I believe that a woman’s life is a story of constant struggle for respect, equality and emancipation. Women suffer from oppression in varying forms and in different spheres of her life. Some experience different layers of oppression more so than the others. Oppression and discrimination also takes place at the intersection of her gender and class, her gender and ethnicity, her gender and age, her gender and her access to resources such as technology, among others.
I am a woman from a middle class background, has a university degree, and has a job. I have my opinions and able to express them. Yet despite this sense of empowerment, I am not free from experiencing violence. I was once threatened by a male co-worker, for the simple reason I had the unfortunate sense to remind him to lock the door behind him since he was the last one to arrive and we were not expecting anyone else that night to arrive in the apartment that served as our staff house. He told me I had no right to tell him what to do, and while backing me into a corner he made a hand gesture across his neck while reminding me he could easily get rid of me. The organization addressed the issue right away and removed the male co-worker (I was never informed if he was fired or transferred location). But during the case of the investigation, I was repeatedly told by many co-workers, mostly women, “Maybe you were out of line” and that the male co-worker complained that he finds me very ‘bossy’ at work. At first glance, the incident may sound isolated. But I believe that the incident is a telling sign of stereotyping that women suffer from. If I were a man and older, he wouldn’t have treated me that way. If I were a man, my assertiveness would have been hailed as ‘leadership.’ but I am a woman and young, so I am ‘bossy’. As women, we grew up expected to be polite and soft, and when we deviate from that expectations we are branded as ‘bossy’ or ‘pushy’, which in turn society justifies violence against us.
If I woman with relative empowerment as I am suffer from this type of discrimination, imagine the struggles of women from more marginalized sectors such as the Lumads or the indigenous women from the southern part of the Philippines were I came from. The Lumads are the ‘natives’ whose communities existed and flourished long before the colonial period in the country. They may be the first people in the land, but they have been pushed off from their ancestral domains for many decades and historically have suffered from discrimination. I grew up hearing the term ‘native’ used as a stigma—denoting being illiterate, uncivilised. The communities of Lumads sit in vast natural deposits. Large commercial mining companies came and exploited the land. Resistance among Lumads steadily grew. So did the militarization of their once peaceful communities.
The intensified militarization in their communities pushed Lumad women and their families to flee their communities and to stay in evacuation centers in the cities. Despite the validity of their resistance, they are sometimes portrayed as weak pawns used for propaganda by anti-government organizations. They are stigmatised as uneducated people who have no capacity to form their own opinions and determine their own path of development.
Just recently, news broke that the temporary shelter where the Lumads are taking refuge in was gutted down by fire and five people were hurt, mostly women and children. Just to show how women’s assertion of their rights is always answered by violence.
Reflecting on my personal experiences and learning that of the experiences of other women in my community, endeavors me to continue using my voice to amplify the voice of others. Some of us have relative privileges such as access to education, media and audience that many other women don’t have. But despite their lack of resources, women from marginalized sectors have their own voices and they can speak for themselves, given the space and opportunity. Though indigenous women have been the subject of different media stories, they are usually portrayed as the ‘exotic’ others and needs saving. However, as the experience of the Lumad women from my community tells us, they are capable of self-determination and resistance. And now it is time their stories to be told and shown, in their voices and through their own eyes.