Asia Pacific Women Share Stories Against Militarism

Northern Dispatch
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BAGUIO CITY – Women representatives from Asia Pacific countries shared their experiences on the impact of militarism in their homes at a conference on “Women Resisting Violence And War” held at the Igorot Lodge, Camp John Hay from July 19 to 21.

In the conference workshop on the impact of war and militarism, the representatives shared stories of women actions in their countries under a state of militarism, and inspired each other to strengthen solidarity against militarization.

Sheena Rosas, a 15-year-old board of director of the National Coalition of Children’s Association in the Philippines recounted experiences in 2007 when the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) set up a detachment in their town in Masbate. She said the AFP told the community that they were there to ensure peace and order during the election campaign and also because of the purported presence of the New People’s Army (NPA) in their town.

At a young age, Rosas observed how the presence of the AFP created chaos in their community. She said soldiers courted married women resulting to broken families. There were also women who were left behind after being impregnated by soldiers.

“Their detachment is near our school that’s why we are always afraid. One time, they were afraid to go to school because of a rumor that a bomb was planted inside the school campus. She said even the elders of the community were having heart problems because of fear.

“Sometimes, the soldiers are the ones creating commotion in the community when they are drunk,” she added.

Burnad Fathima Natesan from the Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED) shared several experiences of women in India. She said that in Manipur, a 13-year-old girl was raped, tortured and killed by the state security forces because she was accused of being a member of the strong women’s organization in their area.

She also told the story of a woman whose husband is a guerrilla. Members of state forces talked to her to convince her husband to surrender in exchange for a “peaceful life.” The woman was lured to the offer and was able to convince her husband. However, when the husband surrendered, the soldiers killed her husband in front of her and their child. And in the presence of the child, they raped and killed the woman. The child could not even talk because of severe trauma when Fathima and her group went there for a fact-finding mission.
Ihtisham Ul Haq Kakar, the executive director of Balochistan Rural Development and Research Society (BRDRS) of Pakistan said they are experiencing intense militarism. Their government is allotting 80 percent of government funds for its armed forces and only the remaining 20 percent for social services.

On the other hand, stories of women’s successful struggles have inspired the delegates.
One of the stories is shared by Gloria Bongon of the Bluestar Workers Labor Union (BWLU) in Tunasan, Muntinlupa. They had staged a successful strike against the Bluestar Manufacturing Inc.where they had suffered meager wages, sexual harassment and unsafe working environment for years when they did not yet have a union. But due to the unity of the women workers who comprise 85 percent of the labor force, they organized a union and registered it with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).

The management retrenched 65 workers who are members of the union and planned to close the company and transfer to another country. The BWLU staged a strike for a month and they won despite efforts to break up their picket line.

Herminia de Deus of East Timor recounted how she and other 240 men and women were able to receive the “Lorico Asuwain” medal or the “Brave Lorikies” medal on November 28, 2009, the day when Indonesia granted East Timor its independence. She joined the resistance for national freedom when she was 19 years old. She was accompanying their parish priest in helping people in the remote areas of East Timor until she joined the underground movement in their university.

In 1991university students organized a demonstration that resulted to what they call the Santa Cruz massacre. At that time she was warned that Indonesian intelligence agents were looking for her. She stopped studying and joined the women’s organization until the declaration of their independence.

She talked about women who bravely participated in the resistance frontline. They carried weapons and fought side by side with the men in the mountains. “You hear about those who were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and violated. Those whose lives were sadly shortened but whose legacy remain,” she said.

Today, Dues is working for the East Timor Development Agency that focuses on the development of Timorese Human Resouces.

Sarojeni Rengam, executive director of the Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (Panap) in Malaysia said, “The opportunity to hear the stories of women’s struggles is very useful. Some were successful, some were not but the struggle goes on. And hearing stories of those women who became part of the armed struggle inspired me a lot to continue working in the people’s movement”.

“The conference is a great help not only in enriching our minds but also it inspires us to continue the struggle because we are not the only ones struggling, we are not the only ones engaging in various forms of resistance,” said Luzviminda Ilagan, the representative of the Gabriela Women’s Party in the Lower House, in an interview.

She added “How women resist different kinds of crisis, how women undertake strategic steps to attain justice, to attain humanity in their lives, we learned it here from the sharing with other women.”

Professor Judy Taguiwalo of the Department of Women and Development Studies in University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman read an inspiring poem by Gelacio Guillermo:

“Kung kami’y magkakapit – bisig, hindi ka ba nangangamba?
Libo – libo kami, milyon – milyon, tumutugon sa panawagan
Ng mga kapatid naming nanumpa sa isang dakilang simulain.
Makinig ka’t manginig sa galit na umaalingawngaw sa aming tinig!”

(If we joined arms together, are you not afraid?
There are thousands and thousands of us answering
The call of our sisters/brothers sworn to one noble cause.
Listen and shudder at the howling anger of our great voice!)

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