KASAMA Vol. 15 No. 4 / October-November-December 2001 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

KATHLEEN MALTZAHN was in Manila during February this year. She taped an interview in Tagalog with BUKAL members LIZA and GINA which was first published in RESPECT!, Project Respect's newsletter for women in the sex industry. These extracts are translated by Kathleen.

Organising women on the street hasn't been easy. There have been many hurdles for the BUKAL staff in winning the women's trust and encouraging them to join BUKAL's activities. There were times when the women were very unsure about BUKAL, particularly before they knew the organisation very well.

Gina explains: "Before, I really didn't like this sort of thing. When you [BUKAL staff] used to visit Quezon Avenue, I didn't want to talk about that sort of stuff. I'd just ask for condoms. We were busy on the street, we had lots of customers to entertain, so I didn't approach you. I used to say, 'Naku, what's that, are we going to go there? What would we be joining up with? Are we going to make money there?'"

At one of the seminars, Gina saw the good in women in the street getting together. "At one time, we went on an outing and then held a seminar. It was there that I saw that in each woman, there was concern [for others]. The women had dreams, not just in terms of their work, but other dreams, other desires and ambitions. I became interested in joining BUKAL."

Liza met BUKAL when she was in jail at Bicutan, and initially she had little trust in them. "Before, I admit it, if I was asked something, almost all my answers were untrue. Kung baga, wala sa script", she laughs. "I used to patch answers together. Maybe I was scared, anything could come out, couldn't it; but after a long time, I told the truth, until I knew [the BUKAL staff] better and better, and decided to become a core group member."

Gina and Liza are now two of the firmest members, and they have many dreams and plans for BUKAL and the women who they are in street prostitution with.

Liza believes that women in street prostitution need an organisation. Firstly, she says, the organisation "provides somewhere to ask for help".

According to Gina, you can tell your problems to the staff and members of BUKAL, including problems with work. "Every night we get customers," she says. " We don't know who we will go with. There is fear there, dread - [we think] maybe we'll die here with this customer. We can say this to BUKAL and our problems and fears lessen, because there is someone we can tell."

"Our first objective," says Liza, "is to help the women remove their fear of what they face". And this is easier to do if there are more women. Gina explains: "We want to shout out our rights, but the fear is still there. There needs to be support." This is one of the roles of the core group of BUKAL. "Whatever happens to us on the street, we have someone to go to, like Raquel at BUKAL. You can't always fight for yourself, you really need support."

Respect and trust are important here. According to Liza, "they know they won't be humiliated, there are people ready to listen to their problems". Gina adds, "even if I'm like this, even if I'm just a pick-up [girl], just a pimp, there are people who believe in me".

Part of this includes believing in yourself. Liza and Gina believe that they have rights. But they know that many people neither recognise nor respect the rights of women. This is particularly true for women in prostitution, and this, they say, is one of the reasons why it is difficult for women to leave prostitution.

"They are fearful", Gina says, because, "whatever they do to 'behave', to become 'clean', they can't do it because of what is around them. There is derision and insults, so they are scared. Even when 'decent' people see us, they can't understand us. In the eyes of others, we are not trustworthy. People say, "she's a flirt, a tart, because she's come from that sort of work". In their eyes, we're really small, because of the work we've done. Any person just wants to show their humanity - when people judge us as not worthy because of that work, it's painful to us."

But they believe blaming women in this way is wrong. Women in prostitution, they say, are the last to benefit from the industry. According to Liza, "government, police, almost all parts of government benefit". Men's needs are met, not women's. For example, she says, "at the social hygiene [clinics], men should be given check-ups as well, but they are not. They only make women have them. They are not for us - its not for women but rather to make sure that men don't get sick, when it's from men that such infections are transmitted, isn't it."

They also look at the role of men in continuing prostitution. Even while women are blamed, Gina and Liza believe that it is men who perpetuate the industry. In Gina's words, "sige, if there weren't any men, would we sell women on the corner? We'd stop!" Liza adds, "we didn't say, when I grow up, I want to be a prostituted woman, none of us said that. Its not something women want."

Liza and Gina believe that women in prostitution have rights, and they are strengthening their organisation to fight for these. Their dream is that many more women will join the organisation. In Liza's words, "I just want to continue establishing our organisation, so that it's not just us who experience workshops and have the experience of being part of BUKAL, but many other women as well."

The graphics on this page are details of drawings by Sandra Torrijos in Clipart vol.1 no.1, published by Isis International - Manila.

Bukluran ng Kababaihan sa Lansangan (BUKAL)
c/- CATW-AP, Suite 406 Victoria Condominium
41 Annapolis Street, Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila
Phone: 0011 63 2 722 0859
Fax: 0011 63 2 722 0755 c/- CATW-AP

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