By Carolina S. Ruiz Austria

The word "Heresy"

was used by Irenaeus in Contra Haereses to discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. It has no purely objective meaning without an authoritative system of dogma.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sex & the State:

The fact that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) is a woman President, our second woman head of state, will always be used as an all purpose counter argument by those who dismiss local feminists (a.k.a. women’s rights activists) as either out of touch with reality or perhaps like “brats” who not only want to have their cake but eat it too.

So today as Filipino women’s groups of every class, and background as well as political persuasion, gather both to celebrate International Women’s Day and to protest the curtailment of basic civil and political rights by no less than our second woman President, what do feminists have to say about it?

Therein of course lies the irony. GMA is after all a woman, in its literal, physical and bodily-based definition of the term just as millions of us out here are so categorized.

Recognizing “womanhood” on one level as a form of imposed homogeneity is after all a long time product of early feminist analysis. So one must acknowledge (however begrudgingly) that GMA is also expected to act as most women are expected to act. In coming to terms with GMA’s constitutional culpabilities, perhaps it would be worthwhile to ask what it means to be a woman leader in the Philippines?

Are there different standards for women and men leaders? Would even asking whether there is such a thing as “woman’s leadership,” get someone into trouble for not assuming equality in all aspects?

If anything, GMA herself has proven that on one level, she certainly has proven herself the literal equal (equal here as in the same) of not only her macho male predecessors (wont to violate constitutional rights for political self-aggrandizement) but also of her politico peers (in plunder and corruption, not to mention electoral fraud).

To feminists however, no less glaring in GMA’s presidency is the extent to which women’s basic rights have been consistently violated in the name of an exclusively traditional Catholic belief system, manifest in her withdrawal of support for women’s health programs which ironically were non-issues for her past two “male” predecessors.

Having admitted to having taken advantage of modern contraception herself in the past, Gloria, much like Cory in her time, (as much as Cory has better qualities in other respects as pointed out by Conrad de Quiros), is beholden to the Catholic hierarchy in a profound sense that women’s sexual health ends up a convenient “trade-off,” for the influential religious’ full support.

Yet even if GMA (or for that matter Cory) are both sincere in their traditional Catholicism for being opposed to modern contraception, herein again lies a contrast: Cory never imposed her religious sexual morality on Filipinos through government policy. Heck, she doesn’t even impose it on her own daughter perhaps because like many other Catholics, she believes in faith based on conscience?
GMA has made a complete mockery of women’s rights and empowerment by purporting to only support select policies (a host of them penal law) in the promotion of women’s rights and denying basic women a host of services which are not only state responsibilities but enabling conditions for women’s exercise of rights in the first place.

Indeed on a deeper level, GMA’s propensity to back only “penal” (punitive and surveillance mode) measures for “women’s protection,” isn’t an accident. Not only is it parallel to the way she has interpreted the protection of “national interests” via disregard of constitutional rights, in huge measure, the way GMA has responded to women’s rights reflects her (as well as many others) emerging “notion” of the “strong” State (we must violate your right in order to protect them) as THE way forward.

Advocating for welfare and social services in the budget and as part of state mandate in the face of dwindling state services can no longer be dismissed as “women’s sector advocacies.” More than ever it is becoming clear that such engagements are at the core of the contest in defining what our STATE should be and finally, what true people’s empowerment entails.(Carolina S. Ruiz Austria, Lecturer, UP College of Law)


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