Anything about us, with us!
Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day (IWD).
The Philippines also marks National Women’s Day, a special working day in all government offices in the country, in compliance with Republic Act No. 6949. This law was passed in both houses of Congress on April 4, 1990, and signed into law by President Corazon C. Aquino, the country’s first ever woman president, on April 10, 1990.
Today’s celebration can be traced to the historical march of more than 15,000 women in the streets of New York City in 1908 to protest against their harsh working conditions, including meager pay compared to male workers, and appeal for their right to vote.
But it was not until 1910, after an International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Denmark, that the idea of an international day for women came about. It was attended by 100 women from 17 countries, among them German delegate Clara Zetkin, who broached the idea of an international celebration. This was how IWD became an annual celebration in many European countries. As I mentioned in last week’s column, this year’s theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World.” In the Philippines, the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) has announced several weeks ago that this year’s theme is “Juana, Laban sa Pandemya, Kaya!” (Juana, you can win the fight against the pandemic) to pay homage to the numerous hardworking women who are frontliners in the health campaigns to prevent COVID-19 contamination in the communities where they work.
The Bangsamoro Women Commission in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, has launched its own version of this year’s National Women’s Day theme: “Fatima, Laban sa Pandemya, Kaya!” (Fatima is a common name among female Bangsamoro children). But over the years, these themes have largely remained as such—empty words that make for good sound bites and nice optics on tarps and cloth streamers. For sure, we have made great strides in improving the status and the literacy levels of women after all these years. But after having attained rank 16 among more than 100 countries all over the world in terms of gender parity, the Philippines still leaves much to be desired in terms of “making change work for women.”
Women have shown tenacity, fastidiousness, and high levels of commitment in their advocacy work to make change work for them. They have also shown these in dealing with crises — both natural and man-made. However, our social structures — vestiges of long years of gender-blind, patriarchal-oriented and rigid, dichotomized perceptions of the roles of men and women—have made the work toward gender equality and women empowerment still a huge challenge.
In its message for this year’s women’s day, the PCW noted that achieving a more inclusive, gender equal country still requires louder advocacy work, as issues confronting women’s subservient status in society remains, especially in the midst of this massive health crisis brought about by the pandemic. PCW has also pushed for a more empowering theme, from the former #WeMakeChangeforWomen, to #WomenMakeChange.
While this theme highlights empowering women to make change possible themselves, it still falls short of advocating for full inclusion since it excludes other gender identities, like members of the LGBTQ+ community. Meaningful changes in society can only happen when everybody is allowed to fully participate, where everyone’s voice and agency are honored in decision-making processes. Such changes should be the result of the full and active participation of everyone in decision-making. No development program or policy should be implemented without the participation of those who will benefit from such program or policy.
In short, anything about us, women, and other gender identities, should always be done with us, and not imposed by a few, elite, dominant decision-making group, even if they are the donors.
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