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Make women count in May polls

/ 05:10 AM March 08, 2019

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day of sisterhood and solidarity celebrated globally since well over 100 years ago. A day to mark the strides women have made in seeking equality with men—at home and work, in religion and politics, in arts, music, literature, science and in every arena of human striving.

Filipino women have scored clear gains, for instance in landmark gender legislation won in bruising battles with a macho Congress, notably the anti-sexual harassment and antidomestic violence laws. As well in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, the #MeToo movement has toppled titans of industry, exposing how male executives routinely and massively use power to sexually abuse (mostly female but also male) subordinates.

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But how can we rejoice when the law lacks teeth? If implementation is half the effort, then women are losing big. Consider the high-profile women that the current administration has brought to heel through malice, fake videos and legal gobbledygook: former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Sen. Leila de Lima jailed for two years, and now Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler and a Time magazine journalist-awardee.

Their sin? Abiding by the rule of law, linking murder most foul to the chief executive, speaking truth to power. It is a virtual return to the witch hunt when hundreds of thousands of alleged witches in Europe and the United States were burned at the stake because they threatened the powers-that-be: as healers they had life-giving powers; as wise women, their counsel was sought by political leaders; and as autonomous women with independent means, they lived happy and fulfilling lives without men, answering to no one. A rough counterpart in Philippine history, the babaylan, predominantly female, were stigmatized by Spanish Catholicism and ultimately reduced to irrelevance.

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How, indeed, can we women rejoice when, like the psalmist, we are tempted to hang our harps upon the willows?

We say, take the long and the short view. The past nudges us to affirm the diversity and acknowledge the contradictions in our long journey of over 100 years. Today, the present, compels us to make women count in the May elections. Vote for women, and men, who are prowomen in word and deed, not handsome thieves, not glamorous liars, not inveterate dynasts.

International Women’s Day sprang from two impulses (class- and ideology-wise): working women seeking better wages and working conditions; and middle class-led women pushing for the right to vote and to hold public office. IWD was celebrated for the first time worldwide in 1911, spurred by an earlier call from socialist women.

A few days later, 146 garment workers, mostly young immigrant women, died in a New York City factory fire, lending resonance to IWD demands. In 1917, the issues were joined when Russian female textile workers marched to press for an end to war, to food shortages and the monarchy, heralding the Russian revolution. The United Nations caught up over six decades later, declaring  March 8 as International Women’s Day in 1975.

But where are we now? Not quite back to first base, but lamentably, perilously close.

When Filipino women, highly placed or otherwise, can be shamed and jailed with impunity, when Egyptian women wishing to celebrate March 8 can be chased off Tahrir Square by Egyptian males, when domestic violence is decriminalized in Russia—women’s rights are taking a beating, literally and figuratively.

But not women’s spirits. As with women the world over, Filipino women know that the best things in life do not come free. They come with a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

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And so, today, dear sisters, even as we celebrate March 8 and savor our victories, let us mourn our losses, and let us gear up for the next fight, in May, and for the next one, and the next one.

The sexual revolution—for gender equality—is the longest revolution, and the one living legacy we can pass on to our daughters and granddaughters, sons and grandsons.

Historian Gerda Lerner has written, “The system of Patriarchy is a historic construct; it has a beginning, it will have an end.” Believe it with all your heart and soul. Happy IWD!

JURGETTE HONCULADA, former chair of Pilipina, the first feminist organization in the country

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TAGS: #MeToo, congress, international women’s day, IWD, May elections, women
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