All about women

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Monday, March 10, 2014


MARCH is women’s month. Interestingly, I used to be a member of an organization that vigorously pushed for women’s rights. I won’t write about the serious side of that push and of the women martyrs the organization produced. I would tackle the lighter side.

In a way, the push for women’s equality was not difficult to follow because I joined the organization when I was young and single. The effort to practice it would surely have been more difficult if I was already married. That was where the real challenge would have come.

In the organization, gender wasn’t a consideration, whether in promotion or the assignment of tasks. In my early years in the group, I was reporting to women whose intellect, courage and bravery I admired greatly.

When I was deployed to the hinterlands of Cebu City, for example, a woman supervised the transfer of our collective into a rough countryside surrounding. Not only that.

The woman was pregnant. We referred to her as “Buntis Five,” a play on the then popular “Voltes 5” television program. We weren’t conscious then of that term’s association with heroic deeds.

But consider how punishing the terrain was. After we got off the rickety jeepney that transported us and our equipment through the length of a wide river at night, we had to follow a tributary of that river up a hilly terrain. We walked, with only the light of a flashlight to guide us, on wet river floor rocks, one step at a time, careful not to lose our balance and break a bone or skull.

A man in his late thirties would later take over in guiding our collective. I thought he looked like Saro, a member of the popular singing group Asin, or the Pinoy version of John Lennon of the Beatles. He was bespectacled, frail and soft-spoken. He was with his wife, who endured with him the hardships of countryside life.

The wife was also frail and had constant bouts with asthma. But she was a good organizer even if she was sickly and tried to persevere in the punishing environment.

One time, she presided over a meeting even if she found it difficult to breath. When her condition worsened, she gave up the presiding task to another person, but continued to participate in the deliberations by writing her thoughts on paper instead of stating these orally.

What we considered radical at that time was the rule that a woman could court a man she had a liking for. That rule was a challenge for women, its use dependent on the level of awareness they had achieved. It was also jarring for the men.

The courting process, though was different. Every member of the organization belonged to a collective. If one wants to court somebody, he or she has to ask the permission of the collective. If the one being courted is a member of another collective, the intention to court is first made known to the concerned collective before the woman and the man could meet.

This makes it easier for a woman to court a man. All she has to do is tell the collective about her feelings. It is the collective that schedules her meeting with the man she is courting. Meaning that when they finally meet, the preliminaries have already been dispensed with.

When I was informed for the first time by my collective in the countryside that a woman from the city was intending to court me, I felt weird. I was the butt of jokes from friends. The courtship didn’t prosper, though, because I was intending to court
another woman.

I would go through that process two more times. But the one that really caught me off-guard was that made by a young peasant woman. In a feudal setup, women are meek and shy. That she gained the courage to express her feelings showed that she had acquired a higher level of awareness of her rights.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 11, 2014.

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