Mothers & Sisters

Stephen Norries Padilla

What is our primary duty as feminists and as women? I have always believed it is to acknowledge our mothers, the women who came before us, pay them homage for all that they have done to ease our way, and thank them for taking risks and blazing trails. ­– Rina Jimenez-David, Honoring our mothers, At Large, Sept. 18, 2007.

It all started when they became mothers. I am not sure if it was the works of the hand of fate, but I am confident it was one of life’s playful moods. They thought otherwise. For them it was the sort everybody would call life’s mystery, something beyond anybody’s control, something only God can answer.

Four women are connected by the blood and by their experiences. Olga, Ayda, Vina, and Ella (not their real names) are average siblings by this world’s standards. They belong to a brood of seven: three men and the rest are women—four sisters whose lives are no different than the others but should stand as an epitome of grace under pressure. Here are their stories:

Olga’s Pain

Olga was the second child and the eldest among the ladies. She is a mother to three healthy children and a loyal wife to an overseas Filipino worker. Her husband works as a chef in Kuwait and regularly sends money to support his families—his families. Olga’s husband is torn between two households: his wife’s and his mother’s. He looks over them equally, like a servant with two masters.

This pains Olga more than anything. She recognizes her husband’s duty to his original family but believes that his real family is with her. Just recently, her husband arrived from abroad, but it took Olga two weeks to finally know. The arrival was kept secret until she called her in-laws for news. Countless arguments have been battled but to no avail. The other family seems to have signed an immortal deal with its son, forcing a lifetime guarantee of support in spite of Olga and their kids.

Ayda’s Burden

Ayda is second among the ladies. She has four children who love her dearly. She works as a general clerk for a famous drugstore for more than two decades now. With that it could be said that she is luckiest financially, but luck does not end with the money. In 2001, something happened on the eve of May 19th, Saturday. All of a sudden her husband shook wildly in his sleep, and death stole his breath away from him forever. Bangungot, in local parlance, took the best of him and his family.

It was difficult enough to be widowed and to take charge of the family alone. In one night only Ayda became both the light and the pillar of the home—roles she has to play as long as she lives. Now that her husband is gone, she has to provide for the education of her four children. And with soaring inflation in the prices of commodities, even her two decades of work are insufficient. Every now and then she has to ask help from relatives and friends, even from many lending institutions.

The ordeal does not end there. Aside from supporting her children, she now has to provide for the rest of her extended family. Since she is the one blessed to have a stable job, the burden of carrying all household expenses falls on her.

Vina’s Career

Vina comes third among the ladies. She is a college graduate but finds herself unlucky with employment. She has been to so many jobs but, time and again, got sacked or rejected for reasons that were rather hard to grasp. Everything was supposed to change in 2005.

She applied for work as a domestic helper in Dubai and was fortunate to get accepted by a legal agency. After months of document works, she flew to the Middle East with hopes of a brighter future. What happened next was not all milk and honey. Vina worked for an Arab national but was fired two weeks after without pay. The employer reasoned out that she was lazy, but Vina knew better.

The agency sent her to another employer immediately. Vina’s new boss was generous and nice, but it was temporary. It happened that she was just placed there while waiting for the original helper. So when the helper finally came, she was sent back to the agency. The agency gave her an employer one after another, but all was in vain. Her fourth and final boss sent her back to the Philippines after discovering a spot in her x-ray check-up, a requirement for work in Dubai. Vina came home with her spirits down and a few dollars to spare.

Ella’s Enchantment

Ella is the youngest among the four sisters. She recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy. It would have been a perfect moment to celebrate life until she realized that her son would not have a father. She is almost 40 years of age when she got pregnant because of an affair with her officemate, a married man with children of his own, in a call center agency. Fear of getting old lonely pushed her to commit the mistake.

After all this time, Ella believes that she is blessed for having the baby. Many mothers would have succumbed to abortion but not her. She said her conscience and fear of the Lord became her armor. Though a single mother, she is ready to face the consequences of her actions and decisions. At this point in time, she might be back to her work, planning and preparing for her son’s future.

