The Filipino Women’s Century-Old Struggle
for National Liberation
The struggle of Filipino
women for national liberation turns a century this month. For more than a
century, from the revolutionary contributions of the woman General
Gabriela Silang against colonialism to the very first suffragist
organization founded in 1905, the women’s liberation movement in the
Philippines has made considerable development in terms of advancing the
cause of women against feudal and colonial oppression and exploitation.
BY AVA DANLOG
For this year, militant women’s groups,
led by Gabriela, the largest multi-sectoral alliance of women’s
organizations in the country, launch a campaign against President Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo and her anti-national, anti-people and anti-women
International Women’s Day falls on March 8
because of its historical significance in women activism. It was in March
8, 1957 when women workers of garment factories in New York marched to
protest against low wages, 12-hour daily work schedule and the oppressive
working conditions. This was prompted by the death of women and children
when a garment factory caught fire because they were locked inside at
night. The demonstration was violently dispersed.
It was in
March 8, 1908
that marked the extensive protest of women against capitalist
exploitation. On this day, 30,000 women workers marched to call for more
humane working conditions and legislation against child labor and the
right to suffrage of women.
March 8 was then proclaimed as
International Women’s Day in 1977, when the United Nations General
Assembly passed a resolution mandating the observance of International
Women’s Day by its member nations. But as early as 1910, international
labor groups have paid tribute to women’s heroic struggles by celebrating
March 8 as International Women’s Day, several decades before the UN would
In the Philippines, the first feminist
organization, Asociacion Feminista Filipina, was established in 1905.
Although it focused largely on social issues, such as maternal and child
care, prostitution and gambling, and consisted mainly of women from the
upper and middle classes, its birth signaled the awakening of the Filipino
women’s feminist consciousness and later paved the way for the
establishment of militant and political women’s groups.
The first observance of International
Women’s Day in the country was in 1971 when Makibaka (Makabayang Kilusan
ng Bagong Kababaihan or Patriotic Movement of Modern Women) and Katipunan
(Katipunan ng Bagong Kababaihan or Association of Modern Women) mobilized
women in protest of poverty.
When martial law was declared, mass
demonstrations were prohibited and Makibaka went underground, becoming one
of the first organizations to be a member of the National Democratic Front
of the Philippines (NDFP). It was only in 1984 when militant March 8
commemorations once again commenced, spearheaded by Gabriela.
Advances in the women’s movement
According to Gabriela Women’s Party Rep.
Liza Maza, herself a former Gabriela secretary general, the fact that
women are being organized and the militancy of women is being sustained,
are manifestations of the movement’s development, especially since the
patriarchal value system is deeply rooted in the Filipino culture.
She added, “There is now legislation on
defining violence against women as a crime. So in that sense, the women’s
movement, I think that is not just an achievement on legislation, but
largely the achievement of the women’s movement that have lobbied and
advocated for enshrining the rights of women in the law.”
According to Joms Salvador, national
chairperson of GABRIELA Youth, the movement has reached a lot in terms of
popularizing the cause. More women’s organizations are established.
Internationally, the Philippine experience in organizing women is looked
upon. Salvador adds that the diversity of women organizing in the country
is a measure of how stable and strong the women’s movement is.
Still, feudal and foreign oppression and
exploitation of women continue. Majority of women, who are rural-based, do
not enjoy the right to own land. In a study conducted by Amihan (National
Federation of Peasant Women), the disparity can run as high as 10 centavos
for a woman agricultural worker for every peso that a man earns.
The same trend applies to female workers
who are victims of contractualization and poor working conditions, usually
employed in the manufacturing and service sectors. Because of
retrenchments and lax labor laws in these sectors, more and more women are
forced to emigrate. This, aside from the added burden to women for their
traditional roles as homemakers.
In a study conducted by Gabriela, seven
out of 10 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are female, 44 percent of whom
are employed in the service sector while 33 percent is in the
entertainment sector. The miserable situation of female OFWs is heightened
by racial discrimination and racism.
However, the exploitation of women OFWs
roots not just from the racial discrimination in foreign countries or the
gender-based oppression, but also from the factors that force them to
leave the country: widespread poverty and the government’s labor export
The emigration of females is encouraged by
the labor export policy of the Arroyo administration that contributes to
the massive global sex trade and modern-day slavery of Filipino women and
children, according to Ninotchka Rosca of the Purple Rose Campaign.
Under the Arroyo administration, Filipinos
are exported as sex commodity to nearly 200 countries and is a major
exporter of women as virtual sex slaves around the world. Almost 600,000
Filipino women are trafficked worldwide under the euphemisms “Guest
Relations Officer,” “entertainer” and “cultural dancer.”
Alarmingly, incidences of violence against
women and children have risen, particularly rape and sexual abuse. Ten
years ago, statistics show that six women and children are raped daily.
Last year the figure doubled as 12 women and children become victims of
sexual abuse daily. Domestic violence remains widespread with 18 women and
children becoming victims of battering daily. This number would surely
rise with the current economic crisis. Studies reveal that majority of
urban-based domestic violence center on money. In a separate study, more
incidences of domestic violence happen during the months of December and
May wherein money is needed for the holiday season and the incoming school
Economic crisis as the most urgent issue
Of all the issues faced by women, the most
pressing would be the economic crisis. According to Maza, the crisis has
specific impact on women because they are looked upon as secondary
providers. Their contribution in production is valued less than that of
They don’t receive social services like
health and education. And because of their traditional roles, they are
burdened with stretching every peso to make both ends meet.
“As one becomes so economically
disempowered, the more you become victims of violence. Especially now that
poverty is so acute, more violence is present, even in the homes,” she
The passage of the additional 2 percent
Value Added Tax (VAT) would then certainly make it harder for women.
Gabriela listed seven basic commodities whose prices will surely rise:
rice, milk, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), sugar, coffee, soap and cooking
oil. All these are commodities that concern mothers and housewives.
For these reasons, the theme of this
year’s International Women’s Day call on militancy to oppose the
anti-national, anti-people and anti-women policies of the Arroyo
Struggle for national liberation, too
According to Maza, it is important to
account the long years of women’s struggles and triumphs in order for
society to look into the future and see what else needs to be done. It is
a testament to how the women’s movement developed in the Philippines as
against the feminist construct with the sole perspective of individual
“I think it is high time to look at it as
an overall achievement of women, to look into this undeveloped perspective
that the Filipino women have really contributed a lot in our struggle for
freedom and democracy and the struggle for the women’s empowerment and the
recognition of women’s rights and welfare,” she adds.
The annual observation of International
Women’s Day is an effective venue for the re-education of society in
understanding our history to discern the historical roots of gender
oppression in the country and the role of women in history, Maza also
said. The main enemy of women and of the oppressed and exploited peoples
is US imperialism which preserves fascism and national, religious and
racial chauvinism in the country through the family, religion, state and
the media. All these aim to perpetuate the degradation of women and
further divide the working class and the people at large, she added.
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