Category Archives: Women



I just finished watching this really heartbreakingly real documentary called Motherland  on POV/PBS. I started and stopped and started it again about 5 times because I was crying my eyes out.

I’m not exactly sure what to write about but I am feeling compelled to think through writing.

There’s no context or interviews or voiceover. Throughout the documentary we see the labor and delivery room in the hospital where, at times, three Filipinas are laboring on one gurney at a time. Birthing mothers are rushed off to give birth right at the moment of pushing, no sooner. There’s just not enough tables. The postpartum main hall shows two recovering mothers with premature babies (2 or 3) per bed. Many of the mothers practice “KMC” or Kangaroo Mother Care where premature babies are supposed to be skin to skin 24/7. There’s anywhere between 140-150 mothers with their babies at any given time.

The images of Filipinas shown as birthing bodies are overwhelming. Many of them are on their 4th, 5th, 6th or 7th child. As you are overhearing the intake interview with hospital staff, you learn that many of the women have barely a secondary education. None of them have jobs. Neither do most of their husbands. They don’t know how they’ll be paying for the cost of their hospital bill (some of them choosing to leave early because they can’t pay). Some live in urban poor dwellings or “squatters”.

There’s no real discussion of the dereliction of the state. Instead the social workers and nursing are convincing many mothers and fathers to engage in family planning or get tubal ligation or an IUD. Over mounds of paper work, social workers say that the government has “no money”. Into the blank stares of parents, “no money” goes into one ear and out of the other.

Ok, so what’s bothering me?

I think the documentary is compelling. It is a glimpse into what the lives and plight of Filipino women in the Philippines. It gives a clear basis for a disruptive change in Philippine society.

What they need is structural family planning. What they need is more public assistance. What they need is jobs to pay their bills. What they need is prenatal care. What they need are public institutions that work to their benefit and not at the expense of them and their children.

But there’s none of that in the film. You could walk away and think, “Those Filipinas are just irresponsible birthing bodies.” And perhaps from a Westernized gaze, people could see these mothers as unloving and not nurturing. In their eyes, postpartum, isn’t a warm fuzzy gaze of a mother in love with a newborn. Rather, they have a vision of a future that is laden with struggle and want.

Filipino women’s lives are mired in the contradictions of feudalism, bureaucrat capitalist greed and US imperialism. I think this documentary demonstrates that. It just needs a little help in terms of naming the larger societal evils so that people don’t blame the women in the documentary.



How to Raise Feminist Kids

A New York Times published a piece called, “How to Raise a Feminist SonHow to Raise a Feminist Son” written by Claire Cain Miller popped up on my Facebook feed a couple of days. And of course, since the arrival of my son (my partner and I chose to keep the sex of our baby secret until he revealed himself), I’ve been thinking more and more how I can raise a man that respects women (both trans and cis) and people of all sexualities. I have been thinking of how this world is riddled with toxic masculinity ala Trumpian buffoonery and all kinds masculinity that doesn’t honor women.

But I also think about how I want to raise my daughter with feminist ideals. How do I raise her to protect her body? To understand consent? Not to be ashamed when someone calls her “sassy” or “bossy” which is often a gendered comment that never gets tagged on to her male cousins (also, how do I not feel ashamed when someone calls her that and inherently assumes that I allow for that “attitude)?

Anyway, I’m gonna get to my point but I’m gonna do it by talking about a pink pony.

So, a friend of ours had his daughter’s birthday party at a Build-A-Bear workshop. I was hoping that my daughter, Aya, would pick a regular schmegular bear so she could dress it up as a bear doctor or a bear astronaut–two of the things she’s super into. Instead, my lil homegirl chooses a pink unicorn pony with long tresses of purple and teal hair and eyes too big for its head but made for cuteness and a baby pink pinker than its body unicorn horn.

I look at it and I’m like, what? There’s so. much. pink.

But she loved it. Like at first sight. She hugged it and named it Porcupine.

I took her back to the choosing aisle and showed her the regular bear and what we could do with it but she was like, “I want Porcupine.” For real? Yes, yes she only wanted Porcupine, the Pink Pony/Unicorn. A little part of my feminist heart was crushed and the crumbs of it got blown away by Porcupine’s hair whip.

So, it was.

Here’s the lesson I learned from it: I gotta learn how to let Aya and Cy make their own decisions. I think this idea of self-determination is pretty freakin’ key, y’all.

When whole countries don’t have the ability to determine their nation’s political, economic and social agenda, they are often corrupted into the biggest and loudest voices–ahem, US imperialism. For example, the cancellation of the fifth round of peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippine is reflective of current President Détente’s inability to determine a Philippine political agenda that fits into the type of country many Filipinos want it to be–a country based on just peace.

