KASAMA Vol. 15 No. 3 / July-August-September 2001 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Bayanihan International Solidarity Conference 2001
Philippine Civil Society and International Solidarity Partners:
Strengthening Local & Global Advocacy Initiatives
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines, 24-26 August 2001

The Conference Address from the All Women's Caucus convened on September 23rd was delivered by AIDA SANTOS, from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) and Women's Education Development Productivity and Research Organization (WEDPRO Inc.)

My task today is two-fold: one is to share with you the highlights of an All Women's Caucus held in conjunction with the International Solidarity Conference, and two, provide a framework that shall enable the present Conference to move forward in understanding and acting on women's concerns.

Yesterday, around 70 - 80 women gathered to participate in the All Women's Caucus for the International Solidarity Conference at PCED Hostel in the University of the Philippines campus. Representatives from local women's groups, people's organizations and institutions, together with sisters from the Philippine solidarity network and overseas Filipino groups, discussed issues and concerns that attempted to address the following objectives:

In the morning, three resource speakers spoke on sexual and reproductive rights politics, women and political economy, and governance, namely: Dr. Junice Melgar of Likhaan, a local women's organization with a focus on health, Josefa "Gigi" Francisco of DAWN and the Miriam College and Ana Maria R. Nemenzo of Womanhealth-Philippines and the National Anti-Poverty Commission, respectively. Later in the afternoon, two sisters from the Netherlands and the United States, Malu Padilla of the BABAYLAN Philippine Network and Celia Vinas from the Peacemaking Committee Swarthmore Presbyterian Church, shared with the participants their work and insights on solidarity work, emphasizing the need to find their work and insights on solidarity work, emphasizing the need to find new modes - hopefully creative and innovative - of strengthening with the Filipino people and particularly women.

The plenary sessions revealed that through the years, women both from the South and North have continuously struggled to "mainstream" their issues and concerns of Left organizations to marginalize if not trivialize women's agenda. There is a great expectation, therefore, that such is not going to be the case in this solidarity conference.

Very briefly, let me share with you the results of the small group discussions with the following thematic concerns: formal and informal labor, food security and bio-diversity, migration, and prostitution and trafficking. The small groups discussed major issues in each thematic concern, common actions and strategies in our desire to integrate women's issues in the present conference. Taking off from the morning discussion, the groups wove the exchange around globalization and capitalism and its impact on women. Across the four themes, the participants identified the linkages between macro global issues, such as the GATT/WTO agreements, international treaties/conventions affecting women, and how these directly impact on women in the South, and particularly women in the Philippines.

The spheres of production and reproduction - often understood as the public and private spheres of human life - were seen to be in a continuum, where women's marginal status in public life directly implicates their reproductive roles in the so called private sphere of social relations. Non-valuation of women's reproductive work was cited as a major issue by the participants in the formal and informal labor workshop, along with trade union concerns, globalization, and the feminization of labor.

With the discussion on GATT/WTO by the participants in the food security and bio-diversity workshop, came along, for example ethical concerns about the way that multinational companies market milk formula (e.g. Nestle) that not only dump their products in countries in the South but promote a culture where women are alienated from their natural reproductive capacity of breastfeeding and perpetuate a consumer oriented behavior.

One thing that was missed out and I'd like to raise it now, is the issue of toxic waste as a result of the presence of the US military bases.

In the migration workshop, the participants identified racism, discrimination and xenophobia - and if I may add, sexism - as major problems facing migrant workers, the lack of legal protection and awareness of migrant issues. The prostitution and trafficking workshop came out with a list of major concerns that ranged from the concern about the Visiting Forces Agreement, or VFA, to violence committed against women, and of course, the seemingly inevitable problem of prostitution. Additionally, globalization is happening as militarism deepens and strengthens in many parts of the world.

The women were articulate about not only the concerns, but especially with how they want to act on these. The range of actions - from global and national policy reforms to specific campaigns such as the call for appropriate labeling of consumer products - especially in the light of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) - is a challenge to the present conference.

Women want their aspirations articulated and acted on now, both as a solidarity agenda and a national agenda of all progressive/nationalist and Left organizations in the country. For example, we want to call for the institutionalization of sanctions against TNC violations that hopefully can be brought to international court of justice; to lobby UN agencies and other international bodies to address women-specific problems that violate women's human rights in all its aspects.

We want to debate on the issues of prostitution and trafficking, a concern that has divided the global women's movement, and whether legalizing prostitution is the best way that we can begin to address the myriad human rights violations including reproductive rights concerns of those trapped in the sex industry. (Parenthetically, in the Philippines, the legalization of prostitution is a dead issue among organized communities of women in prostitution and women's groups. Corollary, we want our male comrades to investigate their own motives, their own actions when it comes to sexual exploitation of women and children in the forms of prostitution and pornography.)

Clearly, women's issues are not simply a sectoral concern. Women belong to different social classes and ethnic/race groups. Women are farmers, fisherfolks, workers, professionals, academics, athletes, revolutionaries, church workers, migrants, as they are daughters, mothers, wives. Our issues belong to all sectors, and all issues are our issues. As such, it is imperative that our agenda is also everyone's agenda, at the global, regional and national levels.

Our solidarity work demands that we examine globalization and all its related items as a central task. This is an arena that needs global action and global solidarity. Across the world, the use of women in the globalized markets, whether as migrant workers or as sexual commodities is a reality that has not escaped even the patriarchal world of international bodies. In peace and war times, women and children are the primary victims of marginalization, subordination, violence, and sexual exploitation. Sex trafficking as exploited migration has been an agenda of international bodies. As solidarity workers and human rights advocates, it is an imperative that we seriously address this issue.

Globalization has created markets that demand through the years increasing female labor, manual and sexual, productive and reproductive. It is on women's productive and reproductive roles that the global industries have based it on - consumer products that ostensibly make women's work lighter and manageable and reproductive technologies that shape and reshape our lives as women and men. Poverty continues to wear a woman's face.

The age of technology is upon us. Boon it is, undoubtedly. Communications has never been this quick and systematic, but with it came a host of intensified problems for the peoples of the South and particularly women. You want a domestic helper? Put in your order through the Internet. You want a sex slave? The Internet provides you with an international gallery of women from the former Eastern European States down to a village in Indonesia. You want sex? There's Internet sex anytime you want it. You want a wife? Surf the Internet that glamorizes women from the South as loyal, obedient, god fearing virgins. One Internet site even advertised Filipino women as low maintenance wives. In the same breath, this is the same technology that gives us the up to the minute information on the stock markets, the trading scenes, travels, the news, the music, culture, books, and of course, the weather from Amsterdam to Zimbabwe.

The whole world has become an arena for our advocacy. The global developments are our theater for our activism. To address women's issues is to address half of the world's problems. To gain successes on the women's front is to claim half of our victory. For we are not only half of the world's populations, we are also reproducers of the world itself, through our labor, love and life. And we reclaim the centrality of our life, the centrality of our security as women and as part of our people.

Let me end with a quotation from Audre Lorde, black, activist, woman, poet, lesbian, cancer victim: "Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society's definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference - those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are black, who are older - know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master's house as their only source of support."

Solidarity among women, and solidarity with us by our male comrades - this is the call of our struggles.

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