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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Of Women and Peace

(02.2002, for a “Women’s Day” oratorical contest in Naga City)

We propose to work for global peace by waging a local war. We propose to chant “Peace on Earth,” by fighting for a just cause here on our little piece of earth.

For as a drop of one pebble on a pond’s corner eventually creates ripples across the whole water surface, so will the faintest cry of a woman here ultimately blend with the sweet chorus of a global struggle.

Countless women have dropped their pebbles somewhere into the sea of time and humanity much watered by women’s tears: Elizabeth Stanton demanded suffrage, and the United States trembled; Golda Meir whispered her wish for her people, and the world made way for her to found the State of Israel; Molly Blackburn silently stood in protest with her black sash, and South Africa cried out against apartheid; Nahid Toubia spoke in Sudan against female genital mutilation, and the African continent was incensed; Mary Daly lashed out at foot binding, and China listened; Chun-Hyung-Kyung recounted the horrors of Korean comfort women, and Asia was moved to tears…

Yes, these women made faint splashes, and eventually the whole sea gathered waves.

But lest we forget, these splashes were made not only on foreign shores: In 1868, nuns built in Naga City the first Philippine normal school for women, and Bicolanas got the envy of the nation; Margarita Roxas shared her fortune, and Spain put up La Concordia in Sta. Ana, Manila; organizers of the Associacion Feminista Filipina banded together in 1905 to fight for women’s welfare, and Congress granted mothers their maternity leave with pay; Pilar Lim lectured, Charito Planas took oath as Manila City’s first woman councilor, and womanhood was roused to ambition; June Keithly aired her daily broadcasts, and EDSA I swept Cory Aquino to power; Clarissa Ocampo faced off with the best lawyers Erap Estrada could summon, and EDSA II installed Gloria Arroyo to the Presidency…

Time indeed fails us to fully scan our roster of heroines. We can only do as much to tell the world that somewhere, some time a woman sowed, another watered, and we continued to reap the fruits of their labors.

These women refused to be cloistered within male-created walls, and in the open air stunned the world with feminine power. They realized that there could be no real peace when women would content themselves with the silence of a cemetery, while men enjoy the bustle of a city.

And they tell us that our struggle is not for one whose will crumbles at the slightest tremor, but for one who, amidst storms of abuse and rejection, stands gracefully like the stately bamboo. This is not to say that we just sway with the wind; it is to say that we harness the power of the wind that would drive our bamboo spears to the heart of injustice. Nor is this to say that we fight on the arid sands of physical warfare; it is to say that we battle on the fertile valley of diplomacy.

We henceforth pledge to continue this struggle for as long as girls are treated as sexual commodities, and wives as punching bags. We will not be silenced while men continue to use religion to trample upon our dignity as spiritual beings. We will keep questioning until men cease to believe that more children means more wealth. We will continue to work our way up while there is still a gavel to hold in the courts of law, or a helm to command in the halls of our government.

But, as the battle must be drawn into our own trenches, we will have to fight against our own. For as long as girls continue to fuel the flames of manly lust through vampish displays in posters, newspapers or televisions, and wives remain as silent partners of abusive husbands, this struggle will not be over soon among us.

And we will take to heart that swimming against the current does not mean heading towards the waterfall of disaster: that the wildfire of “patri-kyriarchism” cannot be extinguished by fanning the hot winds of “matri-natzism”; that gender parity cannot be paraded by duplicating the vices of men; that domestic abuse cannot be remedied by tearing the whole house down.

They say women are from Venus, and men are from Mars. But I wonder, can’t they be both from Earth? Must we collide Venus and Mars and so incinerate ourselves? Is it not possible for Eros to wield the golden bow and for Mars to supply the blazoned arrows?

Ah, yes, it is good enough to know one’s right, better to articulate it, and best to fight for it when necessary. But as Rome advises, in medio stat virtus.

Fellow members of huwomanity, in this war for peace we will be weary, we will be harassed. But we will march on, knowing that the smallest steps we take mean giant leaps for womankind. These smallest steps are taken when mothers rear their children well, when coeds make their parents and teachers proud, when women volunteers make refugees glad.

And so here as a woman I stand, I can do no other. I will not take as final answer that I am the weakest link in this game show of life! I can be as steadfast as the strongest link. I am an indispensable part of the long chain of life.

I will fight this good fight, I will finish my course, I will keep the faith in feminine power. And no one can just kick me goodbye!

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