to contribute to the discourse on women and politics in Southeast Asia. The chapters, covering Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Timor-Leste and Singapore, analyse the asymmetrical power relationships between the sexes and how power differentials between men and women play out in the realm of politics are a reflection of the power contestations women face with men in other spheres of everyday life. Each chapter seeks to ask a different question in terms of where women viz. men stand in the political landscape of their countries, in an effort to answer the question of “Where are the women” in the gender trope in Asian politics. While the chapters are primarily empirical as they delve into the challenges, contradictions and conflicts Southeast Asian women encounter, the main assertion is that women's struggles in the realm of politics are a result of having to operate within power structures created principally by men, thereby producing barriers for women to enter politics, on the one hand, and to increase their numbers and widen their sphere of influence, on the other.

Recognizing that Asian politics is dominated by men, the question of how women have negotiated a value system that is inherently male-centred and male-controlled is also discussed. The implicit narrative demonstrated in this book is that the political arena should not be considered in isolation from other arenas but instead is essentially a mirror of other arenas – whether the home, workplace, nation, and/or global spaces – each marked by power contestations between men and women and having a spill-over effect on the other, as well as shaping women’s experiences in the political realm.

From the Foreword by Anne-Marie Hilsdon Gender Specialist, Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria, South Africa
Around the world, women continue to struggle for their place in decision making. This is especially blatant in the political arena. Although feminists have long ago debunked the ‘public-private distinction’, this is still maintained within our societies, relegating men to politics and women to the home front. It exacerbates the difficulties of women’s entry into electoral politics. Here we have a monograph which probes and exposes the contemporary trajectory of women’s participation in politics in Southeast Asia. It examines the complexities and nuances, not only of how women become involved or not in formal politics in various countries, but what happens when they run as electoral candidates, are elected, and then work as members of parliament or even as spouses of members of parliament. The authors show in great detail how the ‘personal’ of women’s lives —their children, spouses and family dynasties — are truly implicated in their ‘political’ lives in the public domain. Moreover, the authors reiterate in refreshing new ways through their examination of the lives of women involved in politics, the interweaving and inseparability of our public and private lives.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-906-7
Hardback Price: £45.00 / $60.00
Release Date: November 2018
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-994-4
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: August 2019
Page Extent / Format: 180 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Foreword by Ann-Marie Hilsdon
Author’s Preface
Series Editor’s Preface

Chapter 1
Politics in Southeast Asia: Where are the Women? by Theresa W. Devasahayam

Chapter 2
“The Triple Burden”: Politics and the Competing Realities of Singaporean Women by Theresa W. Devasahayam

Chapter 3
Political Spouse-hood for “Dummies”: An Insider’s View by Jacqueline A. Siapno

Chapter 4
How Islam Affects the Political Participation of Indonesian Women by Susan Blackburn

Chapter 5
The Glass Ceiling and Sticky Floor: Filipino Women’s Participation in Politics and Governance by Carolyn I. Sobritchea

Chapter 6
Winds of Change for Women Politicians in Myanmar?: A Case Study of Aung San Suu Kyi by Andrea Fleschenberg

The Editor and Contributors

By focusing on women’s participation in politics, this stimulating volume sheds new light on the constellation of factors that contour women’s possibilities and experiences in the realm of governance and political representation. Across a fascinating range of cases, the authors offer subtle theorizations of ‘power,’ ‘patriarchy,’ ‘gender’ and ‘participation’ that move analysis beyond static conceptualizations of gender roles in favor of more fluid femininities and masculinities. The essays are richly empirical, varied in terms of geographical location, and provide finely-textured portraits of female politicians, politicians’ wives, and women from Southeast Asian political dynasties that nuance any generalizing assertions about women’s exclusion from politics.
Patricia Spyer, Professor of Anthropology, Graduate Institute Geneva

Despite Southeast Asia’s tradition of female leadership and empowerment, women are not well represented in the region’s political landscape today. The compelling studies in this volume delve into the gendered power contestations in contemporary Southeast Asian politics. They show how women’s political participation is widely accepted, yet blocked by informal structural barriers such as a masculinized political arena, the struggle to balance work and family in societies where family is exalted, and patronage politics. This collection is essential reading for anyone interested in gender and politics.
Rachel Rinaldo, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Colorado Boulder

Why are there so few women in politics? A question many have asked but few have answered expertly. This fine collection of empirically grounded and theoretically well-informed chapters by several prominent scholars of gender issues addresses this question. It offers rich insights on the obstacles such as patriarchal structures, gender expectations, and cultural values that account for the dearth of women in politics in Southeast Asia. This book is not only an indispensable scholarly work on the nexus between gender and politics; its implicit aim is to clear the path for more women to engage in institutional politics by casting light on the encumbrances that hold women back from political engagement, and by articulating the lessons gleaned from the experiences, challenges, and struggles of women in politics.
Alberto Gomes, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, La Trobe University & Global Director of Dialogue, Empathic Engagement, and Peacebuilding (DEEP) Network

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