We are mothers

Olga, Ayda, Vina, and Ella seemed destined to suffer life as they all reach motherhood. But they know too well that being a woman in this society is tough. Where patriarchy rules, women simply follow. Even with the travails they face, the four sisters remain strong to their posts and faithful to the God they worship. “May awa ang Diyos.” God is merciful—is their philosophy, their mantra of war.

“Like mothers the world over, mothers in the Philippines make their children’s health and happiness their highest priority,” said Carol Rivera of Mother Knows Best, head of an organizational campaign acknowledging the role of mothers in the society. So when I asked what made them stand tall despite everything, their answers all lead to the same thing: “Para sa (mga) anak ko.” For mychildren. It seems that for these women, once a mother always a mother.#


The Women of FHM

Marie Zinzitet Culalic

For Him Magazine is the most popular men’s magazine in the country today. In fact, it is the largest lifestyle and entertainment magazine in the country, averaging 135,000 print copies monthly and claims to reach 630,000 to 780,000 readers. But according to the Media Atlas Survey done by Synovate, it reaches even more than 1.1 million readers every month, considering a high pass-on readership, among other factors. FHM’s target audience is the “modern man,” one that is “in tune with his sexuality, find pleasure in good reads, has a good sense of humor and is open to receiving advice and tips to constantly improve or upgrade himself.” Similar to Cosmopolitan as the bible read of fun, fearless females, FHM is the ultimate guy’s guy. Except that there’s probably more women reading FHM than men reading Cosmo.

FHM prides itself in having a significant number of female readers, even if it was originally created with male audience in mind. An insider claims that as much as 40% of their readers are women. (unofficial)

Whether it is indeed successful in catering to female readers as well (or turning them off), let us check from the women who make up FHM if they themselves feel exploited or empowered.

The Sex Guru

Referred to as the country’s “sex guru,” Asia Agcaoili, a self-confessed exhibitionist, exposes herself and her broad experience in her regular FHM column Sex Confidential – Asia’s Sex Lessons. In her monthly space, she explains the “technicalities” of, well, sex. Majority of her columns are how-to’s of sex and how to please women (sporadic advice on how to keep relationships aside). Agcaoili is also the endorser of Premium Condoms, and has never fayed in reminding her readers to always be protected whenever they have sex.

The Babes. The Girlfriends of the Month. The Girls Next Door.

Where do these women who pose for the magazine come from? And a bigger question: Why do they choose to take off their garb?

The featured lasses in the magazine are celebrities, models, artists, musicians, or ordinary but anatomically-blessed ladies. Why pose in their underwear? Well they certainly are not in it for the money. Contrary to what people might think, the girls get zero talent fee. In return, instead, they get media mileage. With more than half a million monthly readership, those who used to be dreamers grab at their chances, however slim, to be “discovered”. For young celebrities, it is their chance to recreate a new image for themselves. Appearing on a men’s magazine signal their transition from teenybopper to serious actress who’s ready for sexier roles. Then for models, a photo shoot is a photo shoot. It is chance for them to expand their portfolios. And yet for some, doing the deed was something simply “experimental”.

Just how comfortable are Filipina women with shedding off clothes and posing in front of the camera? Some first-timers:

Cesca Buenaflor (September 2007), a Filipina model who now lives in California and has appeared in some hiphop music videos admitted she had never thought that she would pose for FHM. “I was skeptical at first but then I met the whole crew and realized how chill everything was. I’m glad I did though. I thought it was about time for me to feel comfortable in my own skin.”

Beng Calma (June 2007), the vocalist for the band Drip, disclosed that she came from a “conservative” family. Posing for FHM was “pretty okay,” adding: “It doesn’t feel like a malaswa or crass shoot… I just wanted to do something I’ve never done before… something different.”

Brenda Bustamante (July 2007), a part time model and bartender said after a sexy photoshoot, “It’s my first time to do this, and before, when I buy FHM, I was like, ‘Ohmigosh, maybe one day, I can be one of them,’ so now I’m so glad. I think it’s very classy, glamorous, sexy, and hot.” However, she never pictured herself taking it all off. “Only until topless, but covered.”

