Celebrating Women’s Contributions to the ASAA: A Conclusion

Celebrating Women’s Contributions to the ASAA: A Conclusion

Natasha Naidu is the Editor of Asian Currents, Assistant Editor of the Asian Studies Review, and Digital Officer of the Asian Studies Association of Australia. In this post she draws the series to a conclusion through a reflection on the contributions made. Read the other posts in this series celebrating women’s contributions to the ASAA here

In late 2023, Melissa Crouch and I began attempts to reach out to the women we knew of who had been involved in the early days of the Asian Studies Association of Australia. The idea was to facilitate a series which would celebrate and tell the stories of women in the early life of the ASAA. We had a slow start. Emails bounced back, and just as I was attempting to reach out to Elaine McKay, I received the sad news of her passing.

Yet once the series began it gained momentum, highlighting the often informal and unacknowledged contributions of women to the life of the ASAA. The series has been made richer by those who made suggestions on who to contact or those who wrote the stories themselves, and we are grateful to John Ingleson for his tribute to Elaine McKay, and George Miller for his profile of Enid Bishop. In this piece, I draw the series to a close through a reflection on the questions we asked the contributors to the series.

Getting involved and staying involved in the ASAA

The first question we asked contributors to the series was: why did you get involved with the ASAA? Two answers emerged. Either, they were tapped on the shoulder by a colleague to take up a role, such as on the Council, or were encouraged to enter such a role through formal and informal networks.

One can almost draw a web of connections between the contributors, showing how they encouraged each other to get involved with the ASAA Council. Elaine McKay suggested that Beverley Hooper fill a temporary vacancy on the Council, and many years later as Immediate Past President, Beverley encouraged Louise Edwards to become China Councillor. Kathryn Robinson asked Amrita Malhi to consider serving on the ASAA Council when Amrita was managing one of Kathryn’s projects, but Kathryn herself came to the ASAA through the Women’s Caucus in its early days. As was common across all contributions, the Women’s Caucus (later the Women’s Forum) acted as a conduit for introducing women to the ASAA and encouraging their election to Council.

More than just getting involved with the ASAA, the contributors to our series stayed involved with the ASAA in remarkable ways. Mina Roces first became Publications’ Officer in 2004, and then remained in that role for more than 10 years until 2015. Anne Platt first became involved with the Asian Studies Review in 1998 and continues on as assistant editor to the ASR – more than 25 years later! Mina attributed her length of involvement to the great friends she made and the sense of support she felt among her colleagues on the Council. These themes of solidarity and friendship were reflected across the range of contributions.

Initiatives in supporting women in Asian Studies

The second question we asked contributors was: what initiatives were you involved in within the ASAA or in Asian Studies in general? To name a few examples within the ASAA, Kathryn used funding to support women academics based in Asia to attend the Women in Asia conferences in Australia. Further, Amrita advocated for an expanded definition of “early-career” for ASAA awards and prizes, to account for periods of parental leave or time spent in non-academic employment.

As to examples on advocating for Asian Studies in Australia, Elaine lobbied the government to establish the Asian Studies Council and Beverley worked to maintain funding for the Australian Awards for Research in Asia. Virginia Hooker worked as a researcher on the Asia in Australian Education reports in the 1980s and Enid Bishop was prominent in promoting Asian librarianship in Australia. It was inspiring to see the wide range of actions championed by the women who contributed to the series.

Where to from here?

The final set of questions we asked our contributions centered on the theme: where to from here? In particular, we questioned what the ASAA can do to better support women academics, and why women academics should join and become active in the ASAA. The answers centered on three themes: support, inclusion, and advocating for the ASAA’s mission.

The contributors encouraged support within the ASAA to continue in both formal and informal ways. Kathryn suggested holding workshops or activities at ASAA conferences for women academics. She also suggested facilitating mentoring programs for women academics between conferences. These suggestions were echoed by Mina, who added that streams on women’s studies or gender studies at ASAA conferences could act as a form of support. In this respect, it has been heartening to be a part of the active ASAA Women’s Forum Facebook group, and we hope that the call for a host for the 2025 Women in Asia Conference will soon be taken up.

Next, the contributors were keen to see that initiatives which have worked to include women in the ASAA be broadened and extended to those who may not have traditionally been the focus of inclusion in the ASAA. Amrita brought attention to early-career researchers in Asian Studies who leave universities, suggesting that we consider how best to support them as they enter non-academic fields. Virginia and Enid’s stories drew attention to the role ASAA has played, and continues to play, in supporting translators, interpreters, librarians and teachers of Asian Studies. Louise also emphasised the importance of extending the welcoming and open academic culture of the Women’s Forum to LGBTQIA+ scholars, and encouraged the ASAA’s tradition of welcoming Asian-Australian and Asia-based scholars.

Finally, the contributors to the series were at lengths to emphasise the role of support and inclusion in working towards the ASAA’s goals of promoting the study of, and knowledge about, Asia in Australia. Writing in 1988, Elaine reminded ASAA members that “it is important that our work, in which we see Asian societies with their own integrity, is not subverted or compromised by those who see Asia simply in terms of markets to be exploited”. Writing for this series in 2024, Louise spoke of the risk “that the English-language dominant academy will revert ‘back to type’ and ignore Asia and people from Asia”. It seems the challenges faced then endure now. A focus on support and inclusion in the ASAA broadens the base from which one can draw in advocating for understanding Asian societies on their own terms.

As the series draws to the close, we have only begun to scratch the surface of the many ways that women have served the ASAA throughout its life. We have been unable to mention the stories of many women who contributed to the early life of the ASAA of whom we are unaware. Perhaps, then, this series should be seen as an invitation to continue the work of collecting the untold stories in the formation and early life of the ASAA. We look forward to hearing the stories yet to come.

Feature images: supplied.

Natasha Naidu is the Editor of Asian Currents, Assistant Editor of the Asian Studies Review, and Digital Officer of the Asian Studies Association of Australia.

Share On: