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FOCUS March 2009 Volume 55

Symposium on Multi-cultural Families and the Local Community

Koonae Park and Nobuki Fujimoto

A symposium entitled "Multicultural Families and the Local Community - Examining Co-existence in Japan, Korea and Taiwan" explored the necessary governmental policies and programs (central and local) to address the plight of foreign immigrants and migrants in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The symposium also discussed the experiences in these countries on securing the human rights of foreign immigrants and migrants, and promoting the idea of "multicultural families."

The symposium focused on the situation of foreign immigrant women married to Korean, Taiwanese and Japanese husbands and who raised families in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan respectively. Kim Hyun Mee of Yonsei University (South Korea) gave a presentation entitled "Current Situation and Challenges in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan - Integration for Whom?: Married Migrant Women Policies in South Korea and Patriarchal Imagination." She pointed out that those cross-border or international marriages constituted 11.1 percent of the total marriages in South Korea in 2007. 88 percent of these marriages involve Korean men marrying foreign women. And among the foreign wives, Korean-Chinese women constitute 53.4 percent. Other nationalities constitute the rest: Vietnamese (19.8 percent), Japanese (4.9 percent), Filipino (4.5 percent) and Mongolian (1.9 percent) women. International marriages have been a "boom" since 2000 with the support of matchmaking enterprises. She stressed that the Korean government under its 2006 "Transition to a Multicultural, Multiethnic Society" policy saw international marriage as an answer to a number of issues in the current Korean society: low birth rate, high divorce rate, the imbalance of the sex ratio in marriage market, etc. Laws were enacted to address the increasing number of fraudulent marriages as well as to implement the integration policy. Matchmaking enterprises treated international marriages as "consumer-broker-product/service" matter, while scam marriages and marriages with false information arose. The integration policy was criticized for pursuing the assimilation of the foreign wives into the Korean society and the lack of respect for their own cultures. It was also criticized for promoting the objective of international marriages of forming, maintaining and reproducing the 'family'. As a result, the foreign wives dropped their cultural identity in order to adjust to the expected gender roles in Korean society and suffered from the problems of negotiating the adjustment process. She posed the challenge of uniting the Korean and foreign women into a single cause and recognizing the foreign women as the "new citizens" of Korea.

Hsiao-Chuan Hsia of Shih Hsin University (Taiwan) gave a presentation entitled "The Development of Immigrant Movement in Taiwan ? the Case of Alliance of Human Rights Legislation for Immigrants and Migrants." She explained that according to the Ministry of Interior of Taiwan, as of the end of 2006, there were 384,000 foreign spouses, 65.1 percent of whom were from Mainland China and 34.9 percent from other countries (mostly Southeast Asian countries). A study by the Ministry of Interior showed that between 1987 to August 2003, there were 240,837 foreign spouses, including those from Southeast Asia (42.2 percent) and Mainland China (57.8 percent). Ninety-three percent of these foreign spouses were women. Among the women from Southeast Asia, 57.5 percent were from Vietnam, 23.2 percent from Indonesia, 5.3 percent from Thailand and another 5.3 percent from the Philippines. She said that foreign wives in Taiwan suffered from economic difficulties, isolation, and discrimination due to public perception that they acquired "fake marriages," that they (and their children) have low social status (low "quality") image, and that they were wasting social welfare resources. She also mentioned that foreign wives have difficulty getting Taiwanese citizenship due to legal constraints (particularly on financial requirement), which led to non-enjoyment of legal rights. These problems increased the barrier between the foreign wives and the mainstream Taiwanese society. Hsiao explained the response of the non- governmental organization community to this problem by forming the Alliance of Human Rights Legislation for Immigrants and Migrants (AHRLIM). The AHRLIM wanted to make the public become aware of the situation of foreign wives and other foreign immigrants and migrants in Taiwan; promote the ideas of human rights, multi-culturalism and democracy; create public empathy to the plight of the foreign wives and other foreign immigrants and migrants; and demonstrate the subjectivity of the immigrant women. She stressed the need for the foreign women to participate in the campaigns, a multi-sectoral movement on immigrant women issues, and networking with other institutions outside Taiwan.

Emiko Miki a lawyer and the President of the non- governmental organization House for Women "Saalaa," gave a presentation entitled "Current Situation and Challenges of International Marriages and Multicultural Families in Japan ? Women of Foreign Nationality who have Chosen to Live in Japan and their Children." She spoke about the history of foreign migration to Japan that led to trafficking and also international marriages. She pointed out that by the 1990s there were many children born of foreign mothers and Japanese fathers, as well as foreign parents who either have special permanent residence visa or lapsed visa.

She said that after 2000, many problems arose such as the problem of migrant foreign children adjusting to life in Japan, the aging of foreign women themselves, the adoption of regulations on human trafficking and their effects, the relationship between foreign children and the Japanese society, the declining birth rate, and the aging population in Japan. She also mentioned that many junior and senior secondary-level foreign students are struggling to survive in the Japanese society.

Maria Hiramatsu, a Filipina married to a Japanese for about ten years and a part-time staff of Toyonaka Association for International Activities and Communication, pointed out that since the situations in Japan and in the Philippines were very different, it was necessary for Filipinas to see such differences through social interactions with the Japanese. But there should be occasions for social interactions for the Filipinas to participate in, and for the Japanese to learn about the Philippines (its various languages, religion, etc.). She also expressed the importance of the foreigners being able to empower themselves, and being able to say "no." They should be able to decide by themselves on what to do, instead of simply accepting the advise of the Japanese supporters.

Mariko Kawabata of Toyonaka Center for Gender Equality spoke on the problems of foreign wives in Japan. She also stressed the importance of helping the foreign wives and migrants in empowering themselves. She agreed with Maria Hiramatsu about the need to address the issue of proper communication to government officials of the problems and sentiments of the foreign wives. She also supported the need for government officials to explore other effective options, instead of strictly sticking to one solution to the problems presented to them. They should also be knowledgeable of other countries, in addition to knowing foreign languages.

Most symposium participants from the local communities in Japan did not know the current situation of foreigners living in Korea and Taiwan. The symposium made them realize the similarity of issues regarding foreign immigrant women in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, and understood that the civil movements' lobby with the government to improve the situation of foreign immigrant and migrant women was much ahead in South Korea and Taiwan.

HURIGHTS OSAKA co-organized with the Toyonaka Gender Equality Foundation and the Toyonaka Association for International Activities and Communication the symposium that was held on 18 October 2008 in Toyonaka city, Osaka prefecture. The Women's Studies Center of the Osaka Prefecture University and the Asian Center for Women Studies of the Ewha University (South Korea) cooperated in holding the symposium.

Koonae Park and Nobuki Fujimoto are staff members of HURIGHTS OSAKA.
For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA