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Retracing the True Beginnings of IDEVAW

November 25 marks a very important date for women the world over. Waves of critical events transpired on this particular date bringing to the fore violence against women as a legitimate societal concern in turn engendering awareness towards this issue.

On December 17, 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated this date as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW). Since then, UN member states begun celebrating this date defining strategies “to end violence against women, empower women, and achieve gender equality”.

However, it is not really to UN’s credit nor to governments celebrating this day around the world why the issue of VAW started to be given fundamental importance. Way before UN countries formally recognized this historic event, commemorations had long been taking place organized by women activists who had grasped the real meaning behind this date.

IDEVAW started as a venue for paying tribute to three courageous women who were clubbed, strangled and beaten to death by security forces of then Dominican Republic’s president Gen. Rafael Trujillo on November 25, 1960 after they came from prison to visit their husbands who were themselves
imprisoned by the dictator.

Patria Mercedes, Maria Argentina Minerva and Antonia Maria Teresa, more popularly known as the Mirabal sisters were born to a family of middle class farmers in a rural community in the Dominican Republic. At a period when it wasn’t ordinary for women to finish schooling, they were able to earn themselves their college degrees. For this, they became the honor of their hometown. Their education however was not just confined inside the classroom. They were able to raise their awareness on the social realities of their country as well.

Minerva, the youngest among the three, took up law but she was denied her license to practice for she outrightly rejected the romantic advances of Trujillo. Trujillo reportedly threatened her stating: “What if I send my subjects to conquer you?” To this, the brave Minerva responded, “And what if I conquer your subjects?”

Also, while others would give utmost priority to their families, the sisters took on a wider calling. Patria, the eldest among the three sisters articulated their sentiment about this matter- “We cannot allow our children to grow up in this corrupt and tyrannical regime. We have to fight against it, and I am willing to give up everything, even my life if necessary.”

The three sisters established the group known as the “Movement of the Fourteenth of June,” named after the date of the massacre earlier witnessed by one of the siblings. It was a clandestine popular resistance movement which fought the dictatorial rule of Trujillo. They went by the name “Las Mariposas” or The Butterflies, their pseudonym in the underground which later became the symbol of resistance in their country.

On several occasions, Trujillo gave orders for the harassment, arrest and imprisonment of the Las Mariposas. But they did not waiver, ready to sacrifice even their lives for the cause. Teresa contended, “Perhaps what we have most near is death, but that idea does not frighten me. We shall continue to fight for that which is just.”

And it was their uncompromising position against the dictatorship that led to their cruel demise. But their violent death did not break the resistance. Instead, it ignited further spurring many more to join the movement. Consequently, it led to the end of the Trujillo dictatorship 6 months after the hideous death of these noble women.

In this important occasion of honoring the “Las Mariposas”, it is essential to go back to the real essence of celebrating International Day to End Violence Against Women. IDEVAW when it was first celebrated as an event which commemorated these valiant women who led a resistance movement against a corrupt and tyrannical government. It was an occasion which underscored state perpetrated violence against women as a grave crime. The celebration of their lives yielded the campaign to resist violence committed against women, in the context of the advancement of women’s rights and for social transformation.

For the past decades, UN and many among UN member-states, including the Philippines started to recognize VAW as a matter of concern leading to formulations of policies towards tackling this issue. Domestic and sexual violence, and other forms of VAW perpetrated against women at home, in schools, in the workplace and in the streets begun to be legally recognized as crimes against women. It must however be stressed that these achievements were not just handed over to women on a silver platter. VAW became acknowledged as a legitimate concern because of women’s painstaking struggles. These are gains of the women’s movement in the campaign to end VAW.#

Real Essence of IDEVAW, Upholding the Fight vs State Violence

The United Nations (U.N.) estimated that in 2012 over half of the murdered women were killed by their partners or family members, and that 120 million girls worldwide have been forced to have sex at some point in their lives.

In the Philippines, statistics on violence against women and children are also high. In 2013, the National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) reported that 1 in 5 Filipino women had experienced physical violence since aged 15; while 6% had experienced sexual violence. 1 out of 4 married women experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence perpetrated by husbands. The Philippine National Police (PNP) reported that rape ranked 3rd among all VAW cases from 2004-2012. In 2014, DSWD reported that they handled various cases of abuse among female children. Among the cases, there were 3,168 cases of abuse, 131 among them babies under 12 months, 1,157 girls were sexually abused, 448 involving cases of incest. Many more go unreported.

Such occurrences are serious violations and cannot be disregarded and condoned by anyone. Thus, it is but right that appropriate measures be done foremost to educate the public to address these phenomena.

It is disheartening though that the growing awareness of women and the public on the issue of Violence against women (VAW) has not put as much importance to state-perpetrated VAW, which is the core reason behind commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW).

IDEVAW originated in the 50’s to the 60’s with three altruistic and fearless women, the Mirabal sisters popularly known as the Las Mariposas (The Butterflies), who steadfastly fought a despotic regime that led to their cold-blooded execution on November 25, 1960 but rendered them as martyrs by the people of the Dominican Republic.

