WOMEN in politics. Women in public service. Women in military service. Women in commerce, trade and industry. Women in travel. Women in tourism. Women in science and technology. Women in education. Women in space. We have heard so much of them. Many of them have received awards from government agencies and non-government organizations.
I want to focus on Negrosanon women whom I call “special” (or rare) because sometimes society has forgotten them (or simply neglected). May I recognize the women who are working in the sugarcane fields. Their family names do not give a ring, but without them there is no sugarcane plantation. These women thrust sugarcane points in a row. (Only few men like to plant cane points.)
Fertilizer application in the sugarcane field follows a schedule and only women are best in that. It is said that women plant and fertilize. Men cultivate and cut. Cultivation and cutting cannot be completed without the participation of the special women. Wives have to wake up early in the morning to cook breakfast for their husbands who are going to the cane fields. Wives have to attend later to children who will share meager food.
My special women have to clean the house, wash the clothes, and pulverize the soil in the backyard garden that supplies vegetable for the family. By 9am, she cooks again (rice if there is any, and “laswa”, mixed vegetables) for their husbands’ lunch who will be back from work after “orit” (bastardized American word for “alright”, meaning that the work has been done).
Laborers in the cane fields do not earn that much, even during milling season. Off milling season means “tiempo muerto”, there is not enough work in the cane fields and that simply means that rice is not always available for the meal. Sometimes children have to go to school with their empty stomach. My special women have a special role in the family.
If the hacienda where they live is near the shoreline, then they have to catch up with the low tide so that they can scratch for seashells for consumption, to barter with rice, or to sell the extra harvest of seashells. Life is so complicated. My special women may harvest whatever vegetable is available in the backyard, or may look for “kulitis,” “kangkong” or “lupo” in the sugarcane field to be sold in the market.
The money could be used to buy a kilo of rice, few pieces of dried fish, and can of sardines. (To women who have not experienced this life for a decade or more, this could be something that is hard to understand.) Food is not the only concern. Sometimes mothers have to oblige their children to stop from going to school. A daily allowance of few pesos or the take-to-school snacks plus the classroom contribution has become a problem.
My special women are always meeting their apocalypse if the husband or the children get sick. Government hospitals are free but medicine is not always free. Not all sugarcane field workers have government hospital cards. Many of them do not know about this program. The poor wife may be forced to wash clothes in the family of government employees. The poor wife may be even obliged to work as household helper in the next town or even in Manila.
I don’t want this article to be an essay on agony. I am writing this because we are celebrating the women’s month in March. The UN theme for Women’s Day is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It!” Yes, I am giving you the picture of my special women. Could this empower them and humanity?
Our National Commission for Women has made a challenging theme, “Juana, Desisyon Mo Ay Mahalaga Sa Kinabukasan Ng Bawat Isa, Ikaw Na!” Yes, this is good but I am not sure if Juana knows about this. I am not sure also if my special women know that there is such thing as Republic Act 9710, the Magna Carta of Women.
What I know is…last March 8 (Sunday) there was the formal “Women’s Day Celebration Program” and a “Nationwide Street Dance Competition”. Ask the special women of Negros if this is fun or funny. I appeal to our “decorated women and women with honors” in our society to give a second look to the Juanas who are my special women of Negros. Thank you for the anticipated favor.