If I can learn a lesson from geopolitics, I think I can apply that to raising my children. After all, as a friend Johanna Almiron-Johnson once said, the work of raising these children is the work of nation-building.

What if raising feminist children is not just about teaching them to treat the sexes equally?

What if its about allowing them self-determination?

Diwang Pinay for academics

In 2009, I had the privilege of being part of a dynamic group of people that did research, wrote and acted in a play and built very strong basis for community-building and migrant worker organizing in New York City. That year, Diwang Pinay as a theatrical production was the first and most impactful way we shared our process. Years later, as the play continues to stay with me, I’ve written about it for academics. The article will be free for 30 days and you can peep what it’s about on Action Research Journal’s blog.

If that doesn’t work, the link is here:

DPBackgroundlong v1.1

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To Be A Woman in the Philippines

This picture is from a mobilization for International Women’s Day in the Philippines. The yellow sign says, “Fight (President) Aquino’s Oil Cartel Conspiracy!” and another sign says, “Decrease the Prices of Oil!”  The women are hurling paint balls at the US embassy in this picture as a militant protest to the collusion of the US government, its corporations with the Philippine government. This action commemorates international actions for women’s rights but it also reflects the widespread problem of the rising costs of basic goods. This is an example of womanhood in the Philippines.

A recent article in Foreign Policy, entitle “Five Surprisingly Good Places to Be A Woman” lauds the Philippines as its first site to be surprised about when thinking about the good life for women. I read this article and was irritated by its confluence of the closing of the “gender gap” and a good life for women.

Here are three things that I’d urge you to think about a bit more:

1. Foreign Policy lists “educational attainment” and “health and survival” as top ranking statistics for women in the Philippines. But without a discussion on the hotly debated and often rejected Reproductive Health Bill (See Gabriela Women’s Party’s speech)? This bill that prioritizes education about women’s health and survival keeps getting knocked down.

The second paragraph in the Philippine feature states the obvious caveats that religious (and I’d argue, capitalist) patriarchy also puts the Philippines as the only country in the world who hasn’t legalized divorce or abortion or contraceptives. Yay, what a great place to be as a woman.

2. Being a woman in the Philippines can only be good if her father, son, daughter, bakla neighbor, etc. has a good life. The women in that above picture aren’t fighting for oil decrease for women. They are fighting for oil prices to decrease for everyone. The idea that women will have it good because they can read as fast as men is misleading. Yes, education is important. But so is food. If no one has access to basic goods or jobs, how can life be good for women if its not good for men?

How good is it to be a woman in a country where life isn’t good for any person?

I don’t think the only accurate measure of a having a good life for a woman is their ability to work in the same place as men. I think its better to measure women’s well-being in context of their people’s well-being.

3. The only thing I do agree with Foreign Policy about is that women in the Philippines have a good sense of their democratic and revolutionary potential. The picture above which includes one of my personal sheroes, Nanay Neri (in the purple shirt hurling a paint ball) who is a mass leader of women’s organizations from the urban poor sector, shows that women feel the need to act, militantly and without reserve, against the neoliberal retreats of the state. They don’t only feel the need to act. But they act. All the time. Every day. In new ways. That’s good. Really good.

Happy Women’s History Month!

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RH Bill in the Philippines

The RH Bill has and continues to stir all kinds of frenzy in the Philippines, the only country in the world that still hasn’t made divorce illegal nor has it legislated comprehensive reproductive health education and services. In the 21st century, the resistance of the Philippine government to provide women with access to pap smears, breast and cervical cancer scans, etc. is at best negligent and, at very worst, abhorrent.

Of course we can’t keep the Catholic church’s influence out of this disucssion. A relative of mine, a staunch anti-RH Bill person, has said before its ‘population control’ that we need not birth control or abortion. The problem with that is that  ‘Population control’ attributes a growing population to the unruly behavior of poor people, without taking into consideration the lack of education and health services that is needed for family planning.

Anyway, just recently the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has tried to catch the Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP), one of the co sponsors of the House Bill 4244 otherwise known as the RH Bill, in the snares of the population control debate, claiming that GWP  admits that the bill they themselves are proposing is not “pro-poor and pro-women.” They left out the rest of the sentence that said that the RH Bill can’t be pro-poor and pro-women “as long as it espouses population control.”

Bulatlat has a better written piece on this HERE.

I think we, Filipino Americans, who think we’re thousands of miles away from the islands from this debate need to listen up (or at least READ up), since similar retreats from basic women’s health care and attacks on women’s bodies are happening right here at home too.

