USA: Saluting women and women’s causes on International Women’s Day

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Words and photos by Dionesio C. Grava

It’s a yearly event but that doesn’t mean we don’t honor them everyday. March 8 every year has been designated International Women’s Day and for that PWD takes this opportunity to reflect and appreciate the transitions and the expansion in status that the fairer sex has attained in the world stage. Originally called International Working Women’s Day, Wikipedia says that current-time focus ranges from general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women to a celebration for women’s economic, political and social achievements.

It’s not that the ancients had no share of women notables. For examples, there was Joan of Arc and Parisian women were already protesting during the French Revolution. They were already around at a time when many of today’s nations were not existing yet. Egypt had queens as sovereigns: Hatshepsut, Nefertiti and Cleopatra. Ditto with England Eleanor of Aquitaine, Victoria and Elizabeth I). There was Queen Isabella I of Spain, Queen Catherine of France, Mary Queen of Scots, Catherine the Great of Russia and Liliuokalani, the last Monarch of Hawaii.

In the homeland the Filipina Women’s Network has a list of our women greats in the time of the Katipuneros: Teresa Magbanua, Agueda Kahabagan, Marcela Agoncillo, Gregoria Montoyo, Glicera Villavicencio, Melchora Aquino, Gregoria De Jesus and Agueda Esteban.

The US Coast Guard website has an entry about Philippine-born Florence Finch who managed to disguise her American features and managed to secure a job with the Japanese-controlled Philippine Liquid Fuel Distributing Union after Manila fell during World War II.

“She was responsible for writing vouchers for the distribution of fuel. Working closely with the Philippine Underground, she was able to divert fuel supplies to the resistance as well as assist in arranging acts of sabotage against the Japanese occupation forces… assisted the prisoners as best they could, smuggling food and medicine to them.”

The Japanese caught up with Ms. Finch’s activities and she was imprisoned and tortured. She was liberated by American forces on Feb. 10, 1945 and has been a New York resident ever since. She was awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon, the Medal of Freedom and in 1995 the Coast Guard honored her service by naming an administration building on a base on Sand Island, Hawaii, after her. Her place of birth also bestowed on Florence Ebersole Smith Finch the Philippine Defense Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Asiatic Campaign Medal and the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation Badge.

Reflecting on its origin, a feminist organization called AF3IRM designated March 8 as the International Women Workers’ Day in Los Angeles and in other parts of the US. PWD was there to witness a local community event entitled “Celebrate the Working Woman” held at The Park’s Finest, a food place in West Temple Street.

The evening program billed as “a night of art, poetry, music, food, love and community in honor of women’s work and working women” had an international flavor. That’s probably because the organization is transnational, Angela Bartolome, co-coordinator of AF3IRM LA Chapter, later explained. Ms. Bartolome is formerly from Bulacan but had been here since the 70s with her mom and siblings.

Asked about the significance of the day, Angela said that “it makes us aware about issues of women.” Presently their group is undertaking a so-called purple rose campaign to highlight the trafficking of women and women victims of domestic violence in the global as well as local scales. The role of women in society should be recognized, she averred.

Media colleague Fe Koons is a founding member of Gabriela-Philippines, a pioneering advocate on women issues. She echoed Ms. Bartolome’s reflections on the significance of the celebration. Asked to compare today’s advocacy with that of the past, Ms. Koons said that whereas their group’s struggles were originally directed against the dictatorship during the Marcos era, the issues have since shifted to problems affecting women regardless of nationalities. One more thing, she added: more of the youth, students in colleges and universities are involved.

The menfolks were likewise represented in the celebration. Arturo Garcia, who is also into Filipino veterans and other causes, was there to lend support because, he said, “even in capitalist states like the U.S. women’s rights are being questioned.” Garcia, who said he’s with Alliance Philippines, cited as example the recent brouhaha about radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh calling one woman a slut in his show.

To recall, law student Sandra Fluke of Georgetown University testified before Democratic members of congress on the need for the government to provide free contraception. Limbaugh was quoted saying, “Who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her?” Limbaugh answered his own question using that controversial word: slut.

Also in that March 8 event was Jerry Esguerra who gave his group’s name as Bantay Pilipinas. BP, he said, was originally a cyber net political watchdog that has evolved into a real, physical organization with presence in Los Angeles and in Luzon, the National Capital Region, Visayas and Mindanao in the Philippines.

Esguerra said that being progressive he supports the initiative of AF3IRM. “It is long overdue,” he said about the women cause. “How many millions are widowed by wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Mindanao. Then there’s the sex industry in the Philippines right now.”

His remarks also touched on our overseas workers. “Not to diminish menial work,” he said, “but for professional women like doctors, teachers and others to work on menial jobs is a travesty. The system is unjust and the structure must be changed.”

The “Celebrate the Working Woman” program also mentioned an all-female bicycle brigade/collectives prior to the event. The previous evening, March 7, another F3IRM LA co- coordinator, Myra Duran, was featured on Feminist Magazine on KPFK radio 90.7 FM together with performers Cihuatl Ce and Janice Sapigao. It was all about supporting and recognizing the value of women around the world and all the work that they do, it was said.

According to Wikipedia, the first International Women’s Day was observed on Feb. 28, 1909 in the United States following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. Last year the Women’s Information Network had a two-day centenary celebration of International Women’s Day at the Radisson Hotel-Los Angeles Airport.




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