Esther Wandeka is the Assistant Commissioner for Social Services and Director of the Women's Bureau in Kenya. Esther is from rural Kenya and has studied in the USA. She is also the mother of five children. Her husband continues to live on their farm while she commutes from Nairobi on weekends. Because few people from Kenya, let alone a woman, ever travel to Japan, Esther was invited to meet with the Prime Minister of Japan.
Ms. Chung Il Choo was on a year's leave of absence from Sookmyung Women's University in Soeul, Korea where she teaches child psychology. She brought booklets on the New Village Movement in Korea where women are the motivating force for rural community renewal. Ms. Choo spoke Japanese very well, having lived in Korea when it was occupied by the Japanese. Ms. Choo has studied in the USA and after visiting Japan's Tsukuba University and seeing the new technology there, she was seriously considering applying for a year of study at Tsukuba.
Judith Aitken has just completed a doctoral thesis in public administration and economics in New Zealand. A high-spirited and very committed feminist, Judith was perhaps the most "political" of the group. She cautioned women to be strategic, to have goals that are concrete and achievable over time, and to always ask the questions, "Who benefits? Who pays?" A single-parent with four children, Judith though she might build a Japanese tea room when she got home. When she retires it will be to a large communal house shared with other feminists.
Dr. Lourdes Quisumbing has a Ph.D. in Anthropology. She is the president of a school in the Philippines with students from nursery school age to doctoral candidates. The mother of nine children, Lourdes went to school at the same time as her children. She has experienced the complete sharing of responsibility for the family with her husband. She says that Filipino women have equal say in the family. Lourdes is working on a book about Asian women.
The seminar itself was held in a large conference room at NWEC with 300 people, mainly women, in the audience. The proceedings were videotaped and there was simultaneous translation. The chairperson was Dr. Hiroko Hara, Women's Institute, Ochanomizu University, Tokyo. The vice-chairperson was Dr. Yoriko Meguro, Department of Sociology, Sophia University, Tokyo. Both of these extremely competent women spoke English very well
One significant benefit of the trip was meeting and spending a considerable amount of time with the other invited participants. We got to know each other very well. Not surprising, was the subtle split between the Western women "all with light hair and no husbands" and the Eastern delegates. Generally, the Western women held stronger feminist views while the women from Eastern countries were more traditional. The audience was perceived to be very traditional and this may have accounted for some of the cautious answers that were given during question period.
While these differences in feminist perspective did present themselves on occasion, the overall communication was remarkably open and positive. I learned a lot from the other delegates about themselves and their countries. While we came from different backgrounds, countries, and cultures, the bridge between us was our common concern for the educational development of women. The common bond was that we were all feminists; that is, we had worked and continued to work for the elimination of discrimination against women.