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Ordinary dreams of the stubborn woman

GNSDLU: Good night, sweet dreams, love you.

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That is what my children and I text each other every night, especially when we are apart. My work takes me late into the night or across the country often.

Being voted in as a senator of the Republic means that I am trusted to act on the anxieties of the times, whatever they come to be while I’m in office. In these strange times, the pressures are more difficult than ever and the heights I climb to meet them are sometimes daunting. But I’m also a regular solo mother with children I love and worry about; and they, me. They have one of me, but I thank God I have four of them.

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With all that is demanded of me in these uncertain days, I am reminded to truly treasure moments I get to be with my children. We seek activities we could do together. One of my favorites is when we take slow walks around our village for exercise, to walk our dogs, and to preserve our mental health. Together, we get to step away from our work for a bit to breathe. It’s become an opportunity for us to converse and find new deep points of connection. Walking may seem mundane and everyday, but I have found that the ordinary is where we see what matters the most.

GNSDLU: A quick message before we close our eyes in spite of our distance that has made a profound impact on my family and political life. Even as a public servant, I find it necessary that I remain present in life outside of my political movement, because it is why I became a senator. It is the sweetness of the ordinary moments I continue to fight for, and that we all must.

Women are bearers of multiple burdens. It is almost a kind of destiny imposed upon us once we are assigned “female” at birth. The pandemic only exaggerated the weight even more — breadwinner, homemaker, teacher, and health worker all at once. Underpaid and overworked. Mostly not paid at all. Society holds women to our duties like a knife to the throat. The price women have to pay if we take even a moment for ourselves is criminal. The cost is sometimes our life. Even a leisurely walk alone, especially at night, can prove lethal.

These are why I filed a bill for maternity cash aid for women in the informal sector. These are women who go to work on sidewalks where it is noisy, polluted, and hot while nine months pregnant; who live on what they earn day by day, having little to no chance to nurse their newborns and to recover from physically overwhelming childbirth. A woman giving birth is said to have one foot in the grave, but they will get up to work even if their lives are on the line because for these new mothers in the informal sector, rest means no food on the table; rest makes the burdens heavier for everyone. What should be a time of tenderness with one’s newborn is immediately turned into a fight for survival. In all truth, rest is the space where we find our reasons to live and labor in the first place.

When there is social protection like maternity cash aid, when one can set aside the anxiety of not being able to keep their loved ones alive while they recuperate, these mothers are given a chance to ease, to bond with, and breastfeed their babies. She can now take care of her own and her baby’s health, and even recover to fulfill all she is obligated to. What an ordinary thing to desire: to rest and to spend time with one’s child.

Climbing to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has become deadly. It shouldn’t be. Where the slope is too inclined and too easily to fall off from, we must level off and protect. We must create space for the ordinary dreams of women; because these dreams are our keys to solving the multitude of social issues we face today as a nation, where we still have been unable to ensure the basic needs of every Filipino. The reorganization of our priorities is the only path to true and lasting transformation.

Every woman has the right to be more than our duties. To think of a life more than survival. To enjoy any simple moment — the song of birds, the taste of good food, or even, walks with the people we love on a cool, sunny day.

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For now, we put in the work. There are freedoms women enjoy now thanks to the stubborn women before us. To this day, we must remain unyielding until all Filipino women reclaim our rights to ordinary moments.

I look back at the past six years. We faced debate after debate on the Senate floor. Our stubbornness led to the passage of the Expanded Maternity Leave Act, Raising the Age of Sexual Consent Act, Safe Spaces Act, Expanded Solo Parents’ Welfare Act, among others, wholeheartedly accepting the late nights it had given us because women deserve to choose the course of our lives, beyond the backbreaking of earning daily wage; and without the worry of non-survival, of violence, of harassment, or of being forgotten in a global crisis.

When the workday is over, when the stomachs are filled, when the victories have been won, and the heartaches have been felt, what is important to us Filipino women? I invite my fellow Filipinas to allow ourselves to reflect on our own happiness and our own joys, however simple they may be. When we believe in them, when we fervently protect them, we give our fellow women the chance to breathe. To rest, and realize our ordinary dreams.

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Risa Hontiveros is a health and women’s rights advocate, a proud activist, and a champion of the basic sectors. She is seeking reelection to the Senate this May.

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TAGS: Commentary, international women’s day, Risa Hontiveros, women
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