Bread and roses
It’s the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (IWD), an official holiday in many countries. There’s an interesting twist here: In China, Nepal and Madagascar, March 8 is a holiday only for women!
IWD is not an official holiday in the Philippines, but it is observed in many of our schools, mainly with symposia and exhibits. I do wish, though, that women’s issues become more integrated in classes throughout the year, as well as in discussions at home. No preachy stuff, and more focus on celebrating what’s been achieved, while reflecting on what can still be attained.
There’s an Internet site dedicated to IWD—internationalwomensday.com, with useful materials, including a video clip of Russian men buying flowers for their wives, daughters, mothers, even grandmothers, as a tribute. I thought that is a practice worth copying in the Philippines, better than giving flowers on Valentine’s Day with sweet promises of undying love that wilt as quickly as the floral offerings.
If you visit the IWD site, make sure to click on a link on the lower right side that reads “Watch Reuters International Women’s Day Slide Show.” That takes you to a web page of the educational publishing company Thomson-Reuters, where you will find two well-produced slide shows that NGO staff, educators and parents can use to stimulate discussions on women’s issues or to inspire our local schools and NGOs to produce our own audiovisuals, local in focus but with some international flavor.
Here are some of the themes I picked out, watching the slides:
Traditions, for better or for worse. Most striking was a young Chinese woman waiting for plastic surgery because she wanted to look like US actress Jessica Alba, with the hope this would help her win back her boyfriend. You can sigh, too, at photographs of beauty contests and of rich debutantes in London, but then these are all part of current realities. The slide show includes a counterculture “Fat is Beautiful” pageant.
Violence against women. There are several slides of protest actions, notably participants in a Delhi rally protesting the gang rape of an Indian woman last December. There’s also a photograph of a victim of an acid attack, which happens frequently in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, involving men throwing acid at women’s faces in revenge for being turned down during courtship. In Afghanistan, acid has been thrown at girls who dare attend school. Closely related to the acid throwing, but not featured in the slide shows, are dowry deaths, mainly happening in India, where the family of a groom will murder a bride, usually through “accidental” burning, because she brought too small a dowry.
Civil rights. There is a photo of a woman voter in Egypt, a reminder that suffrage is a hard-won right for women. Filipino women have been voting since 1937, relatively early compared to many other countries. France, for example, did not allow women to vote until 1944, and Italy followed only in 1946. Many Middle Eastern countries allowed women’s suffrage only in the last 10 years, and in Saudi Arabia, women will have the right to vote, and to run for office, only in 2015.
Women and sports. It was heartening to see many slides of women active in sports, from Yogaqua (a combination of yoga and paddle-boarding) to tough endurance competitions. I loved a photograph of elderly South African women playing soccer, and then thought of how, in the Philippines, sports facilities are almost always monopolized by young males, blocking both elderly women and men from getting a chance at sports.
Women and access to the Internet. One photograph of Kabul’s first Internet shop for women first struck me as odd but when you think about our own Internet shops, filled with males gaming and watching porn, you realize it’s almost impossible for women to go in to take their turn. I suspect that even in homes, males get to use the computers more than females.
Women and access to transport. Beyond sports and the Internet, the larger issue is of women needing to be able to move around, safely and efficiently, especially to work and to school. There is one slide of crowds in a “women’s only” train coach in Delhi. We also have such coaches in our MRT/LRT, shared with the elderly and people traveling with children. The coaches may be safer, protecting women from sexual harassment, but overcrowding is still another form of hazard—and then, too, what happens after they get out into the streets?
Women refugees. One slide shows a Burma (Myanmar) refugee with her children, scavenging in a garbage dump in a Thai border town. There are many more such women worldwide. We have our own internal refugees fleeing armed conflicts. And we shouldn’t forget the situation of women whenever disasters strike, their domestic burdens becoming even heavier when they live in evacuation centers.
Glass ceiling. Young girls need more images of women making it into “male” professions. There are some slides of women who have made it as stock traders, astronauts, or soldiers, but none of executives. We need those slides, too, including Cory Aquino and other women heads of state.
Still bread and roses. One of the first IWD commemorations was a protest against a fire in a sweatshop in New York City in 1911 that killed 140 women. Working conditions remain as bad a century later in many countries—in Bangladeshi garment shops, for example, where fire is still a frequent occurrence with many fatalities. Chinese firms that supply the world with tablets and electronic gadgets with largely female workers have also been the focus of media attention because of long hours and low pay. What about our own export processing zones, which mainly employ women? What’s the situation of women call center employees who have to take up night shifts?
A glaring missing theme in the slide shows is the situation of women vis-à-vis their sexual and reproductive health. Local groups can do their own photographs of early marriages, of three or four women sharing a bed in a government maternity hospital, of women suffering from life-threatening complications during labor. Everywhere, too, we see, but don’t look at, women struggling, sometimes with missing husbands, to support four, five, six, or more children.
Some tips on using the Thomson-Reuters productions: Many of the images are very powerful so you may want to avoid going on automatic slide-show mode, which is too fast. For the “women of the world” production, showing two soccer players, click on “View All Images” on the upper right, which gives you all the photos at one time, so you can scroll down the screen to look at them one by one. For the “International Women’s Day” slide show, start it but click on any of the dots below the photos to freeze, which allows you to take your time with each slide.
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Announcement: Three anthropologists—Professors Nestor Castro, Rolando Esteban and Efenita Taqueban—will speak on “Sabah: ang hindi nababasa” today, 4-6 p.m., at UP’s Anthropology Museum on the third floor of Palma Hall (AS Building). As the title says, there is too much left unsaid in news reports. Learn from the experts about the historical background and the politics behind the Sabah issue.
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