With the ongoing Sabah stand-off and the election campaign, it has become more difficult to veer the attention of the public and the government to advocacies such as gender equality, and women’s rights. But passionate advocates of these causes will always find a way.
Such is the case of the Women and Gender Institute (WAGI), the gender arm of Miriam College (MC). At noon last March 1, 400 people composed of students, teachers, parents and children from partner communities participated in a flash mob organized by WAGI at the Miriam College Open Field. Impervious to the sun’s piercing heat, the mob gamely danced to the songs, “Break the Chain,” the official song used for the One Billion Rising campaign, and “I’m Every Woman.”
The event kicked off MC’s celebration of Women’s Month.
MORE THAN A CELEBRATION
“There are just so many reasons for Filipino women to celebrate as far as women’s rights are concerned,” says WAGI executive director Dr. Aurora de Dios.
For one, there’s the enactment of the Reproductive Health Law, which is expected to give better and proper attention to the health of every Filipino woman. Then there’s also the 2011 Newsweek report citing the country as the 17th best place in the world for women. The Global Economic Forum also ranked the Philippines as the eighth among 135 countries that observes equality between men and women.
However, despite these achievements, De Dios says that the movement cannot relax just yet.
“Hangga't malawak pa rin ang kahirapan at saka marami pa ring nambubugbog, andiyan na ‘yung mga tools para mapuksa natin iyon (violence against women), pero hindi iyon sapat,” she explains.
According to the data released by the Philippine Commission on Women, the PNP-Women and Children Protection Center had received 5, 989 cases of violence against women and children from January to August 2011 alone. Also, forms of violence against women committed on cyberspace have been emerging due to the prevalence of the internet.
The United Nations wants to stop the violence from occurring once and for all, thus the theme of this year’s Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, “Elimination and Prevention of all forms of Violence against Women and Girls.” As a way of showing their support to this cause, WAGI launched a campaign on Valentine’s Day dubbed “Love is Freedom from Violence.” Through the campaign, WAGI aimed to show that the best way to show love is by respecting women and girls and protecting them from violence.
But since the public, and even the government, is too caught up with political and security issues, the organizers felt compelled to find a channel that will interest and engage them. That’s when the idea of organizing a flash mob came to them.
“Napakaseryoso ng message natin, pero they can dance with it and (still) the message will get to them,” she says. “That is why we have this flash mob today, to celebrate and at the same time call to action.”
BREAKING THE CHAIN
For freshmen International Studies students Neli San Juan and Angelica Samson, volunteering for WAGI has opened their eyes to the reality that women across the globe get violated even in these modern times.
In the Philippines, Samson believes, it’s not just about the many laws that the government has passed or are going to pass for this cause, but about changing the mentality of people towards the role of women.
The first step to break the chain, she says, is for the women to recognize their value in the society. “‘Yung mga babae hindi sila dapat nag-iisip na ganito lang sila. Kailangan sila mismo yung halimbawa sa society na ‘babae ako, kaya ko ‘to,’” she adds.
San Juan agrees, “We need to help society realize that women are not just housewives or simple delicate flowers. But that they could do other things as well, and at times we can be stronger than men.”
According to Dr. de Dios, victims of rape and abuse are also being criticized, instead of sympathized.
“Lahat ng mga biktima ay hindi nila kasalanan ang mga nangyari sa kanila. Ito ay dahil sa pag-iisip ng maraming kalalakihan na ang mga babae ay binibili lamang. Ang mga babae ay binubugbog lamang. Ang mga babae ay segunda mano lang. So kailangan nating ipaglaban na tayong lahat ay may karapatan, may pantay-pantay na estado dito sa lipunan at dapat igalang natin ang isa't isa nang sa gayon lahat tayo ay makapagtrabaho ng maayos. Lahat tayo ay magtutulungan at lahat tayo ay makakapag contribute sa ating economic and political development,” she explains.
For this reason, the movement sees the need for the men to participate in their advocacy.
“Kailangan kasama rin ang mga lalaki dahil kung hindi sila sasama, mukhang magtatagal ito. Very strong ‘yung message (not to commit violence against women), kung galing mismo ito sa kanila,” she says.
Moreover, the fact that government shrugs off the issue on women’s rights as a minor problem disappoints advocates like Dr. de Dios. And while passing new decrees for the cause of the women is a good thing, she believes there is still a lot to improve in terms of its implementation.
CONTINUING THE CRUSADE
An active advocate of women’s rights since her student days at the University of the Philippines, Dr. de Dios knows perfectly well that the youth has an important role to play in the cause that she has passionately fought for many years.
“Young women will be the generation that will not only enjoy but will also carry on the burden of constantly fighting for the rights of women, because these rights are not permanent. It can be overthrown the next day o kapag nagbago ang president,” she says, citing Iran as an example. Since the Fundamentalists took over the government, it has devised ways to curtail the freedom of the Iranian women, including their right to education by restricting the university courses available to them.
“Dapat hindi lang natin pinahahalagahan, kundi binabantayan natin kasi it can go anytime. So ‘yun ang papel ng salinlahi ng mga kababaihan, ang i-preserve at lalo pang i-develop, itaas pa ang antas ng ating pang unawa sa women's rights hanggang sa mabawas-bawasan ng malaki o kaya mawala ‘yung karahasan. Kasi ‘yun ang pinakamahirap na problema,” she underscores.
To prepare their students for the responsibility of continuing this cause, Miriam College has integrated Gender Education in its curriculum from elementary to college.
“So lahat ng estudyante bago sila matapos dito nasa utak na nila na ‘ako ay equal, ako ay mahalaga at ako ay hindi padadaan sa karahasan.’ Nakaukit na iyon habang-buhay,” she relates.
Though WAGI has been fighting for the rights of Filipino women for almost 15 years now, De Dios admits that the results of their struggles have not yet fully manifested tothis day. But that doesn’t mean their efforts are put to waste.
“These are lifetime issues. Change takes decades or even centuries to happen. One hundred years ago, lahat ng kababaihan sa mundo hindi puwedeng pumasok sa eskuwela, hindi pwedeng tumakbo bilang kandidato, hindi puwedeng bumoto, hindi puwedeng magsalita sa publiko. Kung titingnan mo ‘yan by generational gains, ang lawak na. Pero kung maiksi pa lang, parang walang resulta. Pero maniwala ka, siguro 10 or 20 years from now makikita na natin ang fruits ng ginagawa natin ngayon,” she ends.