I was once a child prying why many women, especially those who are married, stay home, do the household chores, and look after the children. Are they uneducated? Are these womenfolk not allowed to work and earn a living? Is this the old culture where women are kept home, and men work for the family to send the children to school? I even asked an elder, “Do you think women are not capable of work? Are women a disadvantaged group? Are women weak against violence?” I didn’t get an answer.
Then, I met a woman who is a college professor, and now a good friend and mentor. Because of her passion and enthusiasm for gender equality and women empowerment in the Bicol Region, she might have never noticed that a young lady has been looking up to her. Who I am today, fighting and standing up for women, is inspired by the works of Dr. Dolores Laguilles, a feminist and a very rare woman who continuously advocates for women’s rights and gender equality.
Now, it is clear to me that the old culture yet lives. It is a culture that needs to change though some women choose to stay home to raise their children. (Hats off to our dear housewives and hands-on mothers!) The outside world has so much to offer us, women. We can work wherever and choose the job we do. We are not ordinary; we are extraordinary.
Reality check: not all parents can send their children to school so as to get them educated that the female human species is not weak, and that they deserve to enjoy the same rights that men do to be free from all forms of violence. Women’s right awareness starts at home. Mothers ought to teach their young that all genders are equal, and that women are precious to be respected.
Whenever I had the opportunity to talk in public about my stand on violence against women, I always say “How men treat their girlfriends, fiancée or wives is a reflection of how they treat their mothers, sisters and and female relatives. There is never an excuse to disrespect women, much more violate them and humiliate them for not giving what men want! We, women, are not puppets! We can think and decide for ourselves! We can say ‘NO’ and let go once we hurt! We, too, are humans who feel!”
The reason I hold on to this rhetoric is because every day is a right time to slap the truth on violators’ faces that women are not slaves, not now, not ever. Every day is a right time to stand up for womankind and their human rights.
To men who leave women casually after sex, I forever say, “Women are not sanitary napkins that you dispose of after using! Do you think us cheap? Will you be fine if some man does it to your sister? Do you think it makes you the most handsome man then? Does having sex with different women and leaving them with a child make you man enough?” I understand how prostitution has somehow given men the license to objectify women, but women deserve respect basically. We are still entitled to self-worth and human dignity. May we not forget to value women regardless of their culture, religion, race, age and social status.
In this year’s celebration of Women’s Month, let me honor all the courageous and inspiring women of Humanist Alliance Philippines, International (HAPI): the Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Marissa Torres-Langseth; Patricia Milton; Maria Juana Valenzuela; the Metro Manila Lead Convener, Janice Buenaventura; Peachy Cancio; Rhoda Davidson; Angelique Anne Villa; Jamie Del Rosario-Martinez; Jhing Dedicatoria; Zenki Drilon; and the rest of the HAPI women. Same with HAPI’s regular donors: Elena Allen, Amz Airelavhiggins, and Teresa Latorre Frances Tomacruz.
Let me also mention some women in my life who inspired me to do more for humanity, and to serve the marginalized, the underprivileged and the destitute. These women encouraged me to go out and explore life wherever it takes me and whatever it brings, and to love humanity beyond borders. They are my mother, Anathelma; my aunt, Auntie Twilla Williams; Maribel Dillard; Ruth Chua; Debbie Cantrell; Blessie Trott; Lori Bennett; my aunt, Martha Siddique; my aunt, Dianna Kirkbride; Elvira Carvalho; Brianna; Ammu Nahar Samsun; my aunt, Elena Kehyeng; Emmy Vera Cruz; Lita Hines; Tita Celia Hartman; Deborah Braun; Liz Roa; Marlan Manguba; Tessie Sanohan; Gretchen Millena; Dolores Laguilles; and Irene Bueno. These are some of the many women who inspire me every day. Their love for humanity, their kind heart and passion to aid the deprived are contagious. If not for them, I would not have the courage to continue my advocacies that extend help to people in need like giving toys to children, and doing kindness wherever I go.
For me, reaching out to the poor is a way of giving back to the community in the littlest way. Remember that while we are doing humanitarian and volunteer work, we inspire the young ones to do the same, now or in the future. We can encourage more leaders and humanitarians by setting a good example to do good, with love for service.
“Go out and do volunteer and humanitarian work not for popularity”, this is my reminder to everyone who makes volunteerism a photo opportunity. Talk to the beneficiaries, seat with them, tap on their backs, flash a smile, and ask what they really need. “It is always the quality, not the quantity of our accomplishments that matter” I would say. Also, reaching out is never a competition of who did what first e.g. responding to disaster rescue and recovery efforts, rather it’s about sincerity and the impression it leaves on the people of the community. “I am always inspired to reach out and let them feel that they are not forgotten, that they are loved.” I would say again. My thanks go to all wonderful women in the world who inspire me to do more.
Maydeline R. Belir
- Volunteer for HAPI Bicol
“I stand up for women because they are precious.”