Rep. Luz Ilagan, one of my modern day heroines has written a response which I’m quoting below:

21 February 2012


CBCP for Life

470 Gen. Luna St., Intramuros
1002 Manila, Philippines


Dear Editors,


In the interest of fairness and accuracy we hope that the “CBCP for Life” will find space for this clarificatory statement in response to an article which appeared in the “CBCP for Life” website on February 20, 2012. The undersigned was quoted out of context thus making it appear that Gabriela, a primary author and advocate for the RH bill supposedly admits that the RH bill is not pro-poor and pro-women.


Gabriela Women’s Party has long advocated for a national reproductive health policy that will guarantee marginalized women’s full access to comprehensive maternal and reproductive healthcare.


The consolidated RH bill currently contains several provisions that will help ensure poor women and children’s access to healthcare, such as the following:


§  Mobile health clinics that will ensure the delivery of health services to far-flung communities and barangays.

§  Improvement and upgrade of equipment available in public health care facilities, including barangay health centers to ensure that they are able to conduct basic reproductive health care procedures such as pap smears.

§  Pro-bono reproductive health care services for indigent women by making it mandatory for all health care workers to provide at least 48 hours annually of reproductive health services free of charge to indigent patients, especially pregnant adolescents.


However, the RH Bill currently contains three provisions pertaining to population control:


§  Section 2, Guiding Principles, (l): The limited resources of the country cannot be suffered to be spread so thinly to service a burgeoning multitude that makes the allocations grossly inadequate and effectively meaningless;

§  Section 12, Integration of Responsible Parenthood and Family Planning Component in Anti-Poverty Programs; and

§  Section 25, Implementing Mechanism, where the Population Commission, rather than the DOH per se, is mandated to serve as the coordinating body in the implementation of this bill.


Gabriela Women’s Party believes the RH bill’s provisions on population control will overshadow its pro-poor provisions and threatens to effectively confine the delivery of reproductive and maternal health care services to the implementation of population control programs, the distribution of contraceptives and population control mechanisms.


Moreover, the population control aspects of the RH bill conveniently blame poverty on women’s bodies, fertility and population while disregarding the impact of social inequities and neo-liberal policies on the country’s growing hunger and poverty.


Gabriela Women’s Party remains firm in its position against population control. It will continue to push for amendments to the bill, including the removal of provisions pertaining to population control.


Gabriela Women’s Party will continue to fight for full women’s access to healthcare and fight not just for the retention of the pro-poor provisions in the RH bill but will also fight for increased budgetary allocation for healthcare as well as the granting of increased maternity benefits for women workers, among others.


Lastly, it is our fervent hope that the Catholic hierarchy, with its preferential option for the poor, will join us in the struggle for genuine reforms to help uplift the lives of poor Filipino women and their families.






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What’s so Super About Being a Maid? The Philippine’s Supermaid Program and Women’s False Empowerment

The erstwhile president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, launched a domestic worker training program called, the “Supermaid” (or “Supernanny”) Program in 2006 to increase the professionalization of Filipino women leaving the country as domestics. The program teaches Filipino women things like seven ways to cook eggs or how to change a diaper with speed and precision. The Supermaid Program prides itself with shipping the best kind domestic worker all over the world: a Filipino woman whose innate domestic skills have been honed and sharpened.

Since the export of migrant workers tops the national list for exports in the Philippines, administrations from Corazon Aquino to the current president, her son, Benigno Aquino II, have invested in managing the profitable $19 billion per year migration industry. In recent years, these investments have rode the international feminist wave, claiming that migration leads to women’s autonomy and empowerment. The gendered rhetoric of “bagong bayani” or modern heroes often rely on tropes of mothers, daughters, and sisters obligation to their family; twisting an old patriarchal logic on its head while distracting Filipino women with tales of travel and ability to support their families.

In reality, even if Filipino women are the best domestic workers in the world, the false hope of “empowerment” through migration leaves women in low-wage gendered labor often without worker rights in their different destination countries. Without international standards and varying national labor regulations, domestic worker jobs are often insecure, contractual and highly susceptible to exploitation. So what’s so super about being a maid anyway?

Today, it’s easy to say that women’s presence in any and all workplaces can be called a feminist victory. But we must be wary of what we trade for those victories. For women in developing nations, celebrating advances based only on gender liberation oftentimes fall flat as women are still exploited as low-wage workers, in their own countries and abroad. Although Filipino women are working, traveling the world and bringing home the bacon, they are still seen as third-class citizens in their new homes as they take up gendered work as immigrant workers. And that’s not super at all.