Friday, March 8, 2013

International Women's Day

March 8th is International Women's Day. It began near the turn of the twentieth century when women in the USA began actively asserting against women's oppression and inequality (with men). It is now celebrated around the world. This year's theme is "a promise is a promise: time for action to end violence against women." (If you want to read more about the history of International Women's Day, check out this website.)

Because my research uses a feminist geography lens, and because I'm generally interested in gender and feminist issues, I was keen to partake in the International Women's Day events here in Cagayan de Oro City.

The Northern Mindanao chapter of Gabriela hosted a rally in Divisoria, the city centre. According to its website, Gabriela Philippines is "a nationwide alliance of more than 200 women's organizations that cut across sectors and regions". Since 1984, Gabriela has led the struggle of Filipinas for freedom and democracy. The Gabriela organizers I have met over the past few months have helped me better understand the political and domestic situation of women in this country.

Today's event builds on the 1 Billion Rising campaign that was launched on Valentine's Day. The campaign calls attention to violence against women and girls, and refuses to accept this violence as a given, demanding a change. On February 14th, the campaign aimed to have one billion men and women from all around the world rise up and dance. And they did.

Gabriela's unity statement for the 2013 International Women's Day calls attention to the "oppressive conditions that have been plaguing the Filipina women - poverty, hunger, structural violence, discrimination and the general lack of opportunities for women" (emphasis in original). On page two there are a few lines about the situation of women and children survivors of Typhoon Sendong: "in our region, 'Sendong' survivors especially mothers and children suffer still in relocation sites and danger zone communities. Access to livelihood, water, electricity, school and other social services remains a persistent problem." From what I've been told in interviews, and observed in site visits, this statement rings true.
Calling for action and change at the IWD event
When Ada and I arrived at in Divisoria, there were one hundred plus women, men and children sitting in the park, listening attentively to the speeches. Many participants wore pink or black t-shirts stamped with the campaign logo. Throughout the afternoon, Gabriela leaders and sympathetic partylist political candidates read unity statements. Their calls for action were received with enthusiastic cheering. A spirited version of the 1 Billion Rising choreography interspersed the speeches. Most of the crowd had mastered the choreography, suggesting they had participated in last month's campaign launch.

Not surprisingly, the crowd was filled with individuals apparently very sympathetic to the women's cause. It was, however, not who was present that is especially telling, but rather who was absent. There were no politicians - municipal, regional or national. There were no hoards of university students (easily identifiable by their school uniforms), even though the main gates of Xavier University stand less than 200 meters from the microphone. There were no individuals wearing religious garb. There were no Muslim women (although Muslim Filipinas do participate actively in other Gabriela campaigns int he Philippines). There were no army, police or fire units. There was one photographer, and no film crew. 

Tomorrow morning, the Region X Police is hosting a fun run to raise money and awareness for abused women. If I can wake up early enough to run, I expect to see a very different crowd and experience a very different vibe at the state-sponsored event.

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