Matapang ka kasi, kaya nadagdagan din ang tapang ko (You are brave, that’s why I became brave too.). These were the words which came from a young woman I helped, a victim-survivor of an abusive relationship. These words keep ringing in my ears every time a woman needs my help, not only in my hometown but also now in Thailand, among my fellow Filipino migrants and some migrant women from Burma.
In 2008, after the people’s organization in Occidental Mindoro where I was a member decided to fold up, I was left alone and decided to continue an advocacy focused solely on women’s issues and concerns. It was also the time that I was able to get a scholarship from the United States and decided to study in the Philippines instead of going abroad. But the shift from being a political activist into a woman’s advocate was not a sudden change. My involvement goes beyond being an activist or a woman but because I am a mother. It may sound strange or a cliché but advocacy and activism are more meaningful to me now because of motherhood. Now, what kind of feminism is that? I don’t recall anymore. I am not good in memorizing theories.
Soon enough, I occupied myself conducting gender sensitivity awareness in schools, first time this ever happened in our province. I infused feminist theology to gender orientation which could be applicable to the context. I tried to team up with government entities like the Municipal Social Welfare Office as well as the Provincial Social Welfare Office. And ultimately, I was able to convince a woman-survivor to open up in public and become my partner in the advocacy against VAWC [violence against women and children].
Being an advocate, and now known that I assisted women victims in filing of cases against partners, was not easy since I was not a part of any organization. On the other hand, those who approached me were assured that I could help them because I did not represent any government or private group. Even in the dead of night, I could receive calls asking me to go to the police station because a friend had a fight with her partner or a mother was crying because her daughter was abused.
When I enrolled at the CSWCD for its Master’s Program in Women and Development in 2008, I felt a compelling need to study the theories not to become an “expert” in the field but more to understand women’s issues and to concretize my realization that women, in spite of modernity, are still under the clutches of patriarchy.
But then, in the real situation, I cannot tell the women I was helping that “patriarchy is evil and we have to fight for it to gain control of ourselves.” Indeed, it was different. All the theories and the feminists I’ve known are a blur when I console a woman abused by her husband or partner. I could not utter a word, seeing a young girl telling her experiences of abuse. In such situation, I could just say, “it’s not your fault being a girl. You have all the rights. And we will fight for these.”
My husband would say that my advice sometimes was “brutal, ” not considering the feelings of the husbands or the partners. Yes, I may be brutal, because I wanted everything to be settled in court and the perpetrators to be punished. Now, that is a blend of radical and liberal feminisms.
One of the most memorable experiencse for me as an advocate and while still a student at WD, was when I persuaded a Fiscal (male of course) to represent an abused woman. Contrary to expectations, the lawyer of the abuser was a woman! It was a landmark case (in our province) of RA 9262, because it was finished in just six months after it had been filed! As of now, the fiscal is still handling VAWC cases. I just hope he is winning them.
However, things changed when in the middle of 2009, I was harassed by a military agent. By that time, my husband was already accepted as a volunteer abroad. Still I clung on to the hope that the harassment would pass. In spite of the surveillance I still continued my advocacy, conducting GST and assisting women who needed me. The surveillance and harassment stopped for a while because I reported it to the authorities, including the police, and to the WD, and of course shouted it out on Facebook!
In 2011, we decided to immigrate to Thailand. It was a half-hearted decision because I felt that I was leaving my responsibility to my fellow women. Actually, two weeks before we left, I was still assisting a young woman impregnated by a chief of police in our province and helping her in filing a case.
I am now in Thailand and continuing my advocacy and serving my fellow Filipinos. I also did some documentation on the struggles of the migrant women from Burma. In fact, many Filipino women and men here need gender orientation and information regarding our basic rights as migrants. Majority of the Filipinos here come as tourists and are legalized only after getting working visa from Thai embassies either in Lao or in Cambodia, but not in the Philippines. Thus, proper documentation and even their rights as citizens of the Philippines in foreign soil are new to them. In addition, Pinoy men bring the Philippine macho culture and the culture of their barrios to Thailand. These fall heavily on women, both those who are left in the Philippines and those who are with their husbands. Philandering is very common. Now, I am also into migrant issues which are heavily laden with gender issues. As of this moment, I am confronted with an incident that we are trying to settle. Again, as a feminist, condemning both the woman and the “other woman” is not our option. They are all victims of patriarchy and stereotypes. Yes, even far away from home – Thailand, which is a highly patriarchal society.
Being uprooted from one’s own country does not mean the end of serving my fellow-women (and men too), but a process of widening our perspective and extending whatever we have to others.
In the meantime, we will stay here.
*The author completed her degree in Master of Arts in Women and Development in 2011. She is currently based in Phitsanulok, North of Thailand. Ms. Novio is now back into writing, documenting the lives of the Filipinos aside from being an ESL teacher. During her free time she travels to the borders of Thailand to visit the refugees and other migrants.