VAW in a general sense are said to be hidden crimes since many women choose not to talk about their personal experiences because of fear and the stigma that goes with these incidences. These crimes are all the more concealed because these are committed at home by intimate partners or by men known or close to them.

State perpetrated VAW bares a different angle since it is often political in nature. Victims are mainly women who are actively part of social movements and the perpetrators are people holding state power. Moreover, state machineries and state forces are used to protect the interests of the status quo. Further, the targets are labelled enemies of the state to justify the violence perpetrated against them. These are graver crimes because the perpetrators themselves are public “servants” and institutions that are designated to provide support and protection to women. The experience of the Mirabal sisters under the Trujillo regime was a clear case in point.

But we need not go far. Our realities in the Philippines have parallelisms that can be drawn from the experiences in the Dominican Republic. We have heard about the realities of women who went against the Marcos dictatorship during the imposition of Martial Law in the 70’s of being incarcerated, tortured, raped, disappeared and even summarily executed.

Today, authoritarianism looms in the country as President Duterte threatens to set up a revolutionary government which many believe to be a prelude to another Martial Rule. But even without the formal declaration of Martial Law, several cases of extra-judicial killings and of political persecutions are becoming the order of the day.

Presently, in the Cordillera region, several women human rights defenders are under attack because of their political beliefs and their active involvement in the movement for social change. Like the Las Mariposas, they suffer political persecution for standing for what is just. They bear threats for being promoters of women rights and indigenous people’s rights especially in marginalized communities. They endure false charges since they support communities in safeguarding their lands and resources against the exploitation by the state and by private corporations. They undergo harassments and intimidations because they are defenders of human rights working against the militarization of villages and safeguarding the civil and political rights of the people.

Will we wait until these women human rights defenders end up like the Mariposas who suffered gravely then brutally slain under a tyrannical regime? Are we going to allow the perpetration of VAW in all their forms to reign in our midst?

In celebrating international day to end violence against women, let the spirit of the butterflies live amongst us. Let them be our symbol for seeking justice for VAW victims. Let the Las Mariposas be our inspiration in advancing the cause of ending VAW in all its forms. We again call for women’s unity and vigilance and to uphold the real essence of commemorating IDEVAW.

Against All Odds: Women Journalists in the Frontline

(A Keynote address delivered by Kathleen T. Okubo, member of CWEARC’s Board of Trustees, on the 37th biennial conference of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT), November 9-11, 2017, in Quezon City. The theme of the 3-day conference: Broadcasting and Social Justice: Women in the Media on Conflict and Crises.)

Ladies, women of the world, colleagues in media work, and gentlemen; Naimbag a bigat yo amin! (Good morning! In my region of the Philippines.)

Apparently, we are here to confer about the world as women in the profession of broadcasting particularly, and as journalists sharing stories of news events, comments, opinion and analysis from our corners of the world to the world audience.

As women journalists in the task of informing, educating, entertaining, telling the truth to the public, is especially more highly expected of us, and if we make a mistake or fumble, the alleged delicate frailties of being women are put to blame. And, we do “hold-up-half-of-the-sky,” dont’t we? Also, as all people go through the daily pressures imposed by the present conditions of “globalization.” Also, all people – women, man and child, face the global effects and threats of “climate change”… yet we still are “just women” who also have to give birth, care and nurture the children and the home.

For being “just women”, we are prone or relegated to being called “the usual victims” of sex crimes, victims of bullying, sexual harassment, of discrimination from opportunities to choose or advance careers like “everyone” else, or be part of decision making at every aspect of being in or of belonging to a community, even to receive equal pay for equal work. Though they never tell us, the generally discriminating macho world still tries to make us feel like lesser citizens. Yet, being a woman empowered in the profession as journalism, we are somehow expected to persevere to build a better and sustainable life for us and for our communities.

It must be for that better world seen in the horizon that we must stand up against all odds, not only for us as individuals but for the future of this generation and the next, and the next… So it is in us to know and recognize what the driving factors are behind capitalism, imperialism, neoliberalism or globalization. It is said to be what history has been trying to impress on us that brings the inequalities where the rich became richer. Where despots and tyrants became real and numerous against the bigger numbers of the world population. And that women and children are first to suffer the negative effects of globalization and climate change.

World leaders and economy experts argue for or against neoliberalism or globalization while outside their rich enclaves the majority of the population, to which most of us are, continue to suffer the fast decline of world economy.

Breakthrough of the Philippine Star (by Elfren S. Cruz, Nov. 5, 2017) describes globalization “As the rich became richer, their wealth was supposed to start “trickling down” to the poor so that ultimately everyone would benefit from the rich accumulating more wealth. This theory has never worked. Income inequality has reached a level unprecedented in human history.”

Here in the Philippines, the think-tank Ibon tells us that Marcos initiated “Globalization” which led to economic decline.

