Centuries ago, women did not have the right to suffrage. There were no women serving in public office, making decisions in the board room, or studying to earn a university degree.
Today, because of the countless selfless and tireless efforts of the early feminists, women are able to hold advanced degrees in practically every academic discipline, including law, medicine and engineering, which, in ages past, used to be dominated by men. I still recall these powerful words from speeches made during the Centennial of the Philippine Feminist Movement back in 2005: We have built our lives on the backs of our mothers and grandmothers, and nurture our dreams on the blood and sweat of our sisters. It would be difficult to imagine what women would be today if our feminist foremothers and foresisters did not stand up to fight for the rights we currently enjoy.
We have borne witness to women elected into public office. In fact, nowadays, it is no longer a novelty for women to ascend to the highest positions of the land, as President or Prime Minister. Filipinos can take pride in being the first in Asia to earn the right to suffrage and the first in Asia to have a woman president. Women voters all over the world are now considered a powerful force, able to shape the future of politics in their country.
In the yearly celebrations of Women’s Month every month of March, we have probably come across people quoting the ancient Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky.” But with the growing number of women and the corresponding increase in women’s valuable contributions to society, I believe women today are holding up more than half the sky.
Women are natural leaders. We manage our homes well and can more than manage a country competently. We are good economic managers and know the needs of our citizens like the needs of our own children. We are naturally nurturing, we listen and value dialogue and consultation. We are attuned to the needs of others. We care for the environment. We are prayerful. As the late Philippine President and first woman President in Asia Corazon Aquino once said, “Politics must not remain a bastion of male dominance, for there is much that women can bring into politics that would make our world a kinder, gentler place for humanity to thrive in.”
While we have gained much ground to improve the status of women, there is still much that is left to be done. Women account for half the world’s population, but also represent a staggering 70% of the world’s poor, bereft of opportunities to chart their future and make a significant, positive impact on society. These women continue to suffer injustice, discrimination, and all sorts of obstacles that get in the way of their basic needs, whether it be good health, safe childbirth, quality education or a decent employment.
Freeing disadvantaged women from these chains so that all women can enjoy the benefits of sustainable development necessitates that all of us, whether man or woman, not only take their needs into account, but put these at the front and center. After all, being a true feminist is not about gender but about believing in human rights and having the conviction to fight for the rights of women to be part of that definition of human rights.
We have a duty to uphold and enrich the noble tradition of feminism. This Women’s Month, let us remember and pay tribute to the original spirit of dignity, intelligence and vitality, which the early feminists showed, and pass on the flame to the next generation.