Erica Arlante (June 2007), a passionate artist and painter, had admitted doing nude before. “But those were for artistic purposes. I only do things like that for art, which I take very seriously.”

In the end, the models themselves draw the line on how sexy they want to be. The models always have a choice. They can choose what to show, and what not to show. Gaby dela Merced appeared on the cover of FHM March 2007 issue wearing a racing jacket, racing shorts and boots to reflect her penchant for fast cars – an issue that admittedly sold lower sales than normal, as the normal issue has a two-piece bikini-clad celebrity on the cover. This is proof that the more skin that is revealed in the cover photos, the better it can attract the buying power of the public – a tactic that FHM uses surreptitiously.

The readers

And then there’s the female audience. Women readers, through email, kiss and tell of their steamiest sexcapades to fill up the spaces of Ladies Confessions. Then in the Shameless section, ordinary people have the chance to get their “sexy” photos published. Avid female readers send letters of requests, along with their daring pictures (mostly curves but faceless), to be published in mini versions—enough to satisfy their exhibitionist deviances.

FHM, more than a magazine that primarily appeals to men, has become a vehicle for displaying a woman's self-confidence. Women are now more comfortable expressing their sexuality, with a men’s magazine as an outlet. There may be various reasons: whether they get a boost seeing themselves in bold colors and capturing a testament of their youthful beauty, the urge to hop on the bandwagon (“It seems like everybody's sending their hottest photos and getting published, so I'll send mine too!”) on their fast lane to fame, or the thrill of the media voyage, FHM has successfully offered an escapist, but permanent conduit for these sexually-confident women as it welcomed the sexual emancipation of the rest.

“If you have it, flaunt it! I’m very very happy for you for celebrating your beauty and your freedom of expression.” Asia Agcaoili has probably summed it best. ■

Narratives of Resistance: Threading Women's Struggles for Liberation

Jerrie Abella

The narrative of women’s age-old oppression is a long and nuanced history of cruelty and subjugation, of Middle East women raped and their families butchered, of American women forced into the forefront of wars of aggression, of women and children from Third World countries coerced into working under inhumane conditions, or peddled like commodities in sex trades.

It is amid this background of seemingly disparate plight of women across the globe that the 10th Women’s International Solidarity Affair in the Philippines (WISAP) sought to formulate a unifying and coherent account of women’s oppression. Aptly themed “ The Women’s Vision: Strategies and Tactics of Women’s Resistance,” the conference aimed to pave the way towards a collective struggle for women’s liberation and the dismantling of malevolent structures extant in the capitalist and patriarchal social order.

In 1986, the first WISAP was held in the wake of the demise of the Marcos dictatorship and was since then convened every two years. The 10th WISAP was supposed to be held last year, but President Gloria Arroyo’s declaration of a state of national emergency compelled host Gabriela, an alliance of women’s organizations in the Philippines which also has chapters in other countries, to stall it for this year.

Unifying the struggle

This year’s week-long conference, which consisted of regional trips, workshops and forums, drew over 200 delegates from 14 nations, including Palestine, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the US, Malaysia, Canada, and Indonesia. While issues hounding women across the globe may be intricate and multifaceted, what binds their struggle is the collective effort to subvert and preclude the ill-effects of imperialism and globalization, which have spawned new, more vicious forms of oppression.

Foremost of these are the negative effects of war, migration, poverty, and violence on women. Palestinian Sarwat Viqar, for example, bewails how the decades-old Palestine-Israel conflict has been afflicting Palestinian women, particularly in communities. She cites the case of a Palestinian woman raped by Israeli soldiers and then made to choose from among her family who should be killed first.

Judith Mirkinson of Gabriela Network-USA also declares rape as “essential to war” and an “act of terror,” citing as an example the mass rape of women in conflict-stricken Darfur in Africa. She adds that wars necessitate the creation of a “masculinist culture” and a fascist authority, like the US’ Patriot Act and its local counterpart, the Human Security Act, that devalue women.