“In 1980, the Marcos regime actually made the Philippines the first country in Asia and the second country in the world, after Turkey, to be at the receiving end of a World Bank structural adjustment loans (SAL). The conditionalities of the US$200 million loan included among others tariff cuts, removal of import licenses and quantitative restrictions, lowering protections, and exportpromotion – all in line with the market-oriented restructuring of the economy. This first SAL and another US$302 million one in 1984 were the historic spearheads of subsequent decades of trade and investment liberalization in the country.” (— from Anyare? Economic Decline Since Marcos)

By the way, in a few days the ASEAN meet will start with US president Donald Trump in attendance on his first official visit to this country. This kind of meetings are said to be where the first world countries dictate on third world countries, not on equal footing nor for equal advantage or for mutual benefit. We wonder, for how much more will government bid out of our country’s sovereignty… these information usually do not hit the airwaves or print. And, the nationalist militant movement is expected to launch a protest rally against the imperialist led confab. “No to globalization.”

Since Marcos initiated the “trade and investment liberalization in the country” there was an aggressive move for the country’s remaining natural resources which were by then in areas occupied (defended homes) by the indigenous peoples here. It was near this period that government worked with World Bank backing to increase extractive industries in the region where I come from and was in media work… in the Cordillera, the home of the indigenous peoples called Igorots (or people of the mountains).

While I did not choose to be a broadcaster but took advantage of an opportunity to get inked in my youth in a small press where my father worked as a printer and published the first weekly community newspaper launched some five years after WWII in the Cordillera region northern Luzon. Aside from writing for my high school paper, I worked two summers with this weekly tabloid where I earned an on- the-job-training in newswriting and newspapering before I entered the university.

Marcos was already president then. The Vietnam war under the Americans was at its height. The international protest movement against the Vietnam war was raging, the Philippines was no exemption.

The campaign for Philippine national democracy was revitalized. This movement grew larger and was clearly anti-imperialist. In reaction to their growing strength, Marcos suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus followed by the declaration of Martial law (1971-1986).

I was arrested as an activist and was a political detainee several times under martial law, and even after it was lifted (1986), the last time I was detained for being ‘involved’ was in 1992 under President Ramos.

It was also in the mid-70s that the Cordillera was militarized to further open large scale mining, to take over the forest and rivers to make way for large development projects like: 4 mega dams along the Chico River, and the forests of Abra and Mountain Province for logs and resin to export and pulp for paper, etc.

The Tinggians, Bontocs, Ibalois and Kalingas organized and mobilized themselves to resist and defend their ancestral domain from these aggressive projects that did not include them at all. The women in these communities stood up and fought beside their men in ways only organized women can do. Bare breasts they faced and stood against the armed Philippine Constabulary to stop a mining company. In protest, the women had dismantled a whole construction camp and carried the machinery and debris piece by piece several kilometers away to the soldiers’ town headquarters.

These and many more stories of people’s resistance and their resilience sparked great inspiration among local women writers and journalists who covered these communities and the growing movement of indigenous peoples defending their right to their ancestral domains, their culture and their villages, against government troops and a tyrannical government.

As a journalist, I have been seriously threatened with libel twice, one because of the editorial on violation of labor rights in a large mining operation and the other for printing a story of a rape and sexual harassment case involving an influential politician. I was pregnant with my youngest, still writing and active with the Cordillera News and Features, when I was threatened by a Malacanang-coddled militia group for stories critical of their activities and making true death threats against human rights defenders.

In the late 70s a few newspapers guardedly published stories about the growing protest among the Igorots. If they did, the stories were terribly edited, misinforming, and insensitive of the Igorot’s culture and history. This prompted some writers in the Cordillera to support an alternative news dispatch from Baguio sent out to all friendly media outfits, broadcast and print, to allow the Igorots “to sing their own songs” and build solidarity ties against oppression and injustice.

That news dispatch slept and was several times revived. It has now grown to be a weekly community paper circulating in the northern Luzon regions and has never missed an issue for the past 15 years. It promised and strives to be the newspaper of the people (umili). It is very dependent on the communities it covers and writes about to be able to continue. At several times it was dominated by women writers. The newspaper and its writers continue to be harassed by people in government and the military. But, in its lifetime as the “Dyario ti Umili” it has learned to stand by its readers and stand by organized communities, allies and partners in the area of coverage and widen its circulation or reach among the unorganized sectors, by providing the information and issues to educate and heighten awareness.

Its only strength and defense is the truth from the eyes of the people, and the larger sector of empowered communities. To us as women in media, we see women’s liberation and emancipation in the drive to change the exploitative and oppressive situation by keeping our minds open and never stop learning or studying, this further arms ourselves with needed tools to do our tasks of gathering and sharing information to our audience, educating and empowering them with tools of analysis to overcome false information, half truths, lies and black propaganda.

Let us continue to unite on these basic values for the good of the greater majority, organize and unite to further serve the communities. Ladies and partners in the struggle, let us be one in the goal to uplift life’s standards for all! Salamat (Thank you).