Gaining Wisdom… by: Remedios “Peach” P. Mondiguing

Master of Arts in Women and Development, AY 1991-2000

When Dean Inday asked me to write something about my life after WD – [Women and Development] in three-pages, I thought – is she kidding? How can I compress my life which has been so full of rupture/rapture, heartbreak/bliss, being/non-being and so on, in just three-pages? I mulled over this for days and finally… there was light. As I was cramming [as usual] actually trying to jam into my brain all the concepts that I needed to craft the introduction to my PhD dissertation, I came across this passage from an article written by Kirin Narayan, an American woman anthropologist [genealogically WASP, Bavarian and Hindu] who was doing fieldwork in her father’s village somewhere in India where the village holy man she was interviewing noted her relentless questions in order to get to understand and evaluate their everyday life within/from an academic framework and used this as a parable to teach her that: “..it’s not that you shouldn’t study…you should gain wisdom. But you should realize that in the end this means nothing…” [Narayan: 1997 cf Louise Lamphere, Helena Ragona, and Patricia Zavella: Situated Lives: Gender and Culture in Everyday Life]

This passage sort of anchored me to that aspect in my life that I want to write about – gaining wisdom.

After WD, [circa 1993-1995], I worked with several non-governmental organizations [NGOs] where I tried to apply the concepts that I learned in school in the field – some were helpful, but there were some assumptions/generalizations that did not apply to all. One was that woman’s subordination is universal. While doing fieldwork in one of the villages in Ifugao, I found out that divorce was allowed, women had inheritance and property rights, and by birthright could be “muntonak”, i.e., lead the community in harvest and planting rites and that men stayed home and took care of the children while the women worked in the fields. I also learned that domestic violence is not allowed and that incest is “paniyo” [taboo]. They also used to have the “agamang” [when houses were just one-room affairs] where pubescent girls slept and were socialized into womanhood, usually by older women who passed on their women’s knowledge to them, and interestingly, sex was functional and not done to satisfy one’s lust and desire.

In other areas of work, while my academic training prepared me to answer and clarify many issues and concerns faced by women, it did not prepare me to protect myself when a woman suddenly breaks down crying because something triggered her to remember past abuses in her childhood; thus, I was not prepared when one day, during a gender consciousness-raising activity, one of the women volunteers of a partner agency started crying in anguish. Being the person nearest her, I automatically reached out and held her and she kept crying non-stop on my chest near my heart. For what seemed like hours, I just kept holding her until she finally subsided and eventually fell asleep. In the evening, I had a splitting headache and felt feverish and this lasted for several days and would not go away even after medication. It was later explained to me that all the “bad” energy that had been kept within that woman for so many years was released when she cried, and that I absorbed most of it when I held her close to me. The woman had been regularly raped by her father when she was growing up. She was able to finally run away and met a man who married her and was nice and kind to her but she always froze whenever they had sex and could not explain why and when we began discussing the issue of incest, everything came back to her. For the first time, she was able to talk about her experience…wisdom gained – in cases like this, a person has to protect herself by creating an invisible shield of white light around her.

Other snippets of experience that helped me gain wisdom…
In several “upland rural poor communities” in the Philippines where I helped to mainstream gender in an agricultural program, I came to realize that in these areas where life is a daily struggle for survival by tilling the soil, it is very difficult for a woman to live alone. She needs the help of other people, especially men to plough the field before she can plant and have something to eat. While women can do this backbreaking work alone as proven by an elderly widowed woman, she admitted that she felt exhausted after a day of ploughing the field and she would welcome a man’s helping hand. I also observed that in these areas, there is a high regard for elderly women – they speak their mind and are listened to, unlike in some urban poor areas where I did research where one of the community problems identified was that of older women who are left alone starving in the corner as there is no one to take care of them while their children go to work and earn a living for their survival.

A heartbreaking realization while working in the NGO world was finding out that some NGOs capitalize on poverty situations for their own survival. There were times when after getting to know the situation in the community, writing a proposal to help in their development, more than half of the money granted went to the upkeep of urban-based offices and personnel while the poor community remained “undeveloped.” What finally led me to leave this kind of work/world is that after helping the community identify their needs and problems and after having opened up their hearts and minds and interrogated their lives inside and out…the consensually identified problems and concerns were not addressed either because there was no funding, or funding for the project had been withdrawn or diverted – leaving the community hanging.
These experiences oftentimes crushed my spirit; I took solace in landscaping my garden – cultivating the soil always regenerates my soul.

Back to the university …
Having recovered my spirit and soul, I returned to where I started – back to the university, not as a student but to be of service. When I entered UP, I first worked with the “Intra-Family and Household Violence Project,” a UCWSFI [University Center for Women’s Studies Foundation, Inc.] project. I gained the most insight in phase II of this project when we tried to find out and theorize on why men committed violence against women by interviewing convicted rapists. All the men I interviewed denied they raped their victims; one even cried…My question was, do we apply feminist research techniques; i.e., empathy to our research subjects who are convicted rapists? The guy in front of me was crying, saying he was framed by his live-in partner – should I hold his hand and console him? I kept my distance and watched him cry. I did not reach out to console him. I instead visualized the image of the child he was raping; I wanted to throw up and wondered what I was doing there in that jail.