Prominent Filipino novelist Ninotchka Rosca of the Women’s Anti-Imperialist League-USA, in her discussion of international women’s situation, also reveals that 88 million migrant workers are women conscripted to the international labor market due to economic pressures, most of whom end up working as helpers in private households. The Filipino women’s case remains peculiar, as they are the only ones known to be present in all countries of the world as opposed to migrant workers of other nationalities.

Bridging the gaps

Rosca under scores this growing disparity in the women’s movement in the global scale, with issues ranging from advocacy for reproductive health and fighting for decent wages and working conditions, to condemning political persecution and opposing imperialist wars of aggression and occupation.

These multifarious women’s issues, Rosca says, brings to the fore the need for “a comprehensive philosophical and political framework” for the waging of a unified women’s resistance. Ultimately, she adds, women of all nations must come together in a concerted effort to fight imperialism and globalization.

Imperialism is able to mobilize women for its own benefit, as illustrated by American women integrated into the US wars of aggression and the intensification of its efforts to occupy undeveloped countries. She explains, “Imperialism has launched new methods of exploitation, even as it intensifies the old ones; it has created a climate of anarchy and violence on which anti- woman policies and attitudes breed and thrive.”

As imperialism’s contemporary tool of subjugation, globalization further intensifies women’s poverty by consigning them to wage slavery, under which they are compelled to work by their “feudal and patriarchal obligations” – feeding their family and providing for the education and needs of their relatives.

Retracing women’s oppression

Rosca identifies two main issues that currently afflict women in general: commoditization in the sex trade, and conscription and alienation of women from the value of their “necessary labor.”

The historical conscription of women and children in the sex trade remains veritable; 90% of the 20 million people recruited in prostitution are women, 25% of whom are still children. Rosca said, “The reification [commoditization] of women’s reproductive capacity and sexuality was the origin of the very concept of marginalization, control and alienation of large segments of the human population.” She notes that majority of trafficked women come from the Third World.

“Necessary labor,” meanwhile, refers to labor done in the household to sustain workers and the bearing of children who will eventually become another generation of workers. Alienation from the fruits of this “necessary labor,” which, according to Rosca, amounts to trillions of dollars every year, forms a large part of women’s oppression and alienation from the value of their labor, but remains the most hidden of all forms of class-based exploitation.

Narrativizing resistance

Rosca asserts that the creation of narratives is originally a woman’s territory, aimed at enabling the community to integrate their seemingly incongruent endeavors and formulate a coherent system with which to arrest the nuances of their conditions.

Holding conferences like WISAP, therefore, is one potent attempt at reclaiming this territory by creating a narrative that ultimately defines what women’s emancipation is, and how such could be achieved in the framework of liberating all oppressed peoples from their afflictions.

“We would like to see our societies transformed into societies that are not profit-motivated but rather societies organized for the purpose of advancing humanity – the return of the complementarity of male and female roles in society,” Rosca concludes.

In the final analysis, it is in spite and precisely because of these varied forms of oppression and exploitation that both women and men are called upon to craft narratives of resistance that expose structures perpetuating and perpetrating such, and then work in concert for their dismantling.

Women’s oppression by the numbers

· 350,000 women in the US military

· 155,000 women have had tours of duty in Iraq & Afghanistan

· 16,000 single mothers serving in Iraq

· 64 women military personnel killed in Iraq; 4 in Afghanistan

· one in seven US soldiers in the war is a woman

· women comprise 45% of the world’s work force

· 80% of 50 million workers in export processing zones are women

· 65% of globalization’s profits come from the sale/use of female labor and female bodies

· women earn less than 10% of the world’s income

· women own less than 1% of the world’s assets

· women comprise 70% of those living on less than $1 per day

· women comprise 2/3 of the world’s illiterates

· women comprise 51% of all those afflicted with HIV (20 million)

