A woman’s liberation
Last March 8, GABRIELA, the foremost Filipino women’s alliance championing women’s rights, held a nation-wide mobilization to commemorate 100 years of International Women's Day (IWD).
Let us recall that it was Clara Zetkin, an outstanding German socialist and a fighter for women's rights, who proposed in 1910 that an international working women's day be held on March 8 of each year. March 8 marked the day when hundreds of women workers in the United States of America demonstrated for the right to suffrage and to build a powerful garments union.
The following year in March 1911, more than one million women and men in Europe attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, to hold public office, equal pay for equal work, maternity and child benefits and better working conditions as well as for the general upliftment, emancipation and empowerment of women.
GABRIELA emphasized that this year, IWD will be commemorated as, worldwide, women join their menfolk in mass protests and uprisings “spurred by the burgeoning impact of protracted global depression” especially in poor and backward countries in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia.
Further, the alliance said, “Filipino women, like our toiling sisters in other countries, suffer from the same torment of poverty, hunger and violence caused by imperialism's last ditch attempt to salvage its moribund existence by plundering poor nations and further enslaving the working class people.”
GABRIELA concluded that Filipino women must demand immediate respite from the Aquino government through urgent socio-economic reforms as well as join the rest of the Filipino people in struggling for fundamental change, for genuine freedom and democracy, against an elite-ruled and foreign-dominated social order.
At the March 8 rally, as I waited to deliver my speech to the thousands of women gathered at some distance from the Presidential Palace, I could not help but reflect on my own sojourn as a woman, from a carefree middle class upbringing to one defined by the social and political struggles and upheavals of my generation.
I thought about how I had been surrounded by feisty, assertive and articulate women all my life: a mother who transcended social stereotypes, was an outstanding operating room nurse and a working woman all her life; aunts who despite economic hardships guided their brood to stable and successful careers; sisters who are capable and personable individuals, accomplished in their own fields; friends and most of all comrades who have struggled to combine the roles of working/career women, activist/revolutionary and wife/mother/daughter - to varying degrees of success.
My father gave us a very liberal upbringing. He made sure his children had all the opportunities to excel in school and have an active social life. There was never any stereotyping of girls as good cooks, homemakers, fashionistas. But he did expect his daughters to serve him his coffee while the only boy was free to gallivant.
My education in an all-girls’ school run by socially-oriented nuns, who were exacting in academic work and disciplinarians to boot, gave me the basic skills, self-confidence, and empathy for the poor and underprivileged that served me well in my adult life. It also provided the inestimable benefit of growing up in an academic environment where being a male was no advantage. There weren’t any.
In high school, I was introduced to the concept of women’s liberation by my eldest sister who left for the US to do graduate studies and eventually settled there. She had strained against the social conventions of her time that kept even middle class, educated women from being equal to men and achieving their full potential as individuals. She became a feminist and an active participant in the US women’s liberation movement.
When I entered the University of the Philippines, the liberal arts program of the general education course (which UP has since abolished) reinforced my openness to feminist views from the West, my involvement in moderate social activism at the UP Student Catholic Action, and later, in more radical student activism as a member of the student council and while doing organizing work among jeepney drivers and the urban poor.
My stint at UPSCA was a major venue for male-female socialization. A milestone in my life took place in the friendly environs of Delaney Hall and the UP Chapel: that is where I met my first boyfriend who eventually ended up as my lifelong partner.
My husband deserves several sentences in this narrative. Being much older than me, he was mature where I was immature. Being an engineering graduate, he was practical-minded where I was an idealistic AB Psychology student. Being a patriot, a democrat, and a closet Leftist, he was supportive of my political activism.
And being the self-confident, loving man that he was, he let me pursue my passions and my commitments with nary a hint of jealousy nor insecurity even as he worried and watched out for me at every turn. (Yes, of course, we wrangled about the inherent dangers and the time away from family that was the offshoot of my political activities.)
As I grew more deeply involved in the national democratic movement, my ideas about egalitarianism, social progress and commitment to a cause higher than oneself resonated with the movement’s Marxist philosophy, revolutionary political analysis and program and its mantra “Serve the People”.
This includes the presumption that being a woman is no barrier to being a dedicated activist and revolutionary. It also meant subordinating boyfriend-girlfriend relationships to political considerations.
It meant making independent decisions that entailed risks and sacrifices including the risk of being separated from one's boyfriend or husband. This was a harsh reality especially during martial law when the tempo and direction of one's life were altered in major, unanticipated ways.
The struggle for women's emancipation from feudal culture as well as bourgeois stereotypes had to be carried through inside the “nd” movement. Notions of sexual roles were rapidly being transformed even as there was also resistance to change and the vestiges of old-type relationships persisted.
More important, the need to organize women who, as Chairman Mao said, “hold up half the sky”, to achieve their own liberation from economic, political and cultural bondage was met by the conscious effort to build a distinct women’s movement integrated into the people’s movement for national and social liberation.
I will always credit and be grateful to the two major influences towards my liberation as a woman – the national democratic movement and the people – women and men alike - who fostered my full development as an activist/revolutionary and as an emancipated wife and mother. #
*Published in Business World
11- 12 March 2011