Author’s Note: Today is the International Women’s Day. I’ve been stricken by a viral infection in the throat over the past few days, with a mild fever finally breaking out just this last afternoon. In this predicament, I obviously cannot go out and join the protest led by Gabriela today, so in solidarity with the progressive movements of women over the world, I instead offer this small write-up. Cheers.
The Struggle of Women is beyond the MRT Seat
This day marked heady firsts in the movement for women’s rights world-wide: the first protest march (and probably the first violent dispersal) of working women in 1857, the first large contingent of women protesters numbering up to 30,000 in 1908, and finally the official proclamation of March 8 as International Women’s Day by Clara Zetkin and other leaders of the international workers movement in 1910. 152 years after the earliest march, protests against deplorable working and living conditions are ideals still being fought for, protests that are still met by the whacks of police truncheons up to this day.
Contemporary issues that women face now speak of the times unchanged. In the legislative process alone we see various proposals progressing at different paces. The Magna Carta for Women (SB 2396) that seeks to enshrine in the constitution comprehensive protection for women against all forms of discrimination is nearing ratification into law as it gets the OK from the Senate, while the Reproductive Health Bill (HB 5043) that seeks to adopt a national policy ensuring reproductive health care and awareness to women remains in congress limbo. An even more backward legislation is the remnance of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that maintains US military presence and judicial autonomy that not only keeps retribution away from the hands of rape victim Nicole, but for the entire Filipino people.
These are just laws in paper, however. For instance, the RH Bill’s population regulation remains flawed as it doesn’t see that the poverty spurred by the constant crisis of a semi-feudal, semi-colonial society is the root of excessive population growths, not the other way around. In V.I. Lenin’s Imperialism, it is pointed out that excessive populations from underdeveloped countries is in fact a basic need of imperialist countries like US, as the huge surplus labor ensures low wage and salary rates, and reduces the dependence on regular workers. What we need to address first, then, is the uneven economic, political and cultural ties we have with US and other imperialist countries, should we intend to stabilize our population. Any bills that seek democracy passed under the control of neo-colonial agenda are band-aid, at best, tokenistic at worst.
This aberrant economic base shapes an equally hybrid culture. Feudal institutions like the Catholic Church and the Hacienda System still confine women in domestic subservience, yet the liberal atmosphere in urban centers creates illusions of democracy for women, further spurred by our country already having two lady presidents put into power by popular revolutions, ignoring the fact that these women pursued interests of the elite while using their womanhood to set themselves as novelty from the circus of traditional politicians.
Popular culture has thus created a system that maintains the double-exploitation that women experience, and maintaining it by utilizing various lip services to appease populist notions of gender empowerment. Women’s role in society has long been confined to the spaces of home, as written out in Rizal’s letter to the women of Malolos in 1889 where their participation in changing society is perceived to be limited to fostering children and bringing them up as warriors. And yet Rizal is regarded as the first Filipino feminist for the said letter: a fitting microcosm of the existing perception of women empowerment that sees through the eyes of the established patriarchal order.
Comprehensive, Radical Change
Normalized atrocities are not restricted to issue of gender, and are in fact a recurring theme in all public issues that the Philippines face on a daily basis. Once we realize this and find enough political will to proactively participate in the advocacy of social justice for all oppressed people, genuine change will no longer remain a pipe dream. The militant women’s movement network Gabriela employs this methodology of forging unities with other sectors to achieve national democracy, a genuine pro-people social alternative that addresses the basic needs and interests of basic masses in society to the cancer-ridden system that we have as of present.
There is much in Philippine society that warrants dissent, and even to the marginal middle class where things seem hunky-dory, manifestations of crisis remain. Women especially experience this regardless of economic stature, as domestic violence and other forms of gender discrimination are rooted in the culture that strikes through all social classes. Contentment of the way things work is temporary in a society chronically ridden in regression, something that will surely be amplified as we approach the peak of the global financial meltdown as UN’s International Labor Organization has already indicated that women are the first to go when it comes to unavoidable massive layoffs.
We must go beyond the consolations of chivalry in MRT seats and notions of empowerment through Spice Girl themed products. We need radical change in our political and cultural system if we are to weather the storm: women need to engage in the parliament of the streets alongside other revolutionary formations – better than to find ourselves pariahs of the streets.