· women comprise more than half of 12.7 million refugees and half of 773,500 individuals seeking asylum

· one woman dies from childbirth every minute

· 1/3 of womankind in whatever class experience domestic violence

· 90% of all trafficked persons are female, 25% minors

· 90% of women in the sex trade are women of color, 25% minors

· 80% of tourists to Southeast Asia are male

· 25% is the highest female representation in government

Source: Gabriela Network USA

A Migrant's Tale

Lorelynn Felix

International migration has become usual in the Philippines which encouraged more and more people to join the bandwagon of migrants to other countries. Both men and women are attracted to this kind of “passage to a better life”. In the past, most of the people who migrate were men but recent studies showed a dramatic increase in the percentage of female migrants leaving the country.

“Nowadays, women were increasingly migrating as the main economic providers, or ‘breadwinners’ for their households,” said Carmen Moreno, Director of the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), in the thirty-ninth session of the Commission on Population and Development.

According to the points raised in the said session, women who migrate are courageous enough to choose to give more importance to the welfare of their family members than their own. Migration not only attracts women from the lower classes but also those who are from relatively high status.

Pull Factor

Wala akong balak before pero nung nagkaroon ng opportunity, ayun tuloy-tuloy na,” said Leonora Trinidad, a 36-year-old Filipino migrant in Qatar.

Trinidad, still unmarried, worked in an accounting firm and a gasoline station before she left for Qatar in September 2005. Her foreign employer in the said gasoline station was the one who encouraged her to work abroad. Nakita ko yung financial aspect kaya naging interesado na rin ako,” she added.

At first, her family was against her plan because they were afraid of the risks. They later allowed her to leave after she told them that the benefits that they could get were greater than the risks that she would face.

She did not experience difficulty when she arrived in Qatar. She already had a house to live and also gained instant friends with the two Filipinos who went there ahead of her. During her stay abroad, she learned to be independent and to adjust to a different culture.

Her primary reason for working abroad is to assist her family in paying for their house in Laguna. She was able to pay it full in just two years of work abroad, but that did not stop her from leaving the country again. Mga 14 years pa siguro akong mangingibang-bansa. Financially kasi maganda, stable,” she said.

She related that there is really discrimination against Filipino migrants abroad. Hindi maiiwasan yun kasi syempre may mga kasama kang puti at iba yung treatment sa kanila,” she said. But she added that in Qatar, foreign employers would rather employ Filipino workers because they are known to be hard working and competent.

Trinidad also spoke about one of the dangers that women migrants are facing in Qatar. She said that some foreign taxi drivers bring women to the desert instead of the place of work then they would later rape and kill them. She is also concerned of the safety of her family—especially her sick mother—that she left in the Philippines.

Ang sakit kapag may kamag-anak na umaalis. Kung maganda sana yung economy natin dito sa Pilipinas, hindi na lang sana magkakahiwa-hiwalay ang mga magkakapamilya. Kaya lang dahil sa hirap ng buhay natin eh wala tayong magagawa. Kailangan talaga umalis,” said Jo Aninao, sister of Trinidad.

­A Dutiful Daughter

Nung una pinipigilan ko siya at medyo nagagalit-galit pa ako sa kanya n’un kasi magpa-Pasko n’ung umalis siya pero ngayon feeling ko mas ok na din kasi kung nandito siya ay mas mahihirapan talaga sila ni Papa,” said Monica (not her real name), 20 years old daughter of a migrant.

Monica’s mother was working for a pharmaceutical company before she was encouraged by a relative to leave the country and try her luck abroad. In 2005, she applied for a tourist visa and went to the United States. She moved from one relative’s house to another, looking for a decent-paying job that could help her support her family in the Philippines. At present, she is an undocumented migrant and is working as a caregiver for a family in Boston. She is planning to review for the board exam for pharmacists so she could legally work in the US.

Her father cannot leave his job in a pharmaceutical company since he is nearing his retirement and he cannot afford to lose all the benefits he could get from it, that is why it is his wife who decided to work abroad.

