Involvement in women and development work
My undergraduate course was Development Studies so I needed to apply what I learned after graduation (1987). Initially, I was with the Development Academy of the Philippines where we crafted modules for the training of LGU officials.
From there, I joined a project on the 1987 local elections with the then UP College of Public Administration. It was the most exciting job I ever had because we went from one province to another interviewing local officials, church people, military and parliamentarians (national and local). Simultaneously, we were also doing a research on women parliamentarians during which my interest in women was first ignited.
During this time, a pioneering course in women and development opened in the UP College of Social Work and Community Development. I was very eager to enrol to learn more about women and politics. Little did I know that my enrolment in the program would pave towards the healing of my childhood abuse. In the program, I was introduced to different women and gender issues. Particularly in my feminist counselling subject, I was able to reflect on my childhood years and this led me to do a thesis on the dynamics and nature of incest, which happened to me when I was a child. I vowed to expose such abuse in public and I was successful in doing that. My first involvement in a women’s organization was in Women’s Resource and Research Centre (now defunct) and my colleagues there were very supportive of my study. We also did some researches and training with prostituted women and women workers. In one of those studies, I was challenged to look into the connection of incest and prostitution. This led me to reflect back on my college years when I also met several classmates who were sexually abused.
Next, I worked with WomanHealth Philippines ( of which up to now I am an active member). From this women’s group, I was able to appreciate the links between personal and national health issues. The comprehensive framework which we adopted in viewing women’s health has been very useful to me up to now because I have employed it in my counselling work. We did also a lot of training and education with rural women. In between, I did part-time teaching at the Philippine Normal University where I taught psychology and research. I was touched recently when one of my former PNU students acknowledged in public that I was her mentor; some of them also gave me gifts to thank me for what I contributed to their lives. These forms of recognition I will cherish throughout my life.
After that short stint, I went up to the mountains of Tanay to teach barefoot doctor-students. I introduced them to women and gender health issues, and to Filipino as the national language. I was the only resident teacher who stayed in the place without electricity and computer. There I learned community organizing; we walked long distances just to be able to deliver health information and services to the indigenous people.
Eventually , I had to leave this challenging work because I had to attend to the needs of my family. This was the time I got a research job at the Institute of Spirituality in Asia. It was also very timely because I was seeking some answers on why I need to prioritize my family instead of doing organizing work. There, I found several answers why spirituality has been the driving force for men and women who do fulltime community work and why some resort to development NGO work afterwards.
In Manila, I worked as a crisis counsellor and advocacy officer at the Women’s Crisis Center where I learned more about feminist counselling especially applied to wife battering and rape cases. We put up a national referral network where we can refer cases anywhere in the country. This facilitated our work as helpers of women. From there, I realized we cannot just simply attend to individual cases of women; we must also see the systemic and systematic cause of violence against women and children (VAWC) which was the unequal power relationship between men and women at all levels (individual, interpersonal, community and societal).
At the personal level, it dawned on me that a counsellor can also be violent especially with a partner who triggers past memories. I needed to be in a far place to thresh out this paradoxical truth. In Mindanao, I found a university with a course on peace building, where I also taught about guidance and psychology and at the same time reflected on the reasons why a ‘victim can also become a perpetrator’; I started learning and studying about being violent and violence in general. Fortunately, there was a course on Gender and Peace building in Costa Rica to which I was given a scholarship. Here, I learned more deeply about the roots and dynamics of personal and societal violence, as well as the frameworks, strategies and techniques in addressing this. I did my internship in Indonesia because I wanted to know how a men’s program is being run inside a Women’s Crisis Centre. At present, I am applying what I have learned in my MA Women and Development and Gender and Peace building courses to our counselling program at the UP Diliman Gender Office where I work as a guidance counsellor.
Insights from doing Women and Development Work
I now look at things within a more expansive or comprehensive frame. I learned to connect personal issues to bigger societal issues and from there create interventions at the personal, community and societal level. I can also apply the gender lens in every issue. As a crisis counsellor, I began to appreciate the hurdles every woman has to overcome just to able to free herself individually before she can work in a bigger sphere of life. I can also engage in emotional matters without being drained. More importantly, I became convinced that I have to work with men to be able to address VAWC effectively, knowing that more men are perpetrators of VAWC as well as potential agents of change. This last realization was a big departure from my earlier stance where all my energies were spent on working with women.
What keeps my passion for women and development work burning
I practice Shibashi, Taichi and meditation daily. I see to it that before I sleep in the evening I am able to give thanks for all the good things that have happened in my life the whole day and derive lessons from the ‘bad’ things which might have occurred. Also, I read a lot about my interests in life which are too many to mention here; e.g., astronomy, biology, zoology, painting, dance, among other interests. I am so grateful there is an internet which assists me in gaining a lot of knowledge about these interesting features of life. Other important sources of strength are my nieces and nephews. For them, I envision a violence-free society and I keep my mind focused on how to contribute to its attainment for as long as I live.
Another inspiration for me are my groups of women friends with whom I have regular conversations and socialization. These groups offer different interests: some love to chat about food, others about politics, arts, and music. Thus, I derive a lot of nourishment from life by just being with them. Of course, there are some men in my life, young and old, which balance the equation (though there are fewer men compared to women friends). I see to it that I can communicate my deep concerns about men with them so that I can draw some honest answers and compare them with the answers of my women friends. This way, I can have a realistic assessment of how to view a certain gender issue or concern.
The expansive and inclusive framework I use in analysing women and gender issues helped me avoid cynicism and getting burned out. I see the dots of life connected and interrelated to all issues. In fact, I am looking at spirituality as deeply connected with sexuality and women; this viewpoint enables me to help women reclaim their wholeness despite being battered or raped at some point in their lives. At this point in my life, I constantly nourish my spiritual well so that I can have something to share with my counselees. As I noted above, I exercise physically and spiritually so that I can appreciate life wholly and fully. I now recognize that I cannot possibly live with ideology alone; I need comprehensive and expansive frameworks to understand life across time, space and cultures.
What makes my work in women and development work meaningful
It is meaningful particularly in my counselling work when each person is able to overcome the harshness of life and I see them smiling once again. This alone makes my work more fulfilling and meaningful. Even if they say that counsellors do individual work and do not impact on a larger number of people, I am always satisfied that each life I touched contribute to the betterment of society.
As to my other work such as an educator/teacher, a researcher, advocate for women, I regard each work as a step towards the realization of my dream of a violence-free society These kinds of work turn out to be even more challenging and fulfilling whenever I mentor young women and men who later become interested in gender and peace work.
I have arrived at a conclusion that development to be more meaningful must touch each person’s life: economically, psychologically, spiritually, among other aspects of being a human being. This I have realized throughout my life journey where I engaged with different people of different ages, from different places, cultures and genders. I hope the richness and diversity of life can be cherished by each person so that each of us will live and leave this Earth carrying the true treasures in our hearts.#