A sense of ‘déjà vu’ in March
As I quietly celebrate Women’s Month, marking over five decades of feminist awakening, I wonder whether we women have indeed come a long way. We mobilized mightily to have landmark bills passed (e.g., penalizing sexual harassment and violence against women), we have launched various advocacies, and we are more visible in the media and in the public sphere. But by the hard criteria of money, sex and power, where do Filipino women stand?
I oscillate between anger and despair when I track the reality of Filipino women’s lives by these measures. I believe the gender wage and salary gap is still ascendant (for reasons true then as now: women’s double burden, gender-based discrimination). The law affirming women’s reproductive health and rights remains in limbo at the Supreme Court. And, most telling of all, women who have dared the ramparts of politics are like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Politics for many women is like walking barefoot on broken stones (to borrow from a poem). Ask Sen. Leila de Lima.
The March 8 “Women Defend Democracy” forum sponsored by Pilipina at Miriam College spotlighted three rising female politicians, nondynasts all and under siege. Senator De Lima is behind bars for speaking truth to power (on the issue of extrajudicial killings, or EJKs, not just now but way, way back); Vice President Leni Robredo has been rudely yanked out of the Cabinet, her daughters prey to the worst of
sexual cyberbullying; and Sen. Risa Hontiveros is paying the price of not joining the Congress bandwagon that has just passed brutal legislation.
But I wish to say a few words on Part 2 of the forum: on the Tondo youth theater group Sining Kabataan and on Inang Laya.
I watched the Tondo play on EJKs unfold with a sense of déjà vu. In the early 1970s our generation had to make a stark choice between fighting or being complicit with the dictatorship. Tondo youth and other urban poor (who have lost count of their dead, mere statistics in the war on drugs) have to make the same stark choice: Do I remain silent when someone is shot down like a dog, or do I fight in whatever way I can? The Tondo youth are using theater as a tool to shake people from complacency. In a way it is more difficult now because many Filipinos say amen to “killing a few and saving many,” never mind if the few are almost 8,000 and counting.
Inang Laya is the duo of Becky Demetillo Abraham and Karina Constantino David who stirred huge rallies long years ago with songs of tattered sovereignty, of invidious class structures, of gender constructs that cast women as virgin or whore, no in-between. Now in their 70s, Inang Laya should be taking it easy but they cannot say no to singing in protest because darkness once more hovers over the land.
In the 1970s the best and brightest of Filipino youth rose to fight the dictatorship. Later the women galvanized and mobilized for class, country and gender. We had to fight with all our strength and mind and soul, or there would be no future, or hope for a future.
Well past the new millennium, there is a call to arms once more, to youth, to women, to anyone who cannot countenance the killing of even one person. Lolas in Pilipina and elsewhere quicken to the call, feeling the anger and despair but unable to keep still or stay away because the stakes are too high.
Is it worth it? Can we stop creeping fascism in its tracks? Ang tao, ang bayan, ngayon ay lumalaban.
Victor Jara sings of committing to a journey without knowing its end. (Pinochet’s minions cut off his arms.) That is how it is with us women: We love someone without guarantees of forever, we do battle for country without knowing how it will all end because life without Inang Bayan, free and fair, is no life at all.
Jurgette Honculada is semiretired and has been involved at various times in the labor, women’s and peace movements. Pilipina is her base women’s organization.