According to Monica, her mother’s primary reason for working abroad is to earn money to finance all of their expenses—a major part of this is the school expenses. Three of them are in college while two are studying in a private school in Laguna.

Her mom was attracted by the relatively large amount of money that she could earn from working abroad compared to staying in her job in the Philippines. Mas malaki talaga sahod dun, biruin mo nag-aalaga lang siya ng bata. Eh dito manager siya pero maliit pa rin ang sweldo. Hindi rin siya gaanong pagod sa trabaho niya ngayon kasi magbabantay lang ng bata na madalas tulog naman,” she said.

Aside from the financial support that they get every week, Monica said that her mother’s decision to work abroad gave them emotional security. Dati kasi laging may worry na kung paano na yung allowance para sa susunod na linggo, ngayon hindi na masyado dahil medyo kampante na kami na by weekend meron kaming pera,” she explained. In the past, it would take them days or even weeks to provide enough money for their needs but now it would only take a phone call to their mother for them to get the money they needed. Kunyari umaga namin sasabihin yung kailangan na pera tapos habang natutulog kami sa gabi ay pinapadala na ni Mama yun kaya pag gising namin kinabukasan meron na,” she shared.

Most of the burden of her mother’s absence was left for Monica to face. Aside from the emotional burden, she was also tasked to manage her family’s budget. She handles her father’s wage and the money that her mother sends them. She takes over all her mother’s responsibility in the family.

She believes that her mother’s desire to give them a better life is the one that gave her the confidence to take all the risks that she is facing right now.

Feminization of Migration

Economic opportunity is the major reason why many Filipinos, even women, are enticed to try their luck abroad. Most of the women who are attracted to work overseas are employed in jobs that require them to do reproductive work—tasks that are akin to their work at home. Reproductive work is not given enough importance compared to productive work since the former only generates small amount of money for its workers.

According to Nancy Yinger in her article on feminization of migration, the unregulated nature of reproductive work leaves women migrants prone to all forms of exploitation and discrimination.

According to Maruja Asis in her paper entitled, “When men and women migrate: Comparing gendered migration in Asia”, the Philippines has devised ways to protect migrant workers, especially women. But the problem lies in the receiving countries whose policies intend to keep migration temporary, limit migrants’ participation in their country, and prevent settlement by inhibiting family reunification.

Yinger said that there are gender differences in the remittance patterns of men and women migrants. Women migrants are more likely to remit a large portion of their earnings compared to men and these remittances are mainly used to meet the daily needs of the family left in the Philippines.

Asis said that overall, families usually do well even with the absence of their men because women are the ones who fill in the responsibilities of the men. But the case is mixed when it is the women who leave the country. This affect the stability of the family and the welfare of the children left behind. The men do not necessarily take the role of the women. Instead, it is the other female members of the family who assume the task of the female member who left. There is also some evidence which suggests that some men are taking the role of the female member of the family.

Asis added that there is some evidence showing that husbands are wasting the hard-earned money of their wives or are having extra-marital affairs with other women. Since women have become the breadwinners of the family, they are more confident to put an end to a bad marriage.

The question of whether the feminization of migration promotes women empowerment is still left unanswered. For now, no one can really tell if it is good or bad for both the women who left the country and the women left behind. One thing is for sure, as long as the needs of the family call it, feminization of migration will still continue to prevail. ■

Women's Homework

Rizza Leonzon

On a lazy afternoon, Julie scrambles to assemble her circuit boards, not inside a spacious and lavish laboratory room but in the expanse of their living room. Circuit boards are no school homework or past-time, for Julie is neither a student nor a teacher. She is a mother of two children and her home also happens to be her workplace.

Apparently, Julie isn’t the only one caught in such a situation.

Around the world, there is an estimated 300 million more home-based workers, mostly women, who have joined Julie in trading the comforts of their homes for a cents’ worth of earnings through small scale jobs. Behind closed doors, these workers, who constitute a part of the informal labor sector, carry out different forms of jobs that are either paid out by an employer, a subcontractor or a middle person or are self-employed and working for small family businesses. All over the world, these home-based workers produce various goods and services such as clothes, shoes, food, electronic components, manufacturing, assembling and packing of processed products, craft works, etc. that are in turn sold by large corporations for huge profits.

