KASAMA Vol. 11 No. 1 / January-February-March 1997 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

International Women's Day 1997

On March 8th EMERE DISTOR and DEE HUNT spoke at the IWD rally in Brisbane on behalf of the CENTRE FOR PHILIPPINE CONCERNS-AUSTRALIA. The following is the text of their address.

Graphic: by Grace de Jesus-Sievert, in Clipart Vol.1 No.1, Isis International, Manila
We bring you greetings from the Women’s Movement in the Philippines and would like you to know that at this very moment women throughout the Philippine Islands are gathering to celebrate International Women’s Day.

We thank the IWD Collective for inviting us to speak to you today. And we particularly greet our indigenous sisters with whom we have shared hospitality for many centuries before the arrival of the European peoples into our Asia-Pacific world.

From the islands to the north of this country we came in peace to trade. Some of us came for adventure and we were welcomed to extend our roots into your soil and join our bloodlines. Then later, some of us came to escape the European colonisers invading our islands. More recently, we have settled here to keep our families together. Some of us became political refugees; some economic refugees. And throughout our history of trade and family ties with Australia, we have shared a love for land and life.

Today in Australia, the attack upon our cultures continues and the racism brought to this land by the colonisers is an insult to the land itself. But we draw strength from love. And our wish for today is that we march together to show our solidarity, as the women who have gathered in this forum, in the footsteps of all those Murri women who for centuries upon centuries came here to conduct the business of their communities. We ask that they give us strength and bless our efforts to release all our sisters from bondage so that we can again be a self-determining kind of people who would never deny to others what we would have for ourselves.

Filipinas will be joining the gatherings of women in many other countries too, because we are a very thoroughly exported peoples and the past 25 years have witnessed an increasing feminisation of our global migration. This is precisely the case in Australia where Filipino women outnumber Filipino men by a ratio of two to one.

And so, we have been invited today in Brisbane to share a little of what we have learned about Australia's racism and how it impacts upon Filipina feminism.

Some people would have you think that there is no such thing as Filipina feminism. Don’t believe them! Those same people construct and maintain a racist and gendered stereotype of the Filipino woman as servile; willing victims of male fantasy. Nothing could be further from the truth than that! Those same people would have Filipinos shun our indigenous ties and entice us to become their agents in subjugating this land and its peoples. Nothing could be more abhorrent to us than that! Those same people would like you to think that Filipinos are homophobic, grasping, and desperate to be assimilated into western society. Those same people think they can achieve colonising our bodies, our minds, and even our souls through a constant campaign of victimisation.

But you may not have had the opportunity to explore the scope and particularities of Filipina feminism. We would be delighted to meet with you and share our resources.

Racist stereotyping has cast Filipino women in the role of the third world victim of first world power; and it is true that poverty and underemployment are the major push factors in our migration. But so are militarisation, land grabbing and corruption.

In November last year, the Human Rights Commission and the Institute of Criminology launched a report entitled Violence Against Filipino Women. The report confirmed our statistics that Filipino women in Australia are almost six times more likely to become victims of domestic homicide. Most of those suspected, charged or convicted were either the women’s spouse or de facto partner. What is also striking is that all of those men are non-Filipinos.

Between 1980 to 1995, there are noted 27 deaths and disappearances cases of Filipino women and children in Australia. Twenty–one of these cases are adult women and 18 of the cases are homicides. In three cases the cause of death is unknown, three were found to be suicides and two were determined as accidental.

In the analysis in the report, there is an intersection of gender, race and class: migrants being women, women being Filipino and Filipinos being poor. The poverty in the Philippines is a major factor why there is a mass migration of Filipino women to overseas countries like Australia. Even with a university degree, it would still be difficult to find well-paying jobs in the Philippines. But many women don’t know that when they arrive in Australia, their overseas qualifications will not be recognised and that there is always the possibility of living in geographically isolated areas. As many of us would know, isolation is not only a geographical concept but can also be psychological. Isolation can be manifested by not allowing women to speak their own language with their fellow Filipinos, by not allowing women to eat their native food, or sometimes women are not even allowed to mingle with Filipino community groups.

Some important recommendations of the Report are:

Please help us to further these recommendations and achieve the demands of Filipino women in Australia. It is not our problem alone. We ask this in the name of all migrant women, particularly women of non–English speaking background.

Isang Maalab na Pagbati at Ipagpatuloy ang Pakikiba! Our Warmest Greetings and Continue on the Struggle!