Women's liberation in the Philippines


TERESITA CARPIO works in the Midas garment factory in the Philippines where, in 1986, she was a founder of the first workplace trade union. Since then she has held the position of union secretary. She is also an executive committee member of the United Workers of the Philippines, a trade union federation representing 30,000 workers, and leads the Committee on Women in that federation.
Carpio is a founding member and chairperson of Masadiwa, an alliance of trade union leaders in 20 factories in the communities of Manggahan, Santolan and Dela Paz. Masadiwa, which also means spirit of the masses, is actively involved in many campaigns for workers' rights and social justice. It also campaigns around economic issues such as the oil price rises in 1994 and the impact of GATT on the Filipino people.
Carpio recently completed a three month speaking tour in Australia. The following is an abridged section of a talk she gave to a public meeting in Sydney.

Kababaihan, the women's organisation I am representing, was formed in October 1993 and had its founding congress in February this year. I was elected general secretary at that congress.

Kababaihan began with women activists from different sectoral organisations coming together to discuss women's issues and problems. Its membership is primarily based in the trade unions and the urban poor organisations, although a few of our members come from university women's groups and non-government organisation offices. Kababaihan is known in the Philippines as a grassroots-based women's organisation. This, in a way, differentiates us from other women's organisations which have a largely middle-class membership.

Kababaihan's baptism of fire occurred during the Miss Universe pageant held in the Philippines last year. To counteract this useless exercise, which was costing the Philippines millions of pesos and was not contributing at all to the real image of Filipino women, we organised a rally in front of the Malacanang Palace. At that rally we parodied the Miss Universe contest by staging our own contest, not a beauty contest, but a reality contest. We held contests for Miss Poverty, Miss Rape, Miss Low Wages and others, all representing a women's issue.

Kababaihan is still a young organisation, and that rally was an important and successful action for us. It was widely covered in the media and enabled us to present the reality that confronts the majority of women in the Philippines. But we look forward to being able to have a more active profile in the women's movement soon, not through parodying women's issues, but through real militant struggle.

Socialist politics

Kababaihan is an explicitly socialist women's organisation. Our slogan for International Women's Day last year was, "No socialism without women's liberation, no women's liberation without socialism".

Kababaihan attributes the impoverishment of Filipino women, and their domination by men, primarily to the capitalist system and the effects of imperialism in the Philippines. This view is different from some women's groups, which point to feudalism and the feudal structures as the main causes of the oppression of women.

Certainly, some feudal culture and even some vestiges of feudal structures remain in the Philippines today, but to say that they are the main causes of women's oppression propagates the lie that capitalism lessens gender inequality.

In fact, the majority of Filipino people, half of whom are women, live in abject poverty and are marginalised because they have been dispossessed and exploited as workers or unemployed workers. That is, the integration of the Philippine economy into global capitalism represents the main cause of our suffering.

For us this means that the only way to liberate women is to dismantle the capitalist structure of private property and accumulation, which uses and maintains gender inequality.

The capitalist system oppresses women in so many ways. One is through the patriarchal family unit and the relegation of women primarily to the role of reproducers of labour power and unwaged domestic labourer within the home. Where women are hired by industry, they suffer even greater exploitation than male workers. They receive less pay and are relegated to jobs with no prospect of improvement.

The system as a whole also propagates the commodification of women's bodies such that they have always been regarded as the private property and playthings of men.

This is the general framework in which Kababaihan is trying to address the question of women's oppression in the Philippines.

Consciousness raising

As a new organisation, Kababaihan has just begun a campaign of membership recruitment and chapter [branch] building. We are concentrating on joining women members of trade unions and urban poor organisations, although we are also reaching out to the unorganised women in factories, in the communities and in schools.

To consolidate our membership, we distribute and discuss with new members an orientation manual that we have drafted about the women's movement in the Philippines.

We also conduct consultations on women's problems, starting with the needs that our members identify as the most important to them. Through these consultations, we plan to formulate a program of demands that will be the basis of our future campaigns.

The backward culture that prevails in the Philippines as a result of our country's exploitation and underdevelopment in global capitalism means we often encounter difficulties in explaining our ideas. Even among our male comrades, our ideas are very new and sometimes appear too radical.

So Kababaihan is patiently and consciously reaching out to men through our basic women's orientation courses too. When we talk with the male leaders of the trade unions or the urban poor organisations, for example, we start with the political effects of the women's problems in their own organisations and then look for concrete things that the organisation can do to heighten women's participation.

We tell them that this problem is connected with women's oppression, and dealing with it means advocating women's liberation through women's education, training and organising.

Instead of directly confronting the men about their sexist remarks, jokes or mannerisms — which means engaging them in emotional battles that do not resolve things but just drain everyone's energies — we talk concrete politics. We believe that political understanding of the problem is the key to arriving at a unity between oppressed men and women and to advancing both the women's emancipation and the class emancipation movements.


Of course, understanding the sources of women's oppression and how it is maintained is only part of the solution. Doing something concrete to develop the women's movement is another thing. That is why we are developing a list of women's issues and demands that have to be addressed now.

This list includes women's demands for employment, equal pay, job security, maternity benefits, housing and education. We also demand the expansion of the coverage of human rights to include women's reproductive rights — the right to choose and the right to abortion. We are currently working with a group of women lawyers who are helping us to establish a legislative lobbying campaign around women's rights.

Another crucial project for us at the moment is to work towards unifying the women's movement in the Philippines. Inclusiveness and an openness to work together are and must continue to be defining characteristics of the women's movement. While it is not a bad thing that there are various feminist currents in the Philippines, Kababaihan believes that we have to relate to each other if we are to advance women's liberation in general as well as in specific concrete fields.

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