Over 85 percent of home-based workers in most countries comprise of women who are tied down to this form of employment due to cultural constraints as it is evident in Muslim countries or low level of education and training. Moreover, globalization, which restructures and integrates production processes worldwide, results to the current phenomenon of outsourcing – a major reason that also accounts for women’s decision to stay at home and work at the same time.

While large corporations benefit from reduced costs of production due to the subcontracting of home-based workers, the said workforce largely remains underpaid and stripped of benefits for health, retirement, allowances, etc. that a firm usually gives out to its regular employees.

"I work 14 hours a day, every day of the week sewing garments. Last week I earned $1.70 an hour that was with my husband and two children giving me a lot of help," says Mai from Australia. Meanwhile Gayatri from India earns 75 cents for every 1000 bidis (hand-made cigarettes). She makes 800 bidis a day which barely compensates for back aches and long hours of sitting in the floor just to roll these cigarettes. On the other hand, Beauty from South Africa is in the business of growing fruits sold to the local market or to a contractor of big food companies. “I hope to keep having work so my family can survive,” she explains.

In the Philippines alone, about 7-9 million home-based workers perform both piece-rated and own account work in rural and urban areas and like the rest of the workers belonging to the informal sector, they need to put up with low wages, unpleasant working conditions and lack of benefits and social protection.

Given such appalling situations, the responses of women laborers in the informal sector are now coordinated and represented through various labor based-organizations and movements.

During the early 70s in India, a trade union of low-income working women founded the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) an organization that caters to the street vendors, home-based workers, agricultural laborers, construction workers, head loaders and rag pickers and has since become the international force behind advancing the welfare of women laborers worldwide.

Meanwhile, specifically leading the movement of home-based workers worldwide, an international alliance, HomeNet was established in the mid-1990s. Much of HomeNet’s work is concentrated in lobbying for the passage of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention on Home Work (1996) which aims to level the playing field for home-based workers as compared to other formal wage-earners in specific areas such as:

ü establishment of organizations

ü protection from occupational hazards and employment discrimination

ü remuneration

ü social security protection

ü access to training

ü minimum age employment

ü maternity benefits

This convention has only been ratified by five countries namely Finland, Ireland, Albania, the Netherlands and Argentina. Governments that have ratified the convention are expected to create and adhere to national policies that:

ü Recognize the economic and social value of home work.

ü Raise living standards through higher incomes and social protection.

ü Strengthen domestic demand by increasing the purchasing power of the masses.

ü Enable the working class to exercise their rights.

ü Achieve gender equality through women empowerment.

In the Philippine setting, the Pambansang Kalipunan ng mga Manggagawang Impormal sa Pilipinas (PATAMABA) spearheads the movement in advancing the welfare of the informal workers. With a membership of about 14,138, 98 percent of whom are women, in the end of its 2003 formal registry, the organization provides education and training along the lines of leadership, entrepreneur, networking, gender and rights awareness, paralegal work, etc. Moreover, it is also providing economic assistance through the PATAMABA- Women Workers' Entrepreneurship and Employment Development (WEED) Livelihood Programme and by helping out their members in establishing micro-enterprises and cooperatives to avoid dealings with sub-contractors and middle persons. On the other hand, the HomeNet Philippines is in turn focused in pushing for adoption and reinforcement of laws and policies that promote the welfare of Filipino home-based workers such as the ratification of ILO Convention on Home Work (1996) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Department Order No. 5 on Homeworkers that affirms the home workers’ right to immediate payment and self organization, etc.

Undeniably, these labor-based organizations have made huge contributions in uplifting the welfare of low-income workers, especially women. However, the fight for the advancement of the welfare of informal workers does not end and begin in these organizations. Much still has to be done to reach out and to educate the rest of the informal women workers about their rights as workers and as women.

