“This makes me proud.”
Yearly, March 8 is celebrated as the International Women’s Day (IWD). In the Philippines, the whole month of March is Women’s Month. My organization, the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP), was founded on March 8, 1987, just over a year after the February 1986 EDSA People Power Revolt that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.
DSWP turns 35 years old this year, coinciding with the IWD celebrations. I write about my organization for posterity and also because what it has achieved so far are worth sharing. Somehow, these make me proud.
After the dictator Marcos was ousted and Cory Aquino assumed the presidency, Filipinos immediately felt the opening of the democratic space. Various anti-Marcos groups that were forced to go underground because they were hunted down started to surface. Leaders of some groups who went on exile to other countries came back to help in the work of rebuilding the country.
Because of the democratic space, non-government and mass-based organizations mushroomed. Everyone was ready to go to work and help the country. The same was true with women activists. However, the women also saw the need to organize as women because while they were actively involved in their mixed organizations, they also felt that there was no, or little effort to address women’s issues. Thus, feminist organizations were born. One was the DSWP.
Our organization was founded by women activists who were also active in the Philippine Democratic Socialist Party (PDSP). The DSWP was an organization of individual women but was not destined to remain as such. Eventually, because of the hard work of community women leaders in different provinces, it has evolved into a national federation of community-based and grassroots women’s organizations. To date, the federation has more than 200 chapter organizations scattered in many parts of the country.
Because the federation’s membership is very significantly dominated by ordinary poor women, the DSWP has always prioritized their rights and welfare. The National Congress has adopted a “Women’s Agenda” that contains action points on its priority issues namely: Violence Against Women (VAW) and Gender-Based Violence (GBV), Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), feminization of poverty, and women’s participation in decision-making and politics.
Through the years, the federation has successfully implemented various projects and initiatives that helped community women. Livelihood initiatives were supported, a lot of seminars and training were conducted that helped women realize that they have rights equal to anyone, and also manage their organizations. Numerous forums and learning sessions were held on DSWP’s various advocacies and laws that are supposed to benefit women were discussed and studied.
Community women leaders were also trained in politics. Eventually, some ran for local positions and many won. These women have proven that while they were not schooled in the traditional sense, they could become leaders respected by their communities.
At the national level, the DSWP, together with its allied networks have successfully advocated for laws that would address women’s issues and help realize their human and women’s rights. These include the Anti-Sexual Harassment, Anti-Rape, Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children, Anti-Trafficking in Persons, Magna Carta of Women, Reproductive Health, Expanded Maternity Leave, Safe Spaces, and Prohibition of Child Marriage Laws. A good part of the DSWP’s work is on making sure that these laws are properly and efficiently implemented. After all, a law is only a piece of paper if it does not benefit those for whom it was passed.
Throughout the many years of advocating for these laws, community women DSWP members have always been actively involved. They were ready to go out to the streets when necessary, talk with their local officials and Representatives, gather signatures for the advocacy, and conduct local education activities for other women in their communities.
But not everything was a bed of roses. The organization had to hurdle major challenges. After the United Nations Decade for Women, support for initiatives on women’s rights significantly dwindled. Strategies and priorities of development organizations also changed because of world events. “Gender mainstreaming” became the major strategy but sadly, this has resulted in the deprioritization of women’s issues. Geographic priorities also evolved and this affected the work for women’s rights in the Philippines.
Admittedly, these and other changes have adversely affected women’s groups in the country. Many organizations significantly weakened and there were those that closed shop. A good number of groups has downsized operations including the DSWP. It became very difficult to the point that there we were thinking of already dissolving the federation.
What saved the DSWP was not only the resilience of community women but their commitment and passion to continue the work. It was because of these women that we regrouped, re-strategized, and persevered. Eventually and slowly, we are able to do more things again.
Thus, there is much to celebrate. For an organization of ordinary women to last 35 years is not easy. The DSWP faces new challenges especially since we have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of our members have lost their livelihood and family members, their jobs. As they said in many of our focus group discussions, life is much harder these days.
Still, more than 200 women leaders from DSWP chapters will come together on March 8 to celebrate, pay tribute to our colleagues who have gone ahead, reminisce about our herstory, and draw strength from each other to face the challenges we now have.
As DSWP turns 35, we celebrate the Filipino women’s resilience and power. We renew our commitment to continue working for the attainment of women’s rights.
@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook