At a crossroads on IWD | Inquirer Opinion
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At a crossroads on IWD

The world marked International Women’s Day on Thursdayday, and in the Philippines, we observe a “Women’s Month” for all of March. I’ve always tried to do something special on March 8, but I never thought I’d end up speaking before a roomful of men, members and officers of the Pasig Rotary Club, and addressing the issue of reproductive health and rights and the pending RH bill.

But thank you to the very kind gentlemen, including the club’s president Rel Gomez, and media colleague Horacio “Ducky” Paredes, who extended the invitation. You were far more interested in the issue than I thought, and asked quite thoughtful questions.

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The day was also supposed to be marked by a dialogue between P-Noy and selected representatives of women’s groups, communities, the academe, and reproductive health service organizations. I think the agenda was to solidify executive support for the pending RH bill and for other health measures to benefit women and children. Unfortunately, no slot could be found in the President’s schedule for the dialogue, and so the women have resolved—judging from the exchange of text messages and e-mail (and I bet, if I follow anyone on Twitter or Facebook, on the social media as well)—to “fight for our rights and our autonomy ourselves.”

Someone at the Rotary Club meeting suggested we talk “not with P-Noy but with Grace Lee instead.” Right, maybe the Commander in Chief’s main squeeze can educate him on reproductive matters. At least he may be more amenable to her suggestions.

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Anyway, on the legislative front, House leaders are saying they are ready to “test the waters” to see how a vote on the RH bill might transpire.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II has said he and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. “are exploring the possibility of a vote on whether or not to terminate the debates on the RH bill” before sessions adjourn on March 21.

Gonzales said he would talk to the “main protagonists” to agree on a definite date when they are to end the period of debate, saying the House had already spent “many hours” (months would be more like it) debating the bill. “Magkakaalaman na kung sino talaga ang may boto. If mananalo ang termination, may pag-asa pang pumasa ito (We will know who really has the vote[s]. If the side for termination wins, then we have hope of passing [the bill]), Gonzales was quoted as saying. But, he warned, if most lawmakers vote to continue the interpellation, then the leadership may just “abandon” the RH bill.

The bill’s sponsors have long been saying that they have the necessary numbers to pass the measure, and even the House leadership has assured its passage. What I think is happening is that the legislators have been dismayed by the vociferous objections raised by those opposed to it in the House, and the political muscle-flexing of Catholic bishops and their conservative supporters. Perhaps the women who have been trooping to the Batasan, rallying and camping out in front of the building to urge passage of the bill these past months are simply invisible to our leaders, or their opinion doesn’t matter.

Still, I urge House leaders to review their copies of public opinion surveys on the RH bill, and to commence voting on the bill itself, instead of searching for a face-saving way to back out of the battle.

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Anyway, we find ourselves at a crossroads on this, the 101st anniversary of International Women’s Day.

These are the news that confront us: The remains of a legislator have come home but loyalties of friends, family and constituents are torn between the mistress and the estranged wife, with no clear delineation of roles and of social and legal standing; the daughter of a former president has accused two members of the Azkals football team of sexual harassment and public opinion is torn between castigating her and condemning the team members.

On the other hand, a transgender has been elected president of the UP Student Council, who ran on the platform of antigender discrimination.

If this sounds like a “one step forward, two steps backward” scenario, then it only means that feminism is still on the march. Decades after women’s “consciousness” was raised and angry voices sounded about inequalities in economic opportunities, social expectations and behavior, and political participation, we have made considerable progress but we have also seen backsliding if not a backlash.

Nobody promised that the gender revolution would be a picnic, but nobody said anything about persistent ants ruining things either. But as we are reminded time and again, no group in power ever gave up its power voluntarily. We still need to assert our presence and fight every battle, just as our mothers and grandmothers braved tradition, skepticism and outright hostility to change the world for us.

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Finally, a word to young women out there who believe that feminism is a dying concept, if not totally unnecessary or passé in a “postfeminist” world.

In the first place, I don’t know what “postfeminist” means. But I certainly know that men and women—in the Philippines and elsewhere—are still far from equal or enjoy equitable opportunities. True, things are better and are still improving. But also true is the fact that women are still disadvantaged at home, in the community, and in the public sphere. Our voices are being heard, but we need to speak louder and phrase our demands in clearer, more assertive ways.

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TAGS: International Women’s Daym, Rotary Club, women, Women’s Month
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