After all, it takes not just an organization, but rather a movement, to shatter the oppressive societal shackles that are holding down the thousands of Julies around the world.


Tatiana Avila

Magdalena Bacalando didn’t know what to do when her first-born child developed a fever. Being a first-time mom who had little knowledge about child-rearing, she sought for whatever kind of help was made available. That was when she discovered Likhaan, an organization that was formed specially to address the reproductive needs of women.

“Napakahirap na wala ka talagang alam. Nung na-meet ko yung Likhaan shempre nagbibigay sila ng mga pag-aaral. Kahit yung mga palatandaan at ano yung dapat gawin kung may lagnat ang bata. Yung effect talaga sakin, sa aking pamilya, malaking tulong siya,” said Magdalena.

Since then, Magdalena, now a mother of four, has understood motherhood and her role better. She has also been actively involved with the projects organized by Likhaan. She is currently a board member of the said organization and the president of Mothers’ Organization for Total Health Education Research Services (MOTHERS).

In its twelve years of existence, Likhaan continuous to help women like Magdalena. Founded in the year 1995, Likhaan (Tagalog for ‘creation’) which stands for Linangan ng Kababaihan, promotes women’s rights through education and training programs, and putting up community health clinics.

“Ang layunin talaga (ng Likhaan) ay ma-empower ang women lalo na sa usapin ng iba’t ibang issues ng kababaihan. Tapos makapagbigay din ng pangangailangan sa kalusugan ng mothers,” Magdalena explained.

Although health clinics were basically established for women, its doors are open to just about anyone in need of medical assistance as Likhaan tries to widen its reach and provide for the needs of the whole family. “Bagamat ang buong konsepto talaga ay women center, yung serbisyong pangkababaihan, hindi namin maalis magbigay ng bakuna sa bata, general medical check-up at iba pang serbisyong pampamilya kasi mas uunahin ng women yung kanilang pamilya bago sila. Huling huli talaga ang kanilang sarili,” she added.

At present, Likhaan has health clinics in the cities of Pasay, Malabon and Quezon and the provinces of Bulacan, Bohol and Samar which cater to the needs of the marginalized communities near the area.

The success of Likhaan in promoting women’s reproductive rights is due, in more ways than one, to the dedication of its staff. The extent to which they are willing to help goes beyond the call of duty. There are times when they open their own homes for pregnant patients who experienced being raped or other forms of domestic violence and unable to return to their families.

Just last year, Magdalena took in a pregnant teenager who was a rape survivor. She attempted to commit suicide twice before seeking help from Likhaan. After she attended counseling sessions, she decided to go through with the pregnancy under one condition—she will have nothing to do with the baby after giving birth. Seven months under the care of Magdalena and the baby was born. It was time for Magdalena to put the baby up for adoption.

It was not the first time this happened. Magdalena revealed that there are even cases when women choose to have an abortion. In such cases, Likhaan usually recommends counseling.

“Hindi lang ang pagpapalaglag ang paraan para mahinto kung anuman ang kinatatakutan nila. Pero sa kanila parin ang desisyon. Kahit binigay mo na lahat ng information at nagdesisyon parin… at least informed decision yun,” said Magdalena as she explained that their health clinics are not equipped to perform abortion. What they usually do after counseling is refer women to the experts who can perform the procedure properly.

The staff of Likhaan is well-trained in counseling and performing basic medical procedures like check-ups, pre-natal and post-natal care and papsmear. Some members of Likhaan who are certified doctors conduct trainings and supervise the medical procedures.

Magdalena confessed that it took some time before the staff was able to gain the trust of the public. “Hindi naman ganoon kadali kunin ang tiwala ng mamamayan na kapwa mo lang din naman nanay. Bakit sila magpapagamot sa isang kapitbahay lang nila?”

But through the years, Likhaan has proven itself in its sincerity and competence to serve. It has earned not just the trust but the respect of the people. Now more and more women seek the help of the organization. And for as long as they are able, Magdalena and her colleagues are more than willing to respond. ■