In 1997, I officially started work in the UP System as a University Extension Specialist at the UP-Center for Women’s Studies [UP-CWS]. I found my job fascinating as I worked with the UP-CWS Training and Outreach Program where I got to help in the establishment/strengthening of gender offices and gender-sensitive counselling facilities in all UP constituent universities mainly through training and organizing both women and men faculty, students and employees. I found my academic training in women and development quite handy and helpful in these activities. Aside from my training and outreach activities, I also managed the day to day activities of the UP-CWS Crisis Counselling Service and although they had a counselling consultant, since I was the only person then who had a women and development background, I also took on the task of para-counselor. This led me to come up with a proposal for a full-time counsellor as the work was really draining. This was officially granted, but only on a part-time basis and since no one can predict when a woman in crisis decides to come in, I usually pitched in when the counsellor was not around.

In my para-counseling work, I encountered several students/faculty and staff who were being sexually-harassed and did not know where to report. This situation led to the UP system wide review of the UP Implementing Rules and Regulations in 2001 and subsequently the establishment of UP OASH [Office of Anti-Sexual Harassment] in all constituent universities.* In this same year, 2001, one of the students I counselled [a graduating student whose grade was being withheld in exchange for a date with her professor] observed that had she been informed when she was a first year student about her gender rights, what sexual harassment was all about and where she could go when this happened, then perhaps she would have known what to do. She then suggested that all incoming first-year students should be oriented about gender issues and concerns . Such suggestions resulted in the inclusion of the UP-CWS/UP Diliman Gender Office [UP-DGO]** in the regular Freshie Orientation Week/Assembly of the University which is now a continuing activity.

Coordinating the Office of Anti-Sexual Harassment…
Even before the official establishment of the Office of Anti-Sexual Harassment in UP Diliman, I was already appointed by then Chancellor Roman to coordinate activities [preventive as well as punitive] regarding sexual harassment in the university which in actuality I have been doing ever since I worked with the UP-CWS. When the UPD-OASH was officially established in September 2003, I was appointed its coordinator.

As this office was the first of its kind in UP or in any other academic institution for that matter, it was an extremely challenging task. Although there was a Committee [of which I was a member] assigned to formulate policy and investigate complaints, the administrative as well as the day to day encounters with both complainants (and their parents) and alleged respondents were emotionally draining and psychologically daunting – as I had to balance my dealings with both sides. I was also initially alone in this office.

I will never forget the time when we had to rescue twenty-five [25] female students who were being sexually harassed by the husband of their landlady and I had to seek the assistance of the UP-CWS and the UP-CWSFI for staff as well as logistical support. While the OASH committee was discussing whether sexual harassment was committed between a student and a faculty in Quezon Hall, I was with the UP Police and the Barangay Tanods in Krus Na Ligas overseeing the evacuation of our students from their boarding place. The rescue was a coordinated effort among several offices – the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Administration [OVCA] provided the vehicle to transport beddings, electric fans, book, clothes of the students to the UPCWS Building while the UPCWS staff contacted their parents/guardians. The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs [OVCSA] provided emergency shelter in our dormitories for the students who had no relatives or places to go to as they were from out of town. Wisdom gained – even if there are people in UP who should not be teaching because they think of their female students as sex objects, UP administration can be counted on for support in times of crisis [at least during this period].

In setting up the OASH, I had to come up with a staffing pattern, equipment, budget and justifications for all these things before the OASH finally became fully operational. While I was doing this, I had to attend to several complaints being filed, which meant that I also had to organize a hearing committee pool to do the formal investigation. And so in 2005, which was the year where the highest incidence of sexual harassment complaints was reported/filed in the University, I was on the verge of collapse.

I was therefore glad when in 2006, my request for a one-year study leave [AY 2006-2007] was finally granted.*** This was a real break for me, when at the same time I also studied for my comprehensives and passed.****

When I reported back for work in 2007, I found out that I was no longer qualified as a coordinator for the sole reason that I was not a member of the UP Faculty. I wondered who was more qualified for the job – a UP faculty who had had no experience in dealing with violence against women and Children [VAWC] or a UP REPS [Research, Extension and Professional Staff], who was a UP-MAWD graduate and had spent her time handling and attending to VAWC cases ever since she started working in the University? Thus, while I welcomed my job back as University Extension Specialist since I thought it would entail less responsibility, the reality was that I was still basically doing coordination work. The faculty coordinator was expected and paid only to render three hours service per week; thus the bulk of the day to day management of the office remained with me, but since I was no longer the coordinator, I also no longer had the authority to initiate change in terms of policy.

I find this disheartening…but “life is a work in progress…,” and I look forward to defending my dissertation and finally becoming a full-fledged academic in the academe. I am also looking forward to becoming a full-time grandmother to my four beautiful grandchildren who are currently residents and citizens of Ontario, Canada.

25 April 2012.

*As of this date, all constituent universities have an OASH except for UP Baguio and UP Mindanao.
**The UPDGO was initially a special project under the Training and Outreach Program of the UP-CWS, headed by Prof. Rosario del Rosario.
***Would you believe that in 2001, I told my counsellor that I needed a break from all these “violence against women” encounters and when she asked me what I wanted to do, I told her that I wanted to study – get a PhD in Anthropology, as I had always wanted to be an anthropologist, and she said – go for it – and so I did and got accepted in the program in 2001.
**** I am now winding up my fieldwork and will start writing my dissertation this May and hopefully defend it in first semester of AY 2012-2013.

College